Whether you’re selling your old house or building a new one, housing codes play a big role in the process. For builders, it can mean costly expenses to stay compliant, and even more costly penalties for violations. For sellers, a bad post-offer housing inspection can knock tens of thousands off your asking price, or worse, scare your buyer away.
Knowing how to keep your home up to code is important – but what exactly does that mean?
The phrase “up to code” is a fairly loose term, as housing and building codes can differ from place to place. But most local housing codes have roots in the International Building Code (IBC) guidelines.
The IBC incorporates many major international code guidelines, including the International Plumbing Code, the International Fire Code, the International Fuel Gas Code and so on.
To say that your home is up to code means that it meets the minimum home safety requirements across a few main categories, including:
Now that you understand the basics behind housing codes, let’s dive into the most common building code violations – and what to do about them.
Improper handrails can cause nasty falls, which is why most local housing codes have handrail requirements. Some of the most common handrail-related building code violations include:
Taking shortcuts on window installations is a surefire way to wind up with a code violation. Some common housing code violations related to windows include:
Using non-tempered glass: For windows next to staircases or bathroom areas, glazed, tempered safety glass is required. Normal glass can shatter and be slipped on, creating another safety hazard in already high-risk areas.
Poor accessibility: Every bedroom, especially a basement bedroom, is required to have at least one egress window. It should be easily accessible for emergency use, both for residents or emergency crews from the outside.
A 2013 survey by the International Code Council found that two of the most common violations were broken or improperly installed carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
Smoke Detector Requirements: According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoke detectors should be installed on each level of a home, in every bedroom and outside every sleeping area. Larger homes may require more alarms.
Carbon Monoxide Detector Requirements: Requirements vary by state, but it’s recommended to place alarms on each level, near each sleeping area and near attached garages approximately 5 feet above the ground.
In addition to traditional housing codes, there are also energy codes designed to reduce a home’s energy usage. The following can help prevent energy building code violations in your home:
According to the North American Deck and Railing Association, 50% of the over 40 million decks in America were built in the early 1990s – more than two decades ago. If your deck looks a little worse for wear, give it a good once-over to keep it up to code:
For more deck inspection tips, check out this handy Deck Inspection Checklist from the experts at Family Handyman.
Bad flashing is one of the most common building code violations. It can result in serious water damage that can impact the strength of your home’s structure.
Flashing tape can help seal up small leaks around windows, but for more in-depth fixes, you might have to call in a window and door expert.
You can improve your home’s fire readiness and keep your home up to code with a few fixes, additions and building techniques:
If you’re installing a permanent DIY kitchen island, make sure to include electrical wiring on your to-do list. The National Electric Code requires all permanent structures in kitchen areas to have electricity to keep your home up to code.
This is because we often place hot appliances like griddles or fryers on islands; running a cord over a walkway can cause someone to trip and fall or worse, throw hot grease across the kitchen.
An unfinished basement might seem like the perfect blank canvas for a DIYer. But one wrong renovation can compromise the structural integrity of your entire home, according to the foundation experts at Acculevel:
“The most common building code violations we see are homes that someone has ran a new water line or electrical wire [in the basement]. This can often times result in sagging floor or settling walls for the levels above. Be very mindful about causing structural issues by cutting joists, taking out support posts or even forgetting the proper vapor barriers and insulation when the basement is finished out.”
Nolan Beery | Acculevel, Inc.
While building permits might seem like just another DIY roadblock, they are important for keeping your home up to code. Gary Martin, housing inspector for Integrity Building Inspections, says you can avoid many building code violations by getting the right permits for DIY work:
“Many DIY projects require a building permit. It helps to ensure that the DIY project being completed is in compliance with the city building code at the time of the project. Most cities will provide guidance as to what is required.”
Gary Martin | Integrity Building Inspections
To find your local housing codes, check out Buildings Guide’s state-by-state building code resource for DIYers.
Answer: probably not. The 2013 Common Code Violations Survey found that over 45 percent of inspected homes had some sort of housing code violation. Fortunately, you may not have to repair your home’s violations if they don’t pose a safety risk. A housing inspector can help you determine what repairs you’ll need in order to sell your home.
Housing inspectors are not housing or building code enforcers. However, they can point you in the right direction and offer solutions to fix any problems with your home:
“During an inspection we usually find significant material defects that will affect the value of the home our clients purchase. Even on new homes that have just been built, we still find fire safety and electrical issues. The savings are usually much more than the cost of the inspection.”
Gary Martin | Integrity Building Inspections
Whether you’re getting ready to buy or build, moving to a new home can be stressful – unless you have our comprehensive guide, Tips for Moving Into a New House, on hand. Check it out to simplify your move!
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