Is that up to code?
During inspections, we often get the question, “Is that up to code?” See a previous blog that we wrote that asked if inspection items were “grandfathered”? Is that Grandfathered? – Dunsing Inspections As noted in the previous discussion, this is a difficult question for a home inspector. There are several reasons for this.
- Codes change. Most municipalities are 2 or more code “cycles” behind the current code requirements. For instance, the current International Building Code was updated in 2021. A quick check of local towns near us shows that most use codes from 2014 to 2018 – many with some changes specific to their locale.
- Code is the minimum. Buildings that “meet code” are built to the minimum standards. Often, there are better or more durable methods to construct a building that exceeds the code.
- Codes are open to interpretation. Simply put, the person who “approves” the construction can allow deviations from the building code. Home inspectors are not afforded this luxury.
- There are over 200 villages, towns, and municipalities just in the Chicago area. Imaging knowing the nuances for each city! It simply is not possible for one person to know every town’s building code.
More Continuing Education for Dunsing Inspectors
Recently, several of our inspectors attended an excellent continuing education class that dealt with building codes. The course, titled “Understanding residential building codes for the home inspector“, was presented by Richard Piccolo, an extremely knowledgeable educator who is the founder and president of Building and Fire Code Academy (BFCA), a company that provides training and administration for code enforcement officials throughout the area.
The course went through different sections of the International Building Code and we discussed, in depth, the reasons for some of the code requirements. Many of the items discussed were common knowledge and some were interesting insights into why building codes were specific about certain requirements. A large portion of the discussion dealt with new codes and how they applied to new construction. We spent a great deal of time discussing how older homes are not required to meet the current code. Our instructor was clear that in most cases code officials do not have the authority to require that existing homes be brought up to current standards.
That’s not up to code! Your home inspector should have told you that!
We have heard this comment many times over the years. It usually comes from a contractor who is applying building codes for new construction to an existing home. The problem is that with few exceptions, this is not how things work. An exception was in 2007 when the state legislature of Illinois required that carbon monoxide detectors were required for all homes regardless of their age. Applying new construction codes to existing homes is both unnecessary and can cause unreasonable expenses for a new homeowner, in many cases.
During our class we learned that if a home is remodeled, a homeowner may be responsible to update their home to today’s standards. This is important information that a homeowner should be aware of, as the costs associated with updating can be expensive.
Since contractors often discuss safety and durability when presenting their proposals, homeowners need to be ascertain whether something is required to meet current standards. It might be great to rebuild an old staircase, but the cost may outweigh the benefit. An experienced inspector should have a good knowledge of the building codes where they are inspecting. However, since they cannot enforce the code, should they be citing code requirements? After discussing this with other home inspectors and some municipal inspectors, we feel that it is best left to the city code officials to interpret if it is “up to code”. In other words, home inspectors need to “stay in their lane”. Does your home inspector stay in their lane?