10 Building Code Violations Your Home May Be Guilty Of

Building codes promote safety and uniformity, but they’re usually enforced only during construction and remodeling projects. If you live in an older home—or if you undertook a DIY renovation without acquiring a permit—your property might not comply with modern regulations. This can be a big problem: Certain violations can screw up a home sale, put your family at risk, or result in a fine from your local building authority. Wondering if your humble abode is up to standard? Check out these 10 common building code violations that may be hiding in your home.

Missing Handrails

Building Code for Handrails

Building codes typically stipulate that handrails or guardrails between 30 and 37 inches in height must be installed on stairways with more than two steps and around any decks higher than 30 inches. Home sellers take note: Because handrails prevent dangerous falls, a prospective buyer’s lending company may require that a handrail be installed before the lender will underwrite the mortgage.

Related: 13 Renovation Lessons You Don't Want to Learn the Hard Way


Balusters Too Far Apart

Spacing for Balusters

Any balusters spaced more than four inches apart are in violation of code. This spacing protects small children from falling between gaps in posts. If your balusters are more than four inches apart, it’s a good idea to have a carpenter install additional balusters between the existing ones—especially if children live on the property.

Related: Get Your Fix: 20 Easy DIY Repairs for Every Part of Your Home


No Bathroom Venting

Building Code for Bathroom Ventilation

Most local building codes require ventilation fans in bathrooms that lack operable windows. These fans carry steam and humidity outside through a ceiling or wall vent, thus eliminating moisture buildup that can lead to peeling paint or wallpaper, warped cabinetry, and mold growth.

Related: 11 Bathroom Hazards That Harm Your Home and Health


Lack of GFCIs

Building Code for GFCIs

Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) work like ordinary outlets, but with one big bonus: If the GFCI senses an unnatural surge of electricity—something that's often caused by moisture—it will immediately shut off the electric current. Because GFCIs prevent electric shock, many building codes require them in rooms that are subject to moisture, such as bathrooms, garages, laundry rooms, and kitchens.

Related: 11 Things Your Contractor Won’t Tell You for Free


Wiring Connections Outside Junction Boxes

Junction Boxes for Electrical Wiring

Whether you’re installing a new ceiling fan or an outlet, wire connections must be situated in a junction box (a metal or molded plastic box attached to a wall stud) to reduce the risk of house fire. That’s why many communities require that a professional make any alterations to wiring. Always call an electrician if you suspect you have faulty wiring in your home. After all, better safe than sorry.

Related: 13 Home Improvements That Are Illegal to DIY


No Egress Window in Basement Bedroom

Egress Window in Basement

All occupants of a building need a reliable means of escaping a fire, so basement bedrooms must have at least one egress window that measures at minimum 24 inches high and 20 inches wide. Without an egress window, a basement room can’t be labelled as a bedroom in a real estate listing.

Related: 14 Tips for a Cozy Basement Bedroom


No Smoke Detectors

Smoke Detector Building Code

Most new homes are required to contain hardwired smoke detectors with battery backups. If your dwelling is more than 15 years old, however, it may not have these important safety features. If you live in an older home, consider installing hardwired smoke detectors during your next remodeling project. In the meantime, make sure you have working battery-operated smoke detectors in every bedroom and in the hallways.

Related: Prep for Disaster: 10 Things You'll Need in a Home Emergency


Hazardous Windows

Building Code for Windows

Old houses have unmatched architectural charm, but if they also have old windows that are not made of safety glass, they’re probably violating code. Safety glass, which is tempered glass that shatters into relatively harmless tiny pieces when broken, must be used for glass panes in doors, any windows that have at least nine cumulative square feet of glass, and windows along stairways and landings. 

Related: 7 Ways Your Home Could Get You Sued


Low Ceilings in Stairwells

Ceiling Height Building Code

Do you need to duck your head when ascending or descending a staircase? Then your home is probably more than 40 years old, and it probably also violates building code. Most modern regulations require a minimum stairway ceiling height of 6'8'' to prevent taller people from hitting their head. Unfortunately, if your ceilings are too low, you'll just have to live with the annoyance until your next major renovation project.

Related: 13 Improvements Most Homeowners Get Wrong


Renovations Without Permits

Permit for Home Renovation

Didn’t bother to get a permit before remodeling? If that's the case, all your hard work might be a code violation. In many communities, you’re allowed to make nonstructural changes, such as replacing flooring or fixtures, without a permit. A permit is required, however, for projects that are more extensive or structural in nature like altering load-bearing walls, adding rooms in a basement, building an addition, or running wiring and plumbing. Call your local building authority to double-check, because violations like these may result in hefty fines when it comes time to sell the house.

Related: 9 Worth-Every-Penny Upgrades for the Hardworking Parts of Your Home


Bring Up To Code

Bring Up To Code

Does your home have potential code violations? Make sure you take care of them sooner, rather than later.


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