The Loaded Question: Is That Up to Code?

Home Inspector with Brian Persons Front Range Home Inspections

Exploring the Complexities of Home Inspections and Code Compliance

By Brian Persons CMI


Home inspections play a crucial role in assessing the condition of a property before a sale. One common question often raised during these inspections is, "Is that up to code?" On the surface, it appears to be a straightforward query with a simple "yes" or "no" answer. However, from a home inspector's perspective, this seemingly simple question can be far more complex than it first appears.

The Multifaceted Nature of Compliance

To answer the question of whether a particular element of a home is up to code, one must consider several variables. It's not just about adhering to a single set of standards; the trouble arises from a web of factors that includes the specific code, the year of its implementation, the trade involved, and the relevant municipality.

  1. Different Codes: Home construction and safety standards vary significantly from region to region. In the United States, for instance, each state and municipality can adopt its building codes, which may be based on international or national standards. This means that the applicable codes can differ even within a single state.
  2. Code Updates: Building codes are not static; they are periodically updated to reflect changes in technology, safety standards, and construction practices. This means that a home could be entirely compliant with the code in force at the time of construction but might not meet current standards.
  3. Trade-Specific Codes: Beyond general building codes, there are specialized codes for electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and other trades. A home may be in compliance with one trade's code but not with another.
  4. Municipal Variations: Even within the same state, different municipalities may adopt their own amendments or interpretations of the state code. Therefore, compliance requirements can vary widely between neighboring towns or cities.

Existing Non-Conforming Structures

Home inspectors may encounter structures that are legally non-conforming, meaning they don't meet current code requirements but are considered "grandfathered in." This is often the case for older homes with features that were once compliant but no longer meet modern standards. While they may be legal, they could pose safety risks.

Navigating the Complexities

As a home inspector, navigating the complexities of compliance is a challenging but essential task. It involves a thorough understanding of local building codes, trade-specific regulations, and the ability to communicate effectively with clients.


  1. Research: To determine whether a particular element of a home is up to code, home inspectors must research the relevant codes and regulations applicable in their area. This includes understanding the historical context of construction in the region.
  2. Communication: Effective communication with clients is vital. Inspectors should explain the nuances of compliance and inform buyers about potential issues, even if they are legally compliant but may pose future challenges.
  3. Suggest Remediation: When a home is not up to code, it's the inspector's role to suggest potential remediation or improvements, even if not strictly required by law. This helps buyers make informed decisions about their purchase.


The question, "Is that up to code?" is deceptively complex from a home inspector's point of view. The variables involved, including different codes, code updates, trade-specific regulations, and municipal variations, make it a loaded question that rarely has a straightforward "yes" or "no" answer.

Home inspectors play a critical role in helping buyers understand the compliance status of a property. They must navigate these complexities, communicate effectively, and offer guidance for potential improvements. In doing so, they contribute to the safety and well-being of future homeowners while ensuring the transparency and integrity of the real estate market.

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Comments (3)

Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Pasadena And Southern California 818.516.4393

Hello Brian - you are right about the complexity of the question "is that up to code".  In my opinion, an inspection is a review on a particular property at a specific time conducted by a qualified person who provides an opinion.  It is a part of due diligence in the real estate process.  It is, of course, subject to interpretation.  Hopefully, the transaction continues to a "happily ever after" moment that lasts longer than a momentary first impression.   😃

Oct 25, 2023 10:04 AM
Kat Palmiotti
eXp Commercial, Referral Divison - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Excellent overview - it's not that simple to know what is or isn't up-to-code!

Oct 26, 2023 05:05 AM
Bill Salvatore - East Valley
Arizona Elite Properties - Chandler, AZ
Realtor - 602-999-0952 / em:

Enjoyed your blog page, and I added you as a follower. I would love the follow back. Also, then we both get 50 points. Bill

Oct 26, 2023 01:07 PM