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Can you place outlets any old place?

Your Home Improvements

Posted: August 15, 2008 6:55 p.m.
Updated: October 17, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Hey Robert,
We were looking at a house where the owner apparently did a lot of work on it himself. For example, I noticed that the outlet covers were different heights in the living room, which he said he had added to the original house. I asked about the covers being different heights and he said it really didn't matter where the outlets were located, you put them wherever you want them, so long as the wiring was done properly.

Is this true?

Andrew A.

Hello Andrew,
Yeah, that's fine. It's not protocol - aesthetically it looks bad, but they can do that. I mean, there are standards, but if they put them up at a certain height, to hide them behind a desk or for whatever their reasons, then yes, that's fine if that's what he intended.

This is fairly unusual though, and since the outlets are not uniform, this may indicate a sloppy attitude toward the electrical work. I would have an electrical contractor come in and check the entire house. You want to make sure there are boxes used and that there is not bare wire running through the walls. You'd be surprised how many times I still see bare #12's running through studs. The contractor will also check the panel box to verify the proper breakers and wire gauges are in use.

The bottom line is bad wiring can cause fires and I would not take a chance that everything is as wonderful as the seller says.

Hey Robert,
We have a side garage door that is metal with a metal frame. Since the recent earthquake, it hits on the top left corner when you close it. It will close, but you have to force it while lifting up on the handle. Is this something that should be repaired or should I just replace it? Should I replace with another metal door, or wooden one? What's the difficulty factor of replacement if we did it or how much do you think it would cost to have it done?

John M.

Hello John,
As far as the install is concerned, it depends on how handy you are. I would say the "difficulty factor" can be up there, even for professionals.

I'd try to repair before replacing. It sounds like the door is fine and that it just got knocked out of plumb.

Open the door to where you can see the hinges on the jam. See if door moves or wiggles away from the jam. If so, it could be only a matter of tightening up those hinge screws.

If your door is just an exterior metal door, and not fire-rated, then I would take a grinder to that area where it is hitting. Lightly hit it with the grinder and see if that helps. If so, re-paint and you're done.

If the grinding doesn't help, then it sounds like the framing shifted. Look for surrounding damages around the door like cracks in the drywall. If so, then the header or studs have moved because of the earthquake and you need to pull the door, plumb up the framing, make sure the jam is square and true, and re-install. At this point, you're going through all of the work to put in a new door, so now would be the time to replace if that's what you've decided.

Standard wooden doors and jams are less expensive than metal. If you want to stay with metal, you are looking at between $600 - $700 plus $250 - $300 for the installation plus prime and paint. So, I would start with the grinding. This will probably take care of the problem.

Hello Robert,
I read your column all of the time. I am an HVAC contractor, and have 10 full-time employees. I'd like to get something like a 401K program started. Do you have any experience in this or other similar programs?


Hello V.M.,
Get with a financial company that specializes in those types of plans. We have a corporate program in place. It's a win-win deal for the employer and employee; more so for the employees, but it's a good morale booster.

Basically with our fund, the employer makes all of the contributions. It is a tax-deferred program where money that ordinarily would have gone into taxes, goes to a profit sharing fund for the employees. They do not contribute at all.

Our program is all bonded and is based on hours worked by the employee and the gross numbers from the corporation, which are determined from federal calculations. The more money you have in the account, then the more difficult getting bonds becomes, but it is doable.

You have to be very, very careful to follow all of the federal guidelines. Be very cautious with the money. I know guys that have taken big risks and have lost money that belong to the employees. I am very conservative with it, and because of my accountant/financial consultant, it's been nothing but a win/win deal for us. The basic outline is to put 50 percent in real estate and 50 percent in stocks, but we follow more of a 60 percent real estate - 1st trust deeds, and 40 percent in stocks and mutual funds. There are plenty of opportunities to go into other things, but personally, I don't take risks with my employee's money. So, I'm very cautious and follow the strict guidelines that the federal government puts out there.

If you go into this with a good accountant/consultant, stay very conservative and closely follow all of the guidelines, you will be able to set your employees up with a very nice retirement package.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years' experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. end your questions to 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.


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