Will you tell me if the house meets code?

People frequently ask, in the context of home inspections, whether what we're seeing "meets code". That's kind of a loaded question. First of all it's not a code inspection and we are not code officials. Secondly, the codes are living documents and they vary by jurisdiction and change over time. Property owners are not required to go back and retrofit existing houses. There may be places in the course of the inspection where we'll say to you "If this were being built today we would be doing it THIS way", but that's not to indicate a fault as much as it is to give you the information needed to put in a more modern version or upgrade. There are a few exceptions to this "grandfathering" practice--- for example, operable smoke detectors in all currently required areas must be in place anytime the occupant of the house changes. If one engages in remodeling, typically what is being altered must meet current guidelines. In general, a building is only required to meet the standard of the day when it was built. Because these guidelines all have health or safety implications, however, it is always smart to incorporate as much current thinking as you can manage cost effectively.

Even when dealing with new construction, the code is seldom adhered to in absolute terms. It is not a law that is chiseled in stone but rather it is more like a cookbook. A cookbook says that if you cook a chicken in a specific way then you will be pleased with the outcome. It is not saying that this is the only way to cook a chicken--it is simply saying that this specific method works and if you use this recipe then no modifications or study is required.

To that end, codes are prescriptive--they define specific requirements in clear terms. They tell us the specific types and sizes of nails to be used and the specified spacing of support elements or the requirement for smoke detectors in all bedrooms and basements. These are typically not subject to interpretation. Other portions of the codes are performance based, which means that whatever method is used must accomplish certain specified results. An example of this would be the requirement that a deck rail must be able to withstand 200 pounds of pressure applied laterally anywhere along its length, and that a four inch sphere cannot pass through it. Beyond that, any design that accomplishes these goals may be acceptable. So codes not only consist of the language and specifications in the document itself, but also include, by inference, the recommendations and designs of architects, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, and the manufacturers of products who essentially have proven that their method or product will accomplish the same end, merely in a different way.

Inspectors look for methods of work that are typical in our area. If we see something that is atypical, we will draw your attention to it so you can do more research if you so desire.