If you own a home, chances are you’ve heard the term “up to code.” If your home isn’t up to code, you might face housing code violations. But what does that even mean? If you have an older home, it’s more likely that you will need to deal with code violations, but they are a factor to be aware of with newer homes, too.
You don’t need to be in the dark about housing code violations, and especially if you are trying to sell your home soon, you’ll want to know about any changes that you might need to make.
Real estate experts can advise you about the best approach to deal with housing code violations when you are looking to sell but you can do your research ahead of time. The main areas of your home where codes can be an issue are structural strength, entrances and exits, sanitation, lighting and ventilation, energy conservation, and fire safety.
To get started, here is an overview of the most common housing code violations and how to deal with them before they become a problem.
Guide to avoid the common housing code violations
Stairs and handrails
Codes are all about safety both for homeowners, visitors, and your neighborhood. One area of your home that can pose a hazard is stairs and accompanying handrails. These areas need to be up to code to avoid trips and falls. Handrails have specific requirements for safety reasons, like making them graspable, under three inches in diameter, and three feet from the ground. Handrails also need to be connected to the wall because otherwise, they can become dangerous hooks that can catch on clothing or other items.
Windows can also be hazardous if not properly installed. There are rules about their location and materials, for example, every bedroom needs to have a window that could be used as an exit in case of an emergency. Tempered safety glass is a must for bathroom windows and those windows near a staircase where slips and falls are more common, as shattered glass could lead to a disaster. Moreover, windows need to be installed properly with flashing to prevent water damage that can wreak havoc on a home’s integrity. Flashing tape might be an option to fix this code violation, but you may need to hire an expert, or better yet, be sure new windows are installed up to code.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Two of the most common housing code violations that can be easily remedied are broken or improperly installed carbon monoxide or smoke detectors. The most likely code-compliant features are to have ceiling-mounted smoke alarms placed at least 4 inches away from walls and wall-mounted alarms 4 inches to 12 inches down from the ceiling.
They also need to be installed on each level of a home, in every bedroom, and outside every sleeping area. Larger homes may require more alarms and you’d be wise to check code rules when making home additions. When it comes to carbon monoxide detectors the requirements vary by state, and you’ll want to check to make sure that you need them, while you are checking the status of your smoke detectors. If you do need to add carbon monoxide detectors you’ll want to place alarms on each level of your home, near every sleeping area, and in attached garages.
Energy codes are designed to decrease energy consumption and prevent moisture issues like water damage and condensation which can damage your home. Insulation is one of the major features to address here and some of the actions to take are: sealing up and insulating pipes, vents, your attic, ducts, and windows (or investing in double- or triple-pane windows). Unconditioned areas of your home, like your attic, should be also well-insulated in a way that divides them from air-conditioned sections of your home. This prevents heat from transferring between them easily while combating drafts and hazardous situations.
If you haven’t updated your deck in the last decade, chances are it might not be up to code. Unfortunately, this is one area of your home that might need to be addressed before you try to sell. How your deck is connected to your home, or what’s called the ledger and flashing, protects your deck from collapsing and if there are any structural issues here such as water damage, or rusty bolts, that can be a definite code violation. If flashing or siding where your deck meets your home is worn out or missing it will likely need to be replaced. Moreover, decks that are 30 inches above grade must have guardrails that are 36 inches in height to keep everyone safe.
Fire safety is a major issue when keeping your home up to code and it is also a key factor in selecting materials for home construction. Some key features are using fire-resistant building supplies like fire-rated drywall, glass, and window frames.
When it comes to code violations after a home is built, some issues that might come up are fire hazards like holes in drywall which can allow oxygen to move between walls and can also signal a recipe for disaster during an electrical fire.
Electrical systems and malfunctions can be another huge red flag that there may be code violations in a home. There is good reason for this, too, as electrical malfunctions were the second most common cause of fatal house fires from 2014 to 2016 according to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
To check for any housing code violations, it’s wise to have your electrical wiring checked and insulated by a professional, especially if your home was built more than 40 years ago. How you supply electricity to certain areas of your home should also be managed, and you’ll want to steer clear of extension cords in high traffic areas like hallways and kitchens.
Permits for add-ons
Even if you have a newer home, if you’ve made additions to it recently without working with the city to secure proper permits, you might be in a housing code violations situation.
For example, an unfinished basement can compromise the integrity of your home’s entire structure, and making changes without approval can lead to trouble in the future. DIY projects, like adding a backyard prefab studio can be another one to watch as you may need a building permit.
Since every city has different code rules, you’ll want to work with a contractor or to check with your state and county before you even start thinking about a new project to give yourself time to secure the necessary permits. If you have made additions to your home that are not up to code you may need to remedy those violations before you try to sell.
If you want to sell your home, or even if you are just curious about what might be involved in bringing your home up to code, you’ll want to work with a building inspector. Even brand new homes might have code issues and it’s better to be safe than sorry. With codes specific down to the city, working with a contractor who knows the rules for your city can save you time and money.
Having housing code violations doesn’t mean you can’t sell your home, it just might mean that you have some repairs that you need to make before selling, or you may need to offer a discount if there are known issues that you will not be addressed before selling your home.
If the violations don’t affect the structural integrity of your home, you may be able to sell your home as-is. A real estate agent and contractor are your best team to see what the options are.