If you are looking to remodel, expand or sell your home, there's a good chance you will have a close encounter with your local building code. These laws can be extensive, confusing and change frequently. The code is there for your safety, but it can still be frustrating to deal with. Older homes in particular are likely to have outdated technology that wouldn't pass a current inspection. Before embarking on a project, take time to understand what the laws are and how they can affect you.
What Is Building Code?
Just about anything you want to do to your home beyond cosmetic changes probably has a corresponding law. Building code covers a number of standards mostly related to safety, including but not limited to HVAC, the electric system, plumbing, the structural integrity of the building and fire safety. If you own a rental unit, there are probably additional standards that you are required to meet before accepting tenants.
Of course, specific housing codes vary by municipality, although most are based on models like the International Residential Code and the National Electric Code. Go to your city or town website or visit the building department for more information. You can also look up many city and municipality codes from around the country on a website called Municode.
Is My Old Electric Wiring Safe?
The electric code is one of the most important pieces of building code, because failing to comply can endanger your home and property. Some common violations include improperly sized connections, overfilling outlet boxes, not properly grounding and not spacing outlets correctly.
Many code problems require only a simply fix, but others can be a much bigger undertaking. For example, old houses may conduct electricity on knob and tube wiring, which became obsolete in the 1940s. This type of wiring can put your home at risk and isn't equipped to handle high power loads typical in modern homes. If you still have knob and tube, you may discover an expensive upgrade is necessary when it's time to sell the house.
The laws governing electric systems are complex and confusing to many homeowners. The national code on which most cities base their own laws is 1,000 pages long -- far more than the average home DIY-er is able to digest. You could inadvertently run afoul of the law by doing something as simple as replacing a light fixture without upgrading the wiring to the most recent standards. It’s wise to consult a qualified electrician before undertaking a project so you don’t find yourself in over your head – and on the wrong side of the law.
What if I'm Out of Compliance?
If you have an older home that doesn't meet the current laws, don't panic. Usually older buildings are grandfathered in when the codes are updated. However, if you want to modify or replace parts of the house, you might be required to do additional work to bring any outdated aspects into compliance.
Do your research so you understand when you need to pull a permit or bring in a city inspector. Talk to local officials up front so they can help you understand how to proceed. When in doubt, hire a qualified professional experienced in local housing laws to let you know where you are up to code and in what areas you fall short.
Your local Mister Sparky® electricians are always here to help. We can advise you on bringing your home into compliance with local laws and do the work for you. Give us a call for more information.