Smart Home Legalities

#1

Last night I watched Jon’s video on the implications of DIY smart homes with regards to law and insurance, it really got me thinking.

I live up in QLD and it really is a state of laws, it’s ridiculous. I understand that some of these laws were put in place to protect people, and also to protect industry but it’s clear looking at other demographics this method doesn’t work.

Luckily most of what I have done to my house is mainly wireless circuits so far and any voltage has been low (ie 3.4 -5v) and uses existing certified converters to get to that voltage. The devices are also not permanently fixed and can be moved around if necessary.

But my next few devices on the project list were utilising relays and AC-DC step down modules, while I always have safety, serviceability, and longitivity in mind when designing anything, the Insurance and law aspects scare the shit out of me. It’s a hard enough time finding a sparky these days let alone a decent one, I have booked 3 in multiple times over the last 12 months and none of them showed. I don’t want to get some cheap guy in (unless I can tell him exactly what to do LOL), If I am paying someone I want them to have considerably more knowledge then myself and can bring new ideas to the project.

I looked up last night what would be involved for me to legally do all my own work and I quickly looked away as it becomes so apparent that most of the laws look like a way to protect the big electrician companies, They even crap on the owner-operator business.

Going forward I am really not sure how to proceed as I am running out of low voltage / non-fixtures to dabble with. The ideal situation would be finding a decent electrician who would be willing to work with us and essentially cop the risk on the bases of him checking the quality of the work undergone and maybe does all the final hookups. Finding this magical electrician could be difficult.

What are your thoughts on this?

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#2

I definitely feel for your situation. I also understand the ‘scares the shit out of me’ part as according to Jon’s video, the government could fine you into non-existence overnight if they felt you were stepping on their toes. The only thing I can think of that is a work-around is to implement as much low voltage into your plans as technologically possible. I don’t know what your laws look like on what is/not “low voltage” but here in the states, the rules are a bit fuzzy. They may be in your area as well so I would look into them. But, here, we have NEC (National Electric Code) which regulates all things electrical for residential and commercial applications and goes from basically 30v and up. Then there is the UL (Underwriters Lab) that controls certifications for equipment of all kinds. “Low Voltage” applications… stuff under 30 volts is kind of a no-mans-land and is technically a free environment to play in because nobody thinks that kind of voltage is a risk. If you want to install a wired doorbell in your home, you are technically supposed to get a permit for its installation and have it inspected. It is a 12v fixture but there is a transformer involved that takes mains voltages to accomplish that. SO the fix is just to use a battery powered doorbell and avoid all the hassle and expense. I would guess that you could probably use that same work-around by doing as much low voltage equipment as you can come up with. Like running completely DC powered LED fixtures instead of a/c powered fixtures with smart bulbs. Then the only A/C components that require a Sparky is the system that keeps the DC voltages flowing.

But it definitely sounds like the DIY home automation world in Queensland is crippled. I know that world wide, it is hard to find good tradesman types that go to the efforts of getting the certifications and when it requires you to have half a dozen certifications to replace a light fixture, that is a serious deterrent to ever getting the cert’s.

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#3

I’m very lucky to have a helpful electrician who spent many years doing factory automation as well as domestic (mostly Clipsal C-Bus gear) and is open to doing unusual things provided they comply with the regulations and he considers them to be safe.

Unfortunately finding someone like that can be hard.

Regarding low voltage lighting, something that was pointed out to me just recently is that even if you wire everything for 12V it doesn’t reduce the danger of the system, it just shifts it to a different type of problem. At mains voltage, a major risk is electrocution from direct contact. At 12V that’s not a problem: you can stick your hand on it and you’re fine, provided you don’t pour salty water over it at the same time! However, extra-low voltage such as 12V has significant fire danger because it requires a higher current to transfer the same amount of power.

Ignoring efficiency losses and AC/DC conversion, just looking at approximate numbers, running a 12W LED globe from a 240V supply means about 50mA going through the wire. Running a 12V LED globe at 12V means 1A going through the wire! This means you need much bigger cabling as the voltage goes down, and it also becomes much more susceptible to hot-spots if there are bad connections where there may be some resistance. Power equals resistance times the square of the current, so if the current has gone from 0.05A to 1A that’s a huge increase in the power dissipation at any point there is resistance in the circuit. So with 12V wiring there’s actually more danger of a fire than with 240V wiring.

Luckily I’ve found that for most of the things I care about in a home automation system, it’s more about data than about power. Having control over mains rated outputs is important, but I have a lot of fun working with the sensing and gadget side of things too where I have free reign to do what I like :slight_smile:

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#4

I watched this video with similar feelings, and Jon’s findings mirror my (albeit less extensive) research when I looked into similar info a couple of years ago. Unfortunately there’s no way anywhere in Australia to legally perform any electrical work without an electrical licence. So much so that I think the laws have only changed in the last couple of years, at least here in Tassie, to allow electricians to do work on their own property without an electrical contractor’s licence (different to simply being a licenced electrician).

Your point about protecting industry is interesting to me too. Not just in electrical but in the building industry in general. I’ve developed a bit of a cynical view of building regulations recently. I don’t want to go all tinfoil hat about it, but it seems like building regulations are less about protecting consumers and more about ensuring the cashflow of tradies.

I’m trying to add a staircase to my 2-storey house. To do this, I need to move 2 load bearing walls and a floor beam, relocate some plumbing and electrical, and install a prefab staircase. A reasonable person would assume that I would need to engage a structural engineer to spec the appropriate materials, a builder to frame it, an electrician to wire, plumber to plumb, and a joiner to make the stairs. Maybe pay some inspection to ensure my roof isn’t now going to fall on my head. I’m passable at plastering so we can handle that plus the painting and trim, etc. ourselves to save some cash.

Not in Tasmania, it turns out.

  • You must hire a “building designer” to draw it. He’s not an architect or an engineer, he’s simply qualified to draw plans compliant plans. Cheapest quote - $3,000.
  • You must hire a building surveyor. He’ll inspect and sign off and submit the council paperwork. Cheapest quote - $1,300.
  • You must hire a builder, under a building contract, to oversee and guarantee the whole project. Your builder won’t want to warrantee your handy work (which is fair enough), so he’ll bring in his own preferred plasterers, painters, trim guys, tilers, etc. There goes any saving on labour costs by doing any work yourself. He’ll probably want to use his preferred sparky, plumber, and joiner too. Cheapest quote - $21,000.
  • As the homeowner, you’re allowed to decide what you want done, watch other people do the work, and pay the bills.

You can apply to be an owner builder instead which allows you to oversee the project and choose all your own subbies, and apart from electrical and plumbing you can DIY as much or as little of the work as you are capable of. But then you must pay an extra $2,500 or so in bureaucracy fees and wait out the months long local council building approval process.

I know this isn’t automation related, and I apologise for spiel, but I was kind of inspired to make a point about which I see as a wider problem with the building regulations and industry. As a homeowner in Australia, you’re allowed to simply live in your house, and that’s mostly it.

Meanwhile you can take your high-speed steel death machine, mess with it almost however you like, then drive it at 110kph and hope it doesn’t kill anyone.

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#5

Great post, very well put.

The last sentence in particular resonates with me. I’ve been getting a lot of blowback from sparkies since that video went up, who seem to think that it would be chaos with people dying all over the place if the regulations were relaxed. To which my response is usually to ask them if they’ve ever done any work on their car, and obviously they must support the idea of making it illegal to work on your own car unless you’ve done a 4 year mechanics apprenticeship. Bolted a toolbox onto the back of your ute? If you didn’t do it correctly, it could vibrate loose, fall off, and kill multiple people driving behind you. Replaced your brake pads? They could fail any time, similar result. So far I haven’t had a sensible response to “oh, so you must think it should be illegal to change the oil in your car”

#6

Considering how much mechanical work I’ve done over the years without a second thought, it is interesting to think on! When I was young my mate and I both thought we’d tightened up the wheel nuts once, only to drive down the road to a weird rattle and both exclaim “you did those nuts up right” at the same time.

On topic the only thing I’m not sure on were the things that aren’t hard wired. I coundn’t find anything regarding them, though my Dad required a Test/Tag license for doing repairs on customer appliances. Queensland does require a restricted electrical contractors license for test/tag, but they’re the only state with those restrictions.

The real naff part about Test/Tag, The standard applies at time of passing. Being tagged only means the item was safe at time of inspection. New items only require visual inspection, considering the number of IEC leads I’ve thrown out that came with cheap devices had active/neutral switched, it is a concerning omission.

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#7

It is the same in the US. You can do minor repairs but anything else requires permits and inspections. Doesn’t mean it happens but the requirements are there. Anything structural requires proper engineering with review fees. Again, doesn’t always happen. Of course, if you are doing much major work, chances are.your neighbors will call and rat on you.

But construction work is expensive and involves LOTS of “administration” fees.

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#8

This is exactly what I have found to Jon, most of the devices I am making are not consuming more than 100mA.

More and more my aim is with regards to safety and the safety of the home and its occupancy.
While down the track I would like to utilize more of that data to automate more things, a lot of those items can be driven from plug and play relayed devices.

I have always been fairly worried about electrical currents and my own safety as I have a pacemaker and I don’t want to compromise its pace detection sensor and I think a high enough current could do that. The risk of high resistance in DC wires is definitely a very large, as we know with the whole insulation/down light debarkel in AU.

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#9

There is a GPO in my roofspace, so I went through and put an extension lead that had a power point installed every metre, I also converted the lighting in the ceiling into ones that had a generic house plug and plugged them into it. I had plugged X10s into it at the time (I’ve been here 10 years and still have the defunct X10 RF remote on the wall!). They’ve all been converted to a smarthome app compatible brand of plug pack (the app of which died with the 64bit iOS update a ways back) it’s been a real disappointment.

Since I used an existing GPO and I’m only plugging things in, am I running the gauntlet on this one? My thought is I’m skimming safely inside, but I’ve never really canvassed the question. Watching Jon’s videos over the last year or two I’ve wanted todo more, but it’s just way too hard (regulatory wise) in Aus and just haven’t bothered.

Thoughts (on the plug in lead lights?)

#10

My opinion on the matter is that you ARE following the rules per se’. If it was designed with a plug that wasn’t tampered with to make it work, you haven’t violated any of the rules. It is basically no different than buying a floor lamp and plugging it into an outlet. It is a slightly different usage for the same application… mounting it in the ceiling… but it is being powered as designed, through a factory plug. In the US, that would fly all day long. And that is how a lot of the hobby electronics and automation stays within the bounds of the electrical code. Could there be a way for insurance to welch on coverage if there was an issue? Of course. If they want to find a way, they will, no matter how it all plays out. Might be a much harder game to play in Australia but I still can’t see how that violates anything.

#11

That’s a good point, and my thought too; insurance will likely try and wiggle out of paying…

But then it comes down to, if everything is built with safety in mind and it never burns down, there should never be an issue. Until you tried to sell the place. lol

I do have a feeling that even with the plug, because the light/lamp might be mounted in a wall or ceiling, it would be deemed to be “installed” and although that in itself isn’t “electrical” work, I suspect that would specifically be the gray area.

#12

It also depends on what sort of power points that cable is wired to and what sort of power cable was used, you might find that it may not be compliant even though you are skirting the technical “need a license to do x” rule.

I’m likely going to follow @jon 's method, get a sub board wired up by an electrician. New installs require a certificate, changes need to be done by a qualified person, but don’t need a certificate (that varies from state to state, I only know WA/VIC rules).