Is It Up to Code?

Honestly, you are best served not asking this of your home inspector. Why? Home inspectors aren’t code inspectors, simple as that. Not to say that an inspector couldn’t be code certified but it is not common and still would lie outside the Standards of Practice for a home inspection.

Codes change. Plumbing codes, mechanical codes, electrical codes, etc. all are updated periodically, and it is up to individual municipalities to adopt and require adherence to these codes. Municipal building inspectors are responsible for performing inspections for code adherence on new construction and when a permit is required for certain updates and additions. A municipal inspector has the authority to actually “fail” an inspection whereas a home inspector will simply document issues– there is no underlying authority or mandate resulting from a home inspection.

The home inspector is there to document current conditions, functionality of systems as well as actual and potential safety hazards. Portions of a home inspection may reflect codes and local building standards but with few exceptions there is no mandate that a home meet current codes when changing hands. As an example, if a 1950’s home has no GFCI protection, a competent inspector is going to make note that it isn’t present and where it is recommended to be installed according to modern building standards. It is simply an observation and a recommendation- nobody must “bring it up to code”. The same home, if built today, would be required to have GFCI installed at specified locations. Without such an installation, the home would be unlikely to receive a certificate of occupancy.

A lack of understanding often creates confusion between buyers, sellers, and their representative agents. On a recent inspection, the inspector noted that the garage was unfinished and lacked any drywall between the garage and living spaces- not uncommon in older homes. This would not be allowed today as a specific drywall is required to provide a minimum standard of fire protection. The buyer was present along with their father and they inquired “is this up to code?”. The inspector simply stated that it wouldn’t meet current standards. The Buyer requested that it be finished as it wasn’t up to code. The Seller replied that it was “grandfathered” and then they both turned to the home inspector for the correct answer. Our answer- “Correct and Correct”. It would not meet current building standards but there is no requirement that the Seller bring it up to code. Back to the negotiating table.

Our advice? If you want a home that is 100% up to code, buy a new construction home in an area that enforces to a specific code requirement. Do not purchase a “used” home and expect it to meet all current codes and definitely do not expect the current owner to “bring it up to code”. Fair warning though- codes change. If you live in that new home for long trust that it too will gradually fall out of conformity with updated building standards.

Author: Redbud Property Inspections|Steve Bennett

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