Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

Why Don’t Home Inspectors Mention Code?

April 7th, 2009 | 16 comments

Home inspections are not ‘code’ inspections, and a lot of home inspectors treat the word ‘code’ as taboo.  They call it the ‘C-word’.  I even had one home inspector tell me he’s not allowed to use that word in Kentucky.  This is such a taboo word that I don’t use it much 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 explicity defined, but home inspectors all know that 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.

AFCI Circuit BreakerIt’s always a judgement call
Since 2003, the National Electric Code has required arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) for bedroom circuits.  AFCIs help to prevent fires.  Does the lack of an AFCI breaker in a home built before this requirement constitute an unsafe condition?   In other words, should a home inspector bring up this topic for homes built before this requirement, and recommend having AFCIs installed?  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’.  As home inspectors we often call these issues ‘construction defects’, but why not call a spade a spade?  It’s a code violation.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Maple Grove Home Inspector

        

16 responses to “Why Don’t Home Inspectors Mention Code?”

  1. Minneapolis Home Inspection
    April 7, 2009, 11:32 am

    Great article. This is a tricky and touchy subject for a lot of home inspectors. Where does one draw the line between code and what the buyer needs to know? It seems like it would be obvious that a customer should know if the house is up to code as well as safe. So why not report on both? I suppose with codes and regulations always changing, it might be asking a bit much for them to be up-to-date on everything. Either way though, I think inspecting agencies would get more business and repeat customers if they did both.

  2. Reuben Saltzman
    April 7, 2009, 7:56 pm

    Thanks!

    Do you report code issues? How?

  3. John Cundiff
    April 12, 2009, 3:32 pm

    The problem with Home Inspectors citing code is that most are not in any capacity or authority to do so. Most code publications reference the AHJ or, Authority Having Jurisdiction. In most cases, this is the appointed or deputized Building Inspector working for a political division who has adopted the code into it’s codified ordinance.

    None of the top three HI S.O.P’s prevent HI’s from citing code. They state that it is not required.

    I believe that it is dangerous for HI’s to spout code. However, they certainly MUST know the code. The thing is, almost all the would-be referenced codes are safety related. Therefore, an HI can simply state an issue as a safety hazard, fire hazard, etc.

    To identify what is or is not a safety hazard, an HI can spend untold resources testing and researching items to form his opinion. Certainly, it would be more prudent to adopt published codes as a guide to what is safe and what is not. The focus should be on the spirit of the code, and not the letter of the code.

    My 2cents

  4. Reuben Saltzman
    April 12, 2009, 7:45 pm

    “The problem with Home Inspectors citing code is that most are not in any capacity or authority to do so.”

    How so? It doesn’t take an authority to cite code, only to enforce it.

    How is it dangerous for HIs to spout code? I’ve heard this repeated many times, but I’ve never heard a good reason. I’ve heard other HIs say that if you start quoting code, you should be expected to cite codes for everything, and you could be held liable for not doing so. I think it’s folklore. If my SOP and my contract say I’m not required to cite code, I don’t have any increased liability in doing so.

    I agree with what you’re saying about calling issues a fire hazard, safety hazard, etc. I also agree with following the spirit of the code.

    Where do you draw the line? For example, how do you report AFCIs?

    Thanks for reading!

  5. tina
    May 8, 2009, 2:09 am

    thanks reuben saltzman, there is so much weight in wat you r saying, and i agree so much with you.

  6. Chad
    February 9, 2010, 10:39 am

    As this was referenced from another blog post about “but your inspection references work that was permitted and inspected”

    Like the municipal inspectors (AHJ), the HI have a similar issue it seems. As you develop more awareness of issues outside your scope, questions arise of: How do you or when do you or do do you mention other issues that may be of concern.

    But what also needs to be understood is verifying code compliance is not exclusive of the municipality or AHJ. I would not expect the AHJ to perform a code compliance inspection as part of a property sale or inquiry as to its development potential (ordinarily).

    Such inquiries would likely be met directing the inquirer to contact a professional to perform such services. A services such as Alta Surveys and Site Analysis. Wherein Alta Survey is typically provided by a land surveyor and Site Analysis as performed by Design Professionals such as Architects and Engineers. (yes some do residential work too)

    Trouble for an HI is the clients expectation of what is being providing from their service and what the client may be expecting to use with this information (addition, etc).

    So what do you do?

  7. Reuben Saltzman
    February 10, 2010, 4:56 pm

    Hi Chad – was your question at the end rhetorical, or were you literally asking how I approach home inspections in regard to building codes, and code compliance?

  8. City Inspector
    July 27, 2010, 12:30 pm

    As for AFCI’S,
    when a home was build under a model code cycle 20 years ago, and all the components of the home meet the code at that time, A home is still code complaint. It is when a homeowner changes things that could involve a component, ( Example: Electrical) say they remodel a kitchen or bath and electrical is involved, that is when that portion of the system is brought up to current code requirements. To add to this , you would have to have access to city records in order to check for compliancy. If only flooring and countertops and plumbing were involved, a owner cannot be made to bring the electrical component of that portion of the job up to current code requirements. They would have to be actually doing work with that system for there to be a update to the electrical system. Does that portion meet the current code? Yes it does. Does work done 20 years ago meet current code requirements? Probably not. Is it required to be updated? No! To be a good inspector, you still need to know codes and construntion practices, also knowing the life safty issues (again refering to codes), because the Codes are what all building practices are based on. Building Codes and other codes that follow: The purpose of the Codes is to maintain a minimum standard for Health, Safty, and Welfare of all Buildings and the Occupents. I hope this sheds light on your debate.

  9. Reuben Saltzman
    July 27, 2010, 3:41 pm

    Hi City Inspector (Jon?),

    Everything you said here is correct, no question about that…

    but if you were a private inspector, how would you report on AFCIs? If there were no AFCIs at a 1980 house, would you report it? What about a 2004 built house?

  10. City Inspector
    July 29, 2010, 8:25 am

    Just like I mentioned, when a home is built before the that code requirement came to be put in place, that home meets requirements. It is not required to update items to meet the current codes. The codes evolve every 3 years and our state seems to be on tract to adopt the 2012 codes. MN. does not update every 3 years. Now with the updates, they try to learn from previous years experience and make all areas of construction/building safer. This is where AFCI protection comes into play. If a home built in 2004 was supposed to have AFCI protection and does not, you should be looking at the permits, (if any) or was there a situation where it was brought back to an existing construction condition. Bottom line, you can bring a tampered system back to how it was done under that code cycle, to meet the requirements. If the AFCI protection was just missed when the installation was done, does it pose a safty issue? Or is it just a code violation? Remember, we have all lived and grown up in older homes that did not have those ammenities, we all survived. I can’t tell you how to make the call, my piont I would look at is…Is the system still safe? I would call it out that it does not conform with the CURRENT CODE requirements, looking at it from a buyers inspection piont of view.

  11. Reuben Saltzman
    August 2, 2010, 4:30 am

    City Inspector – I agree, this certainly is not a safety hazard. If I mention that an AFCI is missing, I’m basing this on code… but I don’t have any problem with that.

  12. Nancy K
    August 16, 2010, 7:56 pm

    Great blog, comments & points; wanted to add my 2… I agree it’s a judgment call. Reuben, reading the sample report of the 1991 house, I see (unless I missed it) that AFCI’s aren’t mentioned, they weren’t required so I guess that’s why? On a 1991 home we would have a def for an AFCI & a little info about their usefulness in preventing fires, a link & “consider” the upgrade for fire safety reasons. Home inspections are subjective opinions; I believe it’s worth putting in the report. Good point about the contract & SOP already stating it’s not a code compliant inspection. I think it’s about learning how to explain the code issue to clients, & Realtors in a way that puts it in perspective…how many times have ya been asked “is it up to code?” when you’re inspecting ANY age house? :) On a personal level…when we lived in a 1910 home & upgraded some of our electrical, we installed AFCI’s and for me it was peace of mind to have the extra added fire protection.

  13. Reuben Saltzman
    August 18, 2010, 3:57 am

    Hi Nancy, not a bad idea to include a little blurb about AFCIs in your report. I might have to write a blog about them and include a link in my report; my goal has been to get my inspection reports much shorter.

    Oh man, I get a ridiculous amount of people asking if things are up to code. Why is that?

    I’ve done a lot of electrical work at my own house, and I installed AFCIs where they required at the time I did the work, but I’m not a huge advocate of AFCIs. Maybe just an advocate.

  14. John Cundiff
    September 28, 2010, 8:57 am

    Reuben

    Regarding afi, gfi, etc. I will typically recommend that these devices be installed as required by today’s standards. I do stress however, that it is a recommendation for upgrade or improvement and NOT a deficiency. I usually imply to some degree that such improvements are prudent, but discretionary.

    The problem, as you stated, is where to draw the line. So many HI’s state things like “I ask for GFI’s in bathrooms, but not basements…” or “only withing 6 feet of the sink…” I always counter them and ask on what are they basing this sellectivity. You might hear some good arguements, but none of them, IMHO, are defensible.

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