Originally Posted By: roconnor
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The subject of Building Codes relative to home inspections comes up sometimes, so the following discussion should provide some basic information on codes from a building inspector/designers, as well as a building officials, point of view (since I often have to look at things from one side of the fence or the other in my full-time trade).
Building codes are basically legal requirements for new construction. The way building codes work, when you construct something new it must comply with the latest LOCAL BUILDING CODE. Each state and some larger cities (e.g. NYC) have their own building code, and enforcement of the building code is usually handled by a local municipality/agency sometimes called the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). The local AHJ can have amendments to the code (called MRLS for More Restrictive Local Standards) as long as they are more restrictive than the state code ... local amendments usually can not be less restrictive than the state code.
Before work starts, an application for a Building Permit is filed with the local building official or AHJ, who reviews the application and then issues a Building Permit (BP) if everything looks OK and all other required local approvals have been obtained. During construction various building inspectors will periodically check the work, and when construction is complete the AHJ will issue a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) which indicates the work was found to generally comply with the current local building code and can be used or occupied.
Once a building is constructed and a CO issued, it generally does not need to be modified or upgraded if the building codes change. With a few exceptions (some life safety and property maintenance provisions), an existing building is ?grandfathered? under the new code so that it does not need to be modified every time the codes change. So a home built 60 years ago generally only needs to meet the provisions of the code in effect 60 years ago, unless it is upgraded or rehabilitated.
There are also provisions for what is called an "alternate design" in the codes, where something less restrictive than the letter of the code can be submitted by a design professional and approved by the AHJ, as long as it meets the general intent provisions of the code for safety. A common joke is that "the building code isn't what is written in the book ... the building code is what the building official says is written in the book". Actually that is not too far off, as the AHJ is usually given the legal authority to interpret the code and approve alternate designs. Not as simple as just looking something up in a book ... ![icon_rolleyes.gif](upload://iqxt7ABYC2TEBomNkCmZARIrQr6.gif)
Code sections should never be quoted and things should never be listed as a ?code violation?. That may or may not be true depending on what the local code in effect at the time of construction was, and the interpretation of that code by the AHJ as well as the approval of any alternate designs. In addition, listing things as code "violations" or discussing code compliance is an extremely slippery slope, and some say that is crossing state licensing and building code laws for licensed trades and professions, as well as building officials. But home inspectors can consider building codes as an indication of what things may be an issue or concern during a home inspection.
Consider an older home built 40 years ago. It may have a second story deck with railings spaced far apart, as well as a kitchen and bathrooms with standard non-GFCI electrical outlets. Current building codes would require the second story deck railings to have a gap no greater than 4? wide so that small children could not crawl through the railing and fall off the deck. Current codes would also require GFCI electrical safety outlets in the kitchen, bathrooms, and other hazardous damp or wet areas. However, at the time the home was built those things were most likely acceptable practice and complied with the building code in effect then, so technically speaking they are not ?code violations? and would be ?grandfathered? under current codes so that safety upgrades for those items would not be legally required. However, those items are clearly a ?safety hazard? and should be upgraded to current safety standards as would be required by current building codes.
Building Codes can be useful for an HI as an indication of what current construction practice and requirements are, and what may be a safety concern, as long as code compliance is left up to the local building official. In fact, a home inspection report should have a disclaimer that the inspection is not for code compliance. But building codes can still be very useful tools, if used correctly just like any other tool ...
Robert O'Connor, PE
Eagle Engineering ?
Eagle Eye Inspections ?
NACHI Education Committee
I am absolutely amazed sometimes by how much thought goes into doing things wrong