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Peek-a-boo-boo: Contractors covering electrical work get a break…maybe

The Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement Department has issued new written policy guidelines that, in very limited circumstances, go easy on contractors who cover electrical work before it can be inspected.

Instead of requiring the tearing down of all the drywall to expose the unexamined wiring, inspectors may use less destructive methods, such as cutting peepholes in the covering to allow access to portions of the electrical work.

The exception might at first excite some contractors. But Jim Bartl, the county’s director of code enforcement, stressed that those who think they’ve just been given a get-out-of-jail-free card are badly mistaken.

“It’s a recognition that sometimes those things happen,” Bartl said. “But it’s definitely trying to set a narrow field [so] people don’t think this can be used for any time for any reason.”

The exception is granted by special permission, applies to only jobs done by electrical contractors who do not have a high-inspection failure rate, is limited to a single use per year per contractor and would never be allowed for covered wiring on an entire floor or building.

Also, the policy does not change the requirement that all requests for electrical inspections be made before the work is covered.

“You can kind of tell when it was truly an oversight, at least we think we can, versus when somebody thought they just didn’t need to pay attention to the requirement,” Bartl said.

Although the code-enforcement department laid out the covered-work exception requirements in writing for the first time in a March 26 policy memo, it has been using the standard for years. And annually, Bartl said, fewer than five jobs have qualified for the exception.

“It’s something we had used in very rare situations, but to be sure there was an understanding both with our staff and industry, we decided we should write it up,” he said. “It helps preclude situations where someone might say, ‘You used a criteria with me that you didn’t use with someone else.’”

Rather than amending the code, Mecklenburg County’s policy outlines an alternate and discretionary inspection process that still satisfies all code requirements, Bartl said. He added that such exceptions are allowed under section 105 of the North Carolina Administrative Code.

David Garrett, owner of the Cabarrus County-based Garrett Electrical Company, which works in the Charlotte area, said local contractors know not to cover uninspected work, but it sometimes happens when workers are from out of town or get impatient waiting for an inspection.

“They get in a hurry and don’t want to wait,” he said.

Bartl was unsure of code enforcement’s average response time, but said his department tries to be on a job site within 24 hours of the scheduled rough electrical inspection at least 85 to 90 percent of the time.

Mecklenburg County might be the first in the state to have created a written guideline for inspection exceptions for certain types of covered-electrical work, though other counties have been following similar unwritten policies.

For instance, New Hanover County’s inspections manager, Dennis Bordeaux, said he also does not always require contractors to tear out drywall when it’s covering wiring that needs to be inspected.

“We don’t have X-ray eyes, so generally you’re going to have to provide us with some access so we can see a significant section of cable,” he said. “You could address it like a rewire where you fish in new cables or cut out holes. There are a number of different ways it could be approached.”

BANTZ may be reached at [email protected]

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