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Robert Lamoureux: Water heaters require permits

Posted: November 12, 2010 10:03 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Hi Robert,
I called a plumber who told me I do not need a permit to change a water heater. Is that true?
Kana L.

Hi Kana,
No, that is not true. You absolutely need a permit to change out a water heater. 

The inspector will want to see the heater is installed properly. He will check to make sure it has the fire board under it, that it is in a ventilated space and that the exhaust ducts are mounted properly and sealed in tape. He will also check that the earthquake strap is on. 

Water heaters can be very dangerous. This is a life-safety issue. A poorly installed water heater can cause serious damage to your home and can be extremely dangerous for your family. 

When a plumber says you don’t need permits, it raises a lot of red flags.

Perhaps he’s thinking that by giving you a lower overall price without permit fees, you will do business with him. Maybe he doesn’t know how to install a water heater properly — or he may honestly not know it needs permits, which means he’s probably not licensed.

If I were you, I would look for a reputable, licensed plumber to pull the necessary permits and do the job right. You do not want to take any chances with this type of job.

Hello Robert,
I just purchased a new home and am preparing for the landscaping. I’ve been told with area drains I can buy the cheaper plastic area drain pipe with 90’s or I can go with an ABS or PVC piping system that will allow me to do clean outs in the future. What would you recommend? Thank you for your time,
Gilbert L.

Hi Gilbert,
If your budget allows, go with long sweeps and any type of fitting that will allow a cable machine to clean it out. 

I set my home up without 90’s, and there have been several times over the years where I have been very thankful. If you’re thinking of staying in this home long-term, and have the money to spend, go to a plumbing supply store and purchase your materials through them. Plan for emergencies and you won’t be caught off guard.

It’s very easy for dirt to wash down into the lines. Then during the rainy season, the water backs up because the drain lines have become impacted.

This is one of the major causes of flooding to your home. The water rises and comes in through the door. This soaks the carpeting or warps hardwood floors and damages drywall which then needs to be cut out.       

Another common problem with drain lines is a lot of pool services will clean the filters in the pool equipment area and wash the diatomaceous earth into your area drains.

Once that DE hardens, you need a cable machine to clear it out to prevent the risk of flooding.

This is why you want to avoid 90-degree fittings because a cable machine can’t make the turns. The cable instead ends up burrowing right through the plastic fittings which just creates more problems.

Hi Robert,
I have a single family home that is about 40 years old. The garage floor is completely cracked. Is there any reason why I couldn’t put a layer of concrete over the floor? Thanks,
Kim C.

Hi Kim,
In most homes, when you step from the garage into the house, the rise is generally 4” to 5.”  The purpose for that rise, or step, is to create a safety barrier. If your car were to leak oil or gasoline, for example, the rise would prevent those fluids from running inside your home.   

Code requires the minimum clearance between the slab and the threshold to the house be a minimum of 4 inches. 

Let’s say your current rise is at 4 inches.  If you add 1 inch of concrete, you would only have a 3-inch step, which becomes unsafe and a code violation.  

There is never a good reason to violate a building code. This not only endangers you and your family, but creates adverse consequences when you want to sell your home.

So, to answer your question, don’t add a layer of concrete to your slab. The right way to proceed on this job would be to demo and break out the entire slab, then repour. 

In addition, put a heavy visqueen plastic down, a minimum of 6 mils. This will act as a moisture barrier to prevent water from wicking up through the slab due to static pressure. 

Without the barrier, it’s possible to have puddles of water inside your garage.  Without a moisture barrier in your home slab, your carpets and floors would be wet because concrete is porous. 

I would also pin the new slab all the way around with steel.  Put a few sticks of rebar in to tie your house to your concrete.  Also, use the mesh. You can put them on dobies or pull it with a hook.

Dear Mr. Lamoureux,
My wife continues to use the word cement when she should be saying concrete.  Please explain the difference so I settle this once and for all. Thank you,
Dean D.

Hi Dean,
Well, I want to be careful about getting in the middle of a family dispute. I don’t want an angry wife after me.  

Concrete, or “artificial stone,” was invented by the ancient Romans. The mixture they used, which has basically remained unchanged to this day, constructed the Coliseum, which is still standing after 2,000 years. 

Concrete is the finished product of three aggregates:  a fine (sand), a course (rock) and the Portland cement that is mixed with water. 

The water and the cement act as a catalyst, as a bonding agent, to the sand and rock. So cement is only the binding agent, but I do hear that all the time.  People will say they are going to pour cement instead of concrete.      

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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