Ask LH: Should I Bust My Mate For Doing Illegal DIY?

Ask LH: Should I Bust My Mate For Doing Illegal DIY?

Dear Lifehacker, I need advice about a friend who likes to do dangerous DIY work around his house. He recently did major plumbing work without having a licence (the main water line from the street to his house). He’s now installing an electric stove in his kitchen also without a licence. Should I dob him in? I’m afraid that something terrible may happen in the future from a botched job. Thanks, Future Firefighter

Dear FF,

That’s certainly a pickle. On the one hand, doing nothing could lead to a catastrophic mishap that you’ll always know you could have prevented. On the other hand, dobbing him in could potentially ruin your friendship.

In Australia, any electrical appliance that requires hard wiring needs to be connected by a licensed electrical contractor. Attempting to do it yourself isn’t only dangerous but highly illegal. The same goes for installing plumbing systems.

In addition to receiving tens of thousands of dollars in fines, unlicenced plumbing and electrical jobs will also void your house insurance in the event of an electrical fire, flooded bathroom or other related mishap. In short, the risk just isn’t worth it.

A lot of people reading this probably think you should just mind your own business. But I do appreciate your predicament — imagine how you would feel if his house burned to the ground with his entire family inside? While it would be his own fool fault, you’d still feel partially culpable.

Before you get the authorities involved, try talking to your friend first. Explain why you have serious concerns about his penchant for household DIY. Namely, he’ll face stiff fines if found out, it will void his house’s warranty and it puts people’s lives in danger. When all those cons are laid out on the table, saving a few bucks won’t seem quite so attractive.

If he refuses to see reason, the easiest course of action is to contact your local police station who will forward the tip to the relevant safety regulator in your state. He’ll totally know it was you, but will only have himself to blame.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Much as talking to him may seem like a good first step, he’ll know it’s you when you report him. If you skip straight to the dobbing he probably won’t. One or the other in my opinion.

  • Sounds to me like that guy knows what he is doing. Why should he have to fork out potentially thousands of dollars for something he can do himself.

    • If he can do it himself, he should get a licence to prove it.

      Why should we get licences to drive cars? Or fly planes?

      • Doesn’t take you 4 years to get a car license.
        And I hope your not saying flying a plane is as hard as wiring an outlet.

        • It doesn’t take 4 years to get trade certification if you already know how to do it, either. It’s called skills and trade recognition and you undergo assessment so your skills can be verified.

          I’m not saying wiring an outlet is as hard as flying a plane or even being a surgeon; the point is that all of these things require licences, and all of those things require licences because trusting in your own unqualified abilities can get people killed. Time or difficulty aren’t the point of commonality. The fact that they’re dangerous is.

          I can do project management about the house without a licence all I want, because there’s zero risk of that act in itself directly getting anyone killed. Driving, practicing medicine, or doing electrical wiring? Yeah. Much more chance.

  • All those DIYs are not the rocket science. Anyone with a little of gray substance in the brain can do things that are claimed to be performed by the licensed tradesman only. Then again, it explains why there are so many people on DSP.

  • Yeah, go on, you’re a smart guy, dob in ya mate, do the right thing

  • cheezus..
    go to any other country besides Australia, and you’ll see plenty of people doing DIY work that here requires a licensed “technician” in fact, it is legal in other countries.. (such as replacing a GPO)
    Tradies in Australia are treated as idols, even have their own TV shows, their industry is protected from competition from the average guy.
    PS: I’ve talked to some of these licensed tradies, who in fact knew less than me, and just practiced by what they’ve been doing year in year out, rather than by the book. all it takes is to show their backsides at tafe.

    If your mate zaps himself to death, it’s his own problem ,not the government nor yours.

    • You seem to be picturing the person doing the work getting hurt in a workplace accident. It’s super easy to do this work without killing yourself. Everyone knows how to cut the power. It’s what happens after they turn the power back on. Getting hurt that way is a genuine accident. I’m guessing it happens to sparkies as often as it does anybody else.
      The real problem is the electrical fire later down the track that kills their family, destroys neighbouring property, and/or ruins them financially. It’s the faulty power socket in the kids room. It’s the light that appears to work fine but heats up just slowly enough that it’s not normally a problem. It’s the clip screwed in so tightly it digs into the cable, because most people never really give any thought to that.

      Talk to your tradie friends again and this time ask them about all the amazingly stupid DIY shit they’ve seen. I’m not saying you’re worse at this than licensed professionals, none of this is about you specifically, but most people who claim to know what they’re doing have no idea beyond year 8 electronics class (aka, what colour cable goes in what terminal). They install a power point badly and think they’re experts just because no sparks come out and the lamp turns on. Every electrician has stories about encountering the work of these clowns.

      It’s also about ensuring that standards are met. I’ve seen plenty of dodgy electrical work done by professionals, but generally you won’t get a professional trying to wire a house with a cut up extension cords because that’s what was laying around and cord is cord. As ridiculous as it sounds people do stuff like that and then stand there pointing to their work as proof they don’t need a professional.

      I totally get where you’re coming from but I think you’re taking it too personally. You’re picturing it applied someone like yourself who knows how to do the work without realising how many clueless people do this work because they watched an episode of The Block and think they can save a few dollars by installing their new stove top themselves.

      Also one last important thing a lot of people miss. Nobody is really stopping you from doing this work yourself. It’s impractical to enforce this and everyone knows it (and while this article may say otherwise, nobody is going to dob you in unless you give them a reason to). The real world impact of these laws are that they get in the way of people doing this work for other people. My aunt would gladly do this work for free to help her friends, even though she doesn’t actually know how this stuff works. Her house is a death trap but thanks to these laws it’s only her house.

      • As someone that has had to get an electrician out to remove cut up extension cords installed in the wall, I agree with what you are saying.

        One GPO was installed inside a cabinet on a mounting block, extension cord came out the back and then plugged into another GPO. I unplugged it and removed it after we had a proper GPO installed to replace this dodgy one. Upon removal I noted that the screw terminal for the ground wire was only contacting on the insulation of the cable. The only electrical connection the ground wire had was whatever strands just happened to be touching the inside of the terminal. :-/

    • What about if it kills his kids? Fool can zap himself, but I’d start getting pretty concerned if he’s got a family living there, too.

    • The a- grade license test is more than just showing up. But of course you know more than that.

  • First! Mind your own damned business. Second! Plumbing is childs play and I’ve never heard of anyone killing themselves doing it, so in my mind, it’s Ok. Electric diy on the other hand is problematic. I’ve done a bit, mainly because I hate being shafted for what is essentially a five-minute fix, but I would never suggest someone else should do it unless they have proven skills. Oh, and on plumbing, those guys make more money than God, simply because of regulations that are antiquated at best.

  • Plumbing no problem, but the stove imo is a big no no, that requires a lot of work it’s not the same as doing a plug. They require separate circuits and all and shouldn’t be done by a diyer

    • replacing a GPO.. sure.. replace the whole fusebox or something related to three phase… big no no

      with plumbing.. worst case scenario you swim in your own sh!7.. though i personally dwould not touch sewer, i would change a tap..

      gas.. just no no and no.

  • The problem with talking about consequences is that in general terms, yes hypothetically you can cause a fire if you make a mistake with electrics, but this isn’t hypothetical for him, he knows what he has done. The consequences need to be specific to his jobs. For example, if he unscrews a light switch or fitting, moves it ten centimeters and screws it back in again, saying “Your house could burn down” isn’t going to be very convincing, but if he has added a heap of sockets to a circuit, or put a high amp load on it then it might be. The most convincing if you are going to talk to him might be “What happens when you want to sell this place and there’s no certification for any of your work?”

  • love all these people that say mind your own business. are you serious? what if they guy sells the house, and the new owners suffer death or serious injury due to a DIY. at least if it is done by a licensed trade, the certificate omits you from all responsibility. your insurance is safe. your warranty is safe. and your health status may remain the same. i say go the anonymous tip off. or if you know he is a receptive person, chat to him.

    • you think these archaic regulations protect the home buyer?
      think again.

      I have bought a few properties. i have yet to see any certificate for any of the previous work..

      I tend to agree with barned01.. maybe an inbetween license would be a good way to approach this.

  • I have discussed this once before and came to the conclusion there should be a Homeowners licence which one attends a course and is actually taught in the correct ways of things (obviously the abridged version).
    Your aren’t going to stop a DIY person but if you give them an avenue that is at least one built on trusting of their work rather than denying it outright (read allow insurance claims, especially if the fault wasn’t related to your work). then that should at least be a pathway available to people who will still never call a plumber or electrician. better to at least hope they have some knowledge than nothing at all. And its another revenue raising option for the government that still allows licenced electricians and plumbers but also tries to guilt/encourage the Diy’ers to have a partial credit in what they do. Very basic stuff but at least something accreditable and accepted by insurance companies.
    Such a course would interest me so that I can change a light batten or GPO, install a ceiling fan and relocate a sink in a kitchen renovation without fearing insurance validity.

  • Looking at this though a risk management lens, perhaps the likelihood of it causing an issue is low but the consequence could be extreme.

    Now, can I change my own tap washers legally?

  • I can see from OH&S side, but seriously this law saying it has to be installed by tradesman only is just to protect their income. It’s not a rocket science to install a stove.

    Replacing broken pipes on your drainage, I am sure we can do that… no need licensed tradesman….. but again this law is to protect them to ensure they have their income…

  • go on all you DIY smartypants that say its easy…, go ahead and replace the existing stove that pulls 8 amps with a new stove pulling 25amps, using the same 2.5mm cable that’s already supplying your fridge, toaster and a couple of GPOS, heck…. even if you run a new circuit and don’t have the appropriate 32amp fuse wire for your porcelain fuse, just use a nail… she’ll be right 😉

    but what do i care… once you stuff it up, you have to call me to fault find and fix it:D

  • Haha, golly. What a terrible friend! Glad I don’t know this person. Gets told a secret and then wants to destroy a persons life financially to be goody two shoes? big laf.

  • Consdering that you need a license to install ethernet cables aroudn your home a lot of these rules seem to be about

    a). protecting tradesmen’s profit streams
    b). providing insurance companies ways to get out of paying out on insurance claims

    Protecting people from electrocuting themselves is a distant 3rd.

  • Yeah – I still don’t get it – I’m qualified and certified for high voltage and datacomms work just about everywhere else in the world, but for me to do any work here in Aus requires not only expensive certification but some mandatory courses, because you’re all different and special. I’d like to see actual numbers that justify the italicised statement ‘puts lives in danger’ as that needs to be qualified out. How many lives, and what was the actual cause of these incidents. Otherwise I call bullshit.

  • Do a bit of googling on DIY failures and sit your mate AND their partner down to a youtube playlist showing what goes wrong when people make mistakes (houses burning down, expensive appliances breaking, leaks in the walls that go unnoticed until they become catastrophic). That should scare him straight. If not, then report.

  • “In Australia … Attempting to do it yourself isn’t only dangerous but highly illegal.” This is like the labels which say that an ingredient or product is a “carcinogen in the state of California”. Does leaving Australia make it magically safer? Other nations allowing this kind of household task to be carried out by the home owner does not result in a higher rate of death or injury. The statistics back this up.

    We live in a country where it’s legal for me to service/replace the brakes on my own car, and I can even offer to do this for friends. I’ve done a short course which taught me how to do this. I cannot legally change a GPO, or even a washer on my tap. And because of the racket that protects these trades, there aren’t even short courses or realistic licensing options that would allow people to learn to do this safely.

    I can tell you with certainty, changing brakes or changing a power point, which carries more risk in the real world (rather than the legal world). There aren’t many more difficult or riskier plumbing/electrical tasks that can be carried out in the home.

    The poster’s friend might be shonky, or might be highly skilled, I certainly couldn’t judge based on the hyperbole in the question/response. The biggest issue is there’s no practical way for them to get the training or “homeowners” license in Australia. The current policy is the equivalent of abstinence-only sex education.

    A short course and exam with appropriate limits would mean folks could learn to do this properly and know their limitations, in the same way as vehicle licenses, scuba and myriad other ‘risky’ activities.

    • Being a linesman or jointer is still a bit different.
      Where can’t you change a tap washer this is a new one to me.

  • Im all for DIY and blokes fixing shit around the house but its also worth noting that unlicensed work can null and void your insurance if found causing or impacting on an incident.

  • Australia is a nanny state which is a shame because soon you won’t be able to wipe your arse without a license, the reason people don’t have the common sense required to do anything is because of the fact that you aren’t allowed to do anything. I would very much like to see a report on DIY jobs that caused accidents from before these laws were enacted compared to now.

    It is terribly simple to wire an outlet but if you haven’t done it before then yeah get an electrician to do it. to do simple electrical jobs around the house all you need is some common sense. There are plenty of things that shouldn’t be laws in this country that are, for example back to wiring you’re house, you are not allowed to put in permanent network cable into the walls. Now the only reason for this is because you might accidentally cut a live wire (network cables don’t pose an electrical threat at all). Well it is terribly simple to find live wires and then avoid them, you actually have to be a totally brain dead person to drill into a live wire.

    So basically the bulk of these laws are for safety but the rest are just to make sure that the government has the work necessary to do them under a license so that they can get tax out of it when you’re charged an arm and a leg for a licensed person to do the work a child performs in middle school… Literally!

    Also I imagine a lot of people have rewired a plug onto the end of a power lead. It is one of the most simple jobs you can do and saves you from buying a new lead every time a part of it gets a bit of wear. This job is legal and it is the exact same job to wire up a power point.

    Seriously you are more likely to get electrocuted playing around inside an appliance then your house wiring.

    • Just to clarify my last sentence, with proper precautions e.g. turn of the mains.

    • That’s because of the way the regulations go. The regs protect the cables in the wall. All mains protection is to protect the cables not the user. A gpo is on the cables to it is you stuff up a lead that’s ok. You stuff up a gpo and you have nulled the safety on the mains circuit. There is a big difference.

      Brain dead to drill a live wire? Short of pulling all the boards off the wall there is no fool proof way of finding cables. Stud finders and volt sticks only do so much.

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