When Mary called six heating/cooling businesses for estimates several weeks ago, only one bothered to come up and give us an estimate. He quoted us $10,000 to $17,000 (depending on the system) which seemed like a lot so we decided to do what the Koreans do and go with a ductless mini-split system (see Google for explanation) which we purchased online for $5,000. Once the Korean-made LG minis arrived and I opened the installation pamphlet, however, I was confronted by head scratching sentences like “Look at suited horizon by horizontal meter on the horizontal setting line, and Fix lightly the map by adhesive tape.”????

Three months ago, before any exposure to the dreaded building inspectors, I would have boldly launched myself into plumbing – the next phase of construction. At this point, having the building inspectors nit pick through my work so far and find fault has me hesitant to do anything without worrying that they will show up and demand I redo a lot of work.

Plumbing in particular is a stage of construction replete with opportunity for nit picking. Consequently I’m considering the previously unthinkable course of either hiring the plumbing out to a professional or at least hiring a plumber as a consultant to oversee my work. Toward this end, I called several plumbers for estimates. While I was at it I also sent out feelers to refrigeration guys for a possible installation of our mini-splits.

Not all of the estimates are in but so far the outlook is not good. It is clear from the numbers so far that these guys expect to earn $1000 – $2000 per day for their work. Clearly they value their labor more than I do. As an example, Rachel and I went ahead and ran the line sets for the mini-splits. It took us less than a day. The professionals wanted $2000 for this task! It’s looking more and more like I’m going to be a plumber.

Getting back to my favorite whipping boy, building inspectors, I just encountered another example of how generous the building department is with Rachel’s money. Until recently, the circuit breakers for a house cost about four dollars apiece. The new arc fault variety run about forty dollars – a tenfold increase. Since an average house has ten to twenty circuits, we’re talking serious money. They should call them bank breakers, not circuit breakers.

Justifying this onerous burden on homeowners, the code guys fall back on the hard-to-refute, time-tested standby of “safety.” I suppose these breakers do add a modicum of safety over standard circuit breakers but at what cost? Opponents of this over-regulation face the dilemma of opposing safety, a hard case to make, and thus we have more and more questionable “safety” forced upon us. But consider for a moment where this safety argument leads. To pick just one possibility, each year thousands of people suffer debilitating head injuries and eye injuries. A very significant reduction in these injuries could be effected if helmets and safety glasses were mandated at all times. But who would tolerate such an intrusion in their personal freedom? The reason these impositions are tolerated in building codes is that the cost is hidden in the price of the house. The home buyer only sees the total cost; he has no idea what goes into it. Today’s building codes add 15% to 20% to the cost of a home – $40,000 on a $200,000 home – and homeowner have no choice in the matter. Consider that next time you hear the safety sales pitch.