7 Most Common Building Code Violations and How to Avoid Them

7 Most Common Building Code Violations and How to Avoid Them

Appraisal and Home Inspection
Home Security
By Mateos Glen Hayes January 03, 2022

Residential building codes. Love 'em or hate 'em, just like building permits you gotta deal with them. At the end of the day they’re there for a very good reason: to keep us all safe in our own homes. That being said, building codes have never been simple, and sometimes mistakes can happen. Making those kinds of mistakes is an easy way to end up with fines and other complications, so it's important to do some research to ensure there are no misunderstandings. 

When doing research, it's a good idea to brush up on what some common building code violations are, and why you need a permit for your home remodel. This will prevent you from running into any major legal or safety issues and will ensure greater satisfaction for you after your successful project.

Handrail Issues

Handrail Returns Increase Staircase Safety

Handrail Returns Increase Staircase Safety

If you have a two-story home, handrails are something you likely use every day even though you probably don’t think about them all that much. In this sense, they can seem like an afterthought, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t an important part of making a home safe. On the contrary, handrails are very important, and it is crucial that they be installed correctly so that using the stairs is as safe as possible. 

One of the most common mistakes when it comes to handrails is the lack of a handrail return. This is the part of the handrail that curves into the wall, making an L shape at either end of the railing. This may seem like a small detail but it is nevertheless a significant one that is mandated by residential handrail codes. This handrail design reduces the risk for falls and keeps sleeves or purse straps from getting tangled in the railing. 

Another common mistake is when a railing isn’t made thick enough or isn’t installed high enough, making gripping it difficult. Generally, residential handrail codes require that your handrail be at least 34 inches above the nose of the steps and it must be at least 1 ¼” thick for optimal grip.

Smoke Alarms Placed Incorrectly 

Proper Smoke Alarm Placement Is Crucial for Keeping Your Home Safe From Fires

Proper Smoke Alarm Placement Is Crucial for Keeping Your Home Safe From Fires

Smoke alarms are very useful for keeping your home safe. Modern residential building codes require smoke alarms to be installed on each level of a new house outside each bedroom for maximum fire safety. These must be hooked up to an alternate power source so that the alarms will still work if you lose electricity, and they should be interconnected so that all the alarms go off simultaneously.

These modifications can make a big difference when it comes to early warnings for fires. However, you’ll need to be sure to avoid one major mistake so that your smoke alarms do not violate building codes: mounting the device too low or too high. If you have a wall-mounted device it must be four to twelve inches below the ceiling for maximum smoke detection. A ceiling-mounted smoke detector needs to be at least four inches away from any wall.

Bad Bathroom Vents 

Bathroom Fans Must Vent to the Outside of the House to Comply With Building Codes

Bathroom Fans Must Vent to the Outside of the House to Comply With Building Codes

Some of the most common residential building code violations are those that allow water to get in where it shouldn’t. Water that accumulates in dark areas of your home’s structure creates a perfect environment for rot and pests to take root, which can cause major problems down the road. One building code violation that can lead to this is the improper configuration of your bathroom vents.

Modern residential building codes call for all bathroom vents to be set up as exhausts that pump air to the outside of the house. This keeps moisture and pollutants from building up and is therefore important for the health of your house as well as its residents. However, some unscrupulous remodelers may opt for simply allowing bathroom vent fans to send air into the attic or some other part of the home.

This means that moisture can build up in areas where it should never be. If it gets below zero in your attic this can cause frosting and eventually lead to severe molding and rot. Another common violation is leaving the vent duct uninsulated, which can cause condensation to form on the duct itself, also leading to moisture building up.

Deck Issues

Deck Flashing Is Crucial for Preventing Deck Collapses

Deck Flashing Is Crucial for Preventing Deck Collapses

Given that they allow us to lounge in our backyard with some nice creature comforts, it's no surprise that decks are a popular addition throughout the country. Plus, deck installation and maintenance is so simple that for many people it is a completely DIY project. However, while the construction of a deck may be a fairly simple process, a few seemingly minor mistakes can lead to significant problems in the future. Contrary to popular belief, deck collapses are more common, and the main reason for this is construction practices that do not conform to residential building codes.

Most decks are attached to the house, allowing for a seamless transition from inside the home into the backyard. This also gives the deck some extra structural support, but it requires that the deck be firmly attached so that there is no risk of it pulling loose. This can cause a collapse, and so it is an important safety measure to prevent this risk. A common failure point is the deck/house joint itself, and this is commonly caused by a lack of flashing.

Deck codes and standards require flashing to be installed as it is meant to close the gaps between joints and prevent water from seeping in. Some DIYers may choose not to install deck flashing, and this can lead to some issues when rot sets in. So keep your deck structural integrity intact and follow residential building codes.

Bad Electrics Safety 

Be Sure to Test GFCIs to Ensure They Work Properly

Be Sure to Test GFCIs to Ensure They Work Properly

It would be hard to imagine a life without electricity given all that it does for us on a daily basis. However, the fact that electricity is safe and reliable is a crucial element in its usefulness, and as such there are many building codes out there designed to keep your electrical setup safe to use.

One example is the laws concerning GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. These devices are special electrical outlets that are designed to instantly switch off when a fault - such as an electrical short - is detected in the circuit. Residential building codes now require new homes to have GFCIs in bathrooms and near water sources such as kitchen sinks as they greatly reduce the risk of getting shocked.

However, a GFCI is no good if it is not installed or worse still, is installed but isn’t working properly. If you are in the midst of a remodel, it is important that you take the time to not skip this step. GFCIs are very important for making your home safer and going around the building codes can cause you unnecessary complications.

Electrical malfunctions are one of the most common sources of house fires, so be sure to check your home’s wiring as well to ensure that nothing looks out of whack. Frayed wires, loose power outlets, improperly wired power outlets, and other similar issues can cause major shocking hazards as well as fire hazards, not to mention building code violation fines.

Fire Hazards 

Passive Fire Safety Measures Increase Fire Safety

Passive Fire Safety Measures Increase Fire Safety

Electrical wiring is not the only source of potential fire hazards, so be sure to check that your home is up to spec on current fire codes in other areas as well. Nicks, marks, scratches, and even holes in drywall are inevitable after years and years of living in the same house, especially if you’ve got some energetic tykes running about.

However, you should know that holes in drywall are likely a fire code violation since they allow oxygen to flow freely, which could allow a house fire to grow faster. If you have any such holes, be sure to patch them up promptly.

Residential building codes now require that newer homes use fire-resistant materials such as non-flammable drywall, glass, and window frames. These materials are designed to slow the rate at which a fire spreads, making it more manageable and giving time for people to evacuate. These solutions are known as passive fire protection, and they are now mandatory in many municipalities.


Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes


Under Construction - Coming Back Soon!

We are currently working on bringing you an improved experience. Please leave your name and email address and we'll let you know as soon as we relaunch.