Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

Why Home Inspectors Should Know Building Codes

September 15th, 2014 | 4 comments

In last week’s blog post I mentioned that there is an upcoming seminar for Minnesota home inspectors, being taught by building code guru Douglas Hansen of Code Check.  Minnesota currently uses the 2006 International Building Code (IRC), but we’ll soon be adopting the 2012 IRC, and with that will come a lot of changes.  The upcoming seminar will cover the most important parts of these changes.

Side note: Why are we flying in a national code guru from California to teach this 8-hour seminar when the class has already been put together and is being taught by some extremely knowledgeable and capable building officials right here in Minnesota?

@#$!%* beaurocracy, plain and simple.  The folks that I’ve reached out to at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry have told me they’re not allowed to do any teaching outside of the state curriculum because there’s a conflict of interest.  I have no idea what the conflict could possibly be, and I’m not at all satisfied with that answer, but in the interest of getting this class put together and notifications sent out to MN home inspectors in a timely manner, I didn’t fight the issue.  I’m not done with it though.

I sent out an email notification to all of the Minnesota ASHI members letting them know about this seminar, and I’ve been making phone calls as well to make sure that everyone got the word.

I had one conversation with another Minnesota home inspector, who I’ll call Inspector X, that prompted me to write this post.  When I told Inspector X about the upcoming seminar that would be covering the code changes to the IRC, I said I considered this  seminar to be ‘must-have’ training for any home inspector in Minnesota.

Inspector X said he disagreed that this is must-have training, because he doesn’t conduct code enforcement inspections in any capacity.  I didn’t have time to engage at the moment, so I just told him he was right, home inspections are not the same as code enforcement inspections, but it’s still important for us to be familiar with current building codes.  I couldn’t get him to agree with that either, so I basically just wished him well… but if I had had the time, I would have explained it this way:

ASHI Home Inspection Standards of Practice require home inspectors to provide clients with a written report that states those systems and components inspected that, in the professional judgement of the inspector, are not functioning properly, significantly deficient, unsafe, or are near the end of their service lives.

Unsafe is defined as “A condition in a readily accessible, installed system or component that is judged by the inspector to be a significant risk of serious 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 practices.

Current building codes are what define accepted residential building practicesIf a home inspector is not familiar with current building codes, they’re not familiar with accepted residential building practices.

Code Knowledge vs. Code Inspection

Even though home inspectors should be familiar with current building codes, this doesn’t mean that home inspectors should report code violations.  Our standards of practice clearly state that home inspectors are NOT required to determine “compliance of systems and components with past and present requirements and guidelines (codes, regulations, laws, ordinances, specifications, installation and maintenance instructions, use and care guides, etc.).

If you want to know the difference between a code compliance inspection and a home inspection, look at the reasoning behind the recommendations for change / repair.  ASHI Standards of Practice require home inspectors to report the reasoning or explanation as to the nature of deficiencies reported that are not self-evident.  If the home inspector bases their reasoning on code, they’re heading into ‘code compliance inspection’ territory.

As an example, take a look at the sump basket cover at this new-construction home; the cover isn’t airtight, which will allow for moist air to enter the home.  This air may also bring radon gas into the home.

unsealed sump basket cover

Here’s a bad way for a home inspector to report on this: “The sump basket cover was not airtight, which is required by Minnesota Administrative Rule 1322.2103, Section AF103.4.4.  Have this corrected.”

The problem with this type of reporting is that it tells the client that this is a problem because the installation does not meet code… and that’s about all.  It doesn’t give the reasoning or explanation as to the nature of this deficiency.

The proper way for a home inspector to report this type of defect would be “The sump basket cover was not airtight, which will allow for air to leak into the building.  This air will have relatively high levels of moisture, and will contribute to radon gases coming into the home.  Have the sump basket cover made airtight.”

See the difference?

If the home buyer addresses this issue with the builder and asks them to correct this, the builder might say it already passed inspection and meets code.  At that point, a home inspector who is familiar with building codes would be happy to give their client the above code reference, backing up their recommendation.  That’s a good thing, and it doesn’t mean the home inspector is doing a code compliance inspection.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

          

“…But The City Approved It!”

February 9th, 2010 | 3 comments

It happens to me several times each year; I inspect a home for a buyer, I point out a construction defect, then I get a call from an angry seller or seller’s agent, accusing me of being wrong.

If someone challenges my call, I’m always happy to provide an authoritative reference to prove that I’m not just throwing my opinion around.  I can give code references to prove my calls if I’m challenged.  This is why it’s important for home inspectors to know building codes, even though they’re not doing code inspections… but I digress.

The crazy argument that I sometimes get from home sellers and seller’s agents is that a defect that I reported on is not a problem, because the defect wasn’t identified as a part of the permit inspection process.  The argument sounds like this:

Angry Home Seller:  “That hole in my roof is fine!  You had no right to tell the person buying my house that it’s wrong.”

Me: “That hole is not acceptable.  It will leak water in to the house.”

Indignant Home Seller:  “That roof was just installed a month ago, and the installation meets the requirements for the Minneapolis Building Code.”

Me:  “What makes you say that?”

Misinformed Home Seller: “The City of Minneapolis approved the permit.  That means it meets the city’s code.”

While a hole in the roof is an extreme example, the logic applied by this home seller is just as flawed when it comes to other less extreme defects, such as improper nails in joist hangersimproper furnace ventingattic bypasses on new construction… you name it.

Municipal inspectors often have very full schedules and don’t have the luxury of taking their sweet time during inspections like I do.  If a municipal inspector misses a violation of the code, it doesn’t mean that the violation was approved.

To prove my point, I’ll even give you a code reference from the Minnesota State Building Code (insert smiley winky face).

1300.0210 Inspections

Subpart 1. General. Construction or work for which a permit is required is subject to inspection by the building official and the construction or work shall remain accessible and exposed for inspection purposes until approved. Approval as a result of an inspection is not approval of a violation of the code or of other ordinances of the jurisdiction. Inspections presuming to give authority to violate or cancel the provisions of the code or of other ordinances of the jurisdiction are not valid. It shall be the duty of the permit applicant to cause the work to remain accessible and exposed for inspection purposes. Neither the building official nor the jurisdiction is liable for expense entailed in the removal or replacement of any material required to allow inspection.

Good times.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Twin Cities Home Inspector

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