Why Don't Home Inspectors Mention Code?

By
Home Inspector with Structure Tech Home Inspections

Home inspections are not ‘code’ inspections, and a lot of home inspectors even treat the word ‘code’ as taboo.  They call it the ‘C-word’.  I recently had another  home inspector on AR tell me he’s not even allowed to use that word in Kentucky.  This is such a taboo word that I don’t use it either, but I don’t think it has to be this way. 

The basis of taboo 
Three of the largest home inspection organizations make it clear in their Standards of Practice that home inspectors are not required to report on code compliance.  For example, the ASHI Standards of Practice state that “Inspectors are NOT required to determine compliance with regulatory requirements (codes, regulations, laws, ordinances, etc.).”  There is nothing in the standards prohibiting home inspectors from determining compliance… it’s just not a requirement.

Where ‘code’ plays a role in home inspections
Home inspections are conducted to educate the client – usually a home buyer.  The ASHI Standards of Practice states that Inspectors are required to report on Unsafe conditions, which is defined as a condition that is judged to be a significant risk to bodily injury during normal, day-to-day use; the risk may be due to damage, deterioration, improper installation, or a change in accepted residential construction standards.

Accepted Residential Construction Standards
This is not defined, but my interpretation of this means ‘building codes’.  This is how construction standards are defined.  Inspectors in different parts of the country have different building codes, so they also have different construction standards.  What is acceptable in one part of the country might be unacceptable in Minnesota.  Home inspectors should be expected to know what’s acceptable in their part of the country, and they should be able to prove it if necessary – this means citing code.

It’s always a judgement call
Since 2003, the National Electric Code has required arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) for bedroom circuits.  AFCIs prevent fires.  Does the lack of an AFCI breaker in a home built before 2003 constitute an unsafe condition?  What about a new construction home?  Let me ask that differently.  Should a home inspector call out missing AFCIs in homes built before 2003?  What about new construction homes?   If a home inspector doesn’t answer ‘yes’ to the last two questions or ‘no’ to the last two questions, they’re basing their answer on ‘code’, not ‘unsafe’ conditions.  Us home inspectors call this is a ‘construction defect’, but why not call a spade a spade?  It’s a code violation.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Golden Valley Home Inspections

close

Re-Blogged 1 time:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Tony Stiles 04/30/2009 09:47 PM
Groups:
Ask the Home Inspector
ASHI
Home Inspectors across the country
Home Inspector's Corner
Professional Home Inspectors
Tags:
home inspection standards
code inspections
code compliance

Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Rainer
24,420
Darren Miller
About The House - Succasunna, NJ

I cite codes all the time. I am also a licensed code inspector as well as a licensed construction official.

New Jersey has the Uniform Construction Code; that means the code is consistant througth-out the state.

However, NJ also has the 'Re-Hab' code that allows renovations without 'updating' the structure. Here's a classic example of someone who doesn't know the code getting into trouble...

 

On older houses, many times the bedroom windows are not large enough for today's requirement of 'emergency escape & rescue'. I know of some inspectors who call it out as a defect, yet some other inspectors are 'un-aware' of the requirements. Here's what I say about the situation:

Bedroom windows are not large enough for today's fire emergency escape & rescue standards (At least 1 window per bedroom must have a minimum opening that is 24" high and 20" wide with a net opening of at least 5.7 square feet, or 5.0 Square feet if on 1st floor level). This means if a window opening is 24 inches high, it must be 34 1/2 inches wide to meet the 5.7 sq ft. While they probably met standards when the house was constructed, you should consider upgrading to meet today's safety requirements. Now, to make things more confusing, the NJ Re-hab code allows you to replace these windows with the same exact size windows; however, you cannot make them any smaller, and if you make them larger then the existing size, they then must meet the above mentioned requirements.

 

Darren

Dec 23, 2009 06:20 AM #49
Rainmaker
233,449
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

Darren - Here in Minnesota we don't have any type of 'Re-hab' code, but it's actually allowable to reduce the size of the window opening with replacement windows, provided you're using the largest replacement window available from the manufacturer.  

I make a similar comment in my reports, and if the windows all look too small for an average person to climb out of, I recommend having this fixed.  I list the code requirements for new construction right in my report, along with a diagram.

Dec 23, 2009 07:26 AM #50
Rainer
86,824
Mike (Inspector Mike) Parks
The Parks Consulting Group, LLC - Circleville, OH
Inspector Mike

In Ohio:

"115.6.1 Door and window dimensions.

Minor reductions in the clear opening dimensions of replacement doors and windows that result from the use of different materials shall be allowed, whether or not they are permitted by this code."

Dec 23, 2009 09:39 AM #51
Rainer
17,097
Michael Reel
Integrity Home Inspections LLC - Parkersburg, WV

Reuben,

It is all in the verbiage! Communicate the the concern with clarity, cite reasons why it is not acceptable and go to the source (code). When inspecting new homes there is no other guideline. When inspecting older homes (where current building codes do not apply) a different approach must be taken. However the safety concern noted is still present regardless of age. That is where the clear and concise communication comes in. We as inspectors cannot demand that anything be altered in the home.(PERIOD). We can only state the condition that is present at the time of the inspection. If we are wise we will temper our findings, explain the safety concern regardless of age of dwelling and not be so legalistic. Items that to us, in our opinion appearing as unsafe must be addressed. I try not to use the "C" word but in my humble opinion if you do not know the codes then there are times when you will not know that a condition exists.  In all things there is benchmark for condition or accuracy and in some cases there are benchmarks for benchmarks. Int eh case of homes codes are the benchmark and all of them are in place because property or life has been lost or damaged.

Blessings to ALL and a happy New Year as well

Mike Reel

 

Dec 29, 2009 03:01 AM #52
Rainmaker
93,833
Scott Warga
ACSI American Construction Specialists & Investigations - Gilbert, AZ

Reuben,

 

Great post I only want to mention that there is 2003 NEC The code cycle is 3 years so there is the 96, 99, 2002, 2005, 2008 etc.

Also AFCI's were first required in the 1999 NEC for all bedroom circuits in homes permitted after January 1, 2000.

It helps to know when the code is adopted in your area and what changes were made.

In my area we had some municipalities that went from the 96 NEC until they adopted the 2005 NEC. We also had one County that excluded the AFCI requirement when they adopted the 99 NEC. (They kept it when they adopted the 2005 NEC)

So here is a different question:

You inspect two properties in a single day, they are 1 block away from each other and both were built in 2003. The city border is between the two homes. One city is still using the 1996 NEC that does not require AFCI's The other city addopted the 2002 NEC.

Neither home has AFCI's. Since it is not required in the one town, is it still a safety concern or "Unsafe Condition"?

This is where the home inspectors opinion has to come into play. Why would it be an unsafe condition at one property and not the other?

For the record, I write it up on both houses.

Jan 04, 2010 07:42 AM #53
Rainer
22,787
Scott Coslett
National Property Inspections - Berwick, PA

Citing building codes during the inspection process is at best a slippery slope.  If we cite a particular code regarding AFCI or GFCI placement and do not cite a code for some other electrical transgression aren't we liable?  I believe a good attorney would tell you if you are not a certified code inspector you have no business citing a particular code. 

Simply stated, a home inspection is primarily a safety inspection. In the example above, mentioning AFCI/GFCI placement can be done without citing'code'.   I know at times the lines get blurred, but keep the 'codes' out of your inspection report will help keep you out of the court system. 

Feb 24, 2010 01:55 AM #54
Anonymous
Stuart Brooks, Virginia Inspection Service, LLC

Scott C: Right on! Communications, communications, communications. Apparently too many inspectors do not have that skill and it is probably THE most important one to have.

Stephanie E-M: Sorry, but 99.99% of home inspectors aren't qualified to perform engineering or design calculations. Calls are made based on experience, training, or supportive evidence. Ok, sometimes out of pure ignorance.

If I go into a 50 year old home that might have 3" of insulation in the attic, I am very comfortable stating THAT IS insufficient insulation. I think the point you are concerned about is if it called, in the opinion of the inspector, a deficiency.

Some states, with influence from the state realty association, have screwed with the inspection process so much there may not be a legal way of saying, "The insulation in the attic is insufficient by modern standards. This can mean higher than neccesary heating and cooling costs. I recommend obtaining estimates from a  qualified licensed insulation contractor to upgrade the insulation."  UNLESS it is called a difficiency.

Is what may appears to be insufficient insulation a difficiency? Not in my book but I have the flexibility to offer ADVISORY remarks to my report.

H. Stuart Brooks, Virginia Certified Home Inspector - Fredericksburg VA

Mar 03, 2010 01:31 AM #55
Rainmaker
233,449
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

Scott W - for your example, I would tell my clients what the current requirement for new homes is, why this is required, and let them make the call.

Scott C - I don't subscribe to the slippery slope theory, but I also agree that there's no need to cite code if you're bringing up a safety concern.  Personally, I don't feel that the lack of an AFCI is a serious safety issue; if I did, I would have added a bunch of AFCI breakers to my own house.  I would still let my clients know if they were buying a new house that was supposed to have them but didn't.  It's all about giving my clients an education, and sometimes letting them make decisions for themselves.

Stuart - Thankfully here in Minnesota I don't have to deal with delicately phrasing my inspection wording.  I feel sorry for the home inspectors that do!

Mar 03, 2010 12:57 PM #56
Rainer
21,833
Andrew Cox
Cox Property Services - Kissimmee, FL

I usually refer to code when dealing with a safety issue - i.e.- electrical such as GFI, AFCI, stair handrails, etc.   These can be easily explained and don't really need a code reference.  However, if challenged by an angry seller or a contractor, the code citation can be brought up.

My problem is that building codes have changed over the years and in some areas, you never know when the codes were adopted. And enforcement efforts are not the same everywhere.  If I call out a code violation, but the home passed the "code inspection" when it was built, I may be in for an argument...

Mar 19, 2010 02:31 AM #57
Rainmaker
233,449
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

Andrew - I'm with you.  I take the same approach.  Your second point is a great reason to leave codes out of the inspection - use them to back up your point, not to make your point.

Mar 21, 2010 01:20 PM #58
Rainer
86,824
Mike (Inspector Mike) Parks
The Parks Consulting Group, LLC - Circleville, OH
Inspector Mike

Andrew

It's not a code violation if it passed code when built.

Just say "this is how it is done today."

Mar 22, 2010 12:02 AM #59
Rainer
17,097
Michael Reel
Integrity Home Inspections LLC - Parkersburg, WV

Hello Reuben,

It has been far too long for me to be in the "Rain". Life just gets busy..... I pray that you are!

This is one of those topics that just never seems to go away. I think that inspectors have the fear that if they call out "Code" compliance on a single item in a home that they are going to be required to call out code on everything else in the home. Right or wrong, I understand their concern and at times that may be true. With the advent of our excessively litigious society it is an ever increasing problem. For me I have to go back to the use of common sense and the main reason that I got into the home inspection industry. I am there to protect and to inform. As I see it there is no other reason to be a home inspector. Done properly it certainly is not a get rich quick scheme. I know what the SOP and COE for the national organizations state with regard to calling out a code issue. You were exactly correct in stating that these are minimum standards and not law. We can site many examples where code was not mentioned for a particular issue in a home of a given age but the AFCI is the perfect example. If the home is 2002 or newer, based on the NEC I state that AFCI's were required for installation for bedroom circuits. For homes that are older, (I may not write it in the report) but I definitely state that they are a recent code change that can give the homeowner added security with regard to fire safety. In homes that have knob and tube wiring where it is not required to be replaced, but someone has added a circuit breaker panel, I state that the newer series/parallel AFCI's installed at the panel for all 120 volt circuits will increase safety in the home.

Does this exceed the SOP?  Probably. Does it aid the purchaser in providing added security for their families? I think yes.

Blessings to all

Mike

 

Oct 04, 2010 03:47 AM #60
Rainer
2,553
Bruce Ramsey
Advocate Inspections - Raleigh, NC

The real estate association and home builder association had the home inspector law changed in my state last year so that if a home inspector wants to cite code for a defect, the specific code section must be included in the report as well as what code was enforce at the time the defect was installed. 

Fortunately we have a state building code.  The state generally adopts the IRC within 1 year and usually only delays implementation of a handful of specific new changes to the code..  Towns or cities can make more stringent codes but cannot be less stringent than the state code (which is basically the "national" IRC).  Meeting the IRC is going to serve my clients most of the time.  Those few instances where the town or city code is more strict, they are generally well known by agents and home inspectors in the area. 

I keep a library of code books on my shelf.  When questioned by clients, agents, or builders, I can look up the code and render an opinion based on research.  I have also called the local code officials for their opinion of how they would implement code enforcement regarding specific matters in their jurisdiction. 

Some items are unsafe regardless of when the code was adopted.  A staircase without hand rails is a danger.  If you fall, gravity does not care what the code is or when it was adopted.  You are still going to get hurt.  I can refer to building codes that specify the spacing, height, width, lateral pressure and all the rest but the real answer is it is just plain unsafe.  There are no "grandfathered" safety hazards, only safety hazards.  My job is to inform my clients about safety hazards and using building, plumbing, mechanical, and electrical codes provide a baseline to help substantiate my opinion.

I "quote" code in my reports but I obscure it.  I write "Commonly accepted building practices require ..." and then I paraphrase the specific building code.  If an buyer, seller, agent, or builder wants me to provide a specific reference, then I am more than happy to do so outside of the report.  I have found that most tradespeople are less knowledgeable about the code that governs their trade than I am.  When asking an builder, electrician, plumber, or HVAC contractor to put in writing that something meets code and put their business name, license number and sign the document, they tend to stammer and decide that maybe they can fix the defect.   Home inspectors must put their business name, license number and sign every report.  I have already put everything on the line and am willing to back up my statements. 

Code is the absolute minimun to build the worst possible house, not a ceiling to aspire to.  If a home cant even meet code, then it is has a number of safety hazards.

Dec 08, 2010 05:29 AM #61
Rainer
11,503
Rick McCullough
Alert Home Services - Denver, CO

After being in the Inspection field for over 20 years now I provide SAFE and Sanitary Inspections, I guide my inspections with those 2 simple rules. Is it Safe and is it Sanitary.

I explain to my clients about safety, ie CO Detectors. Most CO problems come from inadequate, blocked or damaged flue venting, not cracked heat exchangers. The rubber hoses on washers are one of the most common causes of flooding in homes. GFICs around plumbing fixtures. Also is it SAFE for the longevity of the home itself

Dec 13, 2010 07:51 AM #62
Rainmaker
112,529
Robert Dirienzo
HABITEC Home and Building Inspections, LLC - Franklin, TN
Home Inspections - Nashville TN

Rueben,

When HABITEC completes Home Inspections in Nashville and Middle Tennessee, we make it clear to our Client we are not code experts or code enforcement officials.  That said, we do try to maintain a good working knowledge of the IRC and apply many of those standards to our Operations Manual.  One thing we stress to our Clients is that the building code is a "minimum".  Often times we apply a more conversative condition to our recommendations or opinions because the minimum standard from the IRC is just not enough to adequately protect our Client or their new home.

Thank you,

Richard Acree

HABITEC Home and Building Inspections, LLC (Nashville, TN)

http://habitecinspections.com

Feb 01, 2011 04:22 PM #63
Rainer
61,654
Jim Watzlawick
Watz Home Inspections - Algonquin, IL
Watz Home Inspections

Home inspectors are not code inspectors for a reason, its impossible to know the codes for every village and county we inspect in. The very so much from town to town and county to county.

Jm Watzlawick

Watz Home Inspections

Watzhomeinspections.com

 

Apr 29, 2011 05:32 AM #64
Rainer
21,833
Andrew Cox
Cox Property Services - Kissimmee, FL

I had a new construction inspection the other day, where I got from the builder, "Can you show me the code to back that up?" I had called out a double-tapped breaker servicing 2 separate circuits.  The breaker is a Square D breaker that is rated to carry 2 conductors, so is allowed under code.

I explained that the installation is allowed under code, but is not the "Best Demonstable Practice." I told my client that the electrician had installed it this way, and it is allowed under code, but it would have been just as easy to put the 2nd circuit on its own breaker... the Better way, not the minimal, cheaper way.With the builder standing there, I told the buyer that I would look again, to make sure that other contractors had not taken shortcuts in their work.  The builder's rep was not sad to see me leave...

 

Nov 24, 2011 02:58 PM #65
Rainer
8,397
Dan Hagman
ProSite Home Inspections - Pleasant Hill, Iowa - Pleasant Hill, IA
ProSite Home Inspections, LLC

Home Inspectors are not code inspectors but it is good to know the code to help in their recommendations of good, better, best and what would be the correction you would make to the client. Remember that code is the minimum standard and not the best. Some builders go beyond the code and build above the minimum standard. I seem to come across alot of decks that are not built to current code and are not safe, so I recommend the post to beam connection be beefed up so to speak for safety reasons but it was acceptable the day it was built. Just like GFCIs in the kitchen, a correctly wired receptacle on the counter top is good but I recommend that they install GFCI for an added level of protection (best). I leave the code inspections to the city municipal inspectors and call out what I know is wrong without using that word and recommend whatever it is to be corrected by a professional. Good question and article.

Sep 02, 2013 12:32 AM #66
Anonymous
Kim

Darren - what if the inspector misinforms the contractor about the size requirements (egress window) - the "informed sized" new windows were purchased and installed - and then the inspector says "I did more research and found I got it wrong...you actually need ____."? Can the contractor get compensation from the inspector/office for the wasted window purchase, without having to go through small claims?

Mar 29, 2016 11:50 PM #67
Rainmaker
86,458
Walt Fish
Bay Area Home Inspection, LLC - Marquette, MI
Upper Michigan's Most Experienced Home Inspector

This is a good subject, and yes, a potential slippery slope once one starts quoting code. The AHJ gets the last call and even they don't always enforce their own standards.

Jan 11, 2017 03:19 PM #68
Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Show All Comments

What's the reason you're reporting this blog entry?

Are you sure you want to report this blog entry as spam?

Rainmaker
233,449

Reuben Saltzman

Delivering the Unbiased Truth.
Ask me a question
*
*
*
*
Spam prevention

Additional Information