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Home Inspectors and Codes #2 - Does Your Inspector Know?

So, does your inspector know? Or, better, what does your inspector know?

The National Electric Code (NEC) contains nearly 800 pages, packed with charts, graphs, tables, etc., is updated every three years, and each update usually contains about 1,000 changes. Plumbing, mechanical, building, fire, and so forth are similarly overwhelming. Further, codes refer to hundreds of standards published by various organizations such as the National Bureau of Standards, American Society for Testing and Materials, United Laboratories (you've seen the UL listed stickers on appliances), the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers – there are dozens more!

Personal note: my community HOA will ding you for algae on vinyl siding. As such, that becomes the local “code.”

Your home inspector is a generalist – it is unlikely that he will remember precisely that a fireplace hearth should extend 16” in front of an opening of smaller than six square feet -- and that it should be 20” for openings larger than that! However, a short hearth, of 12” or so, will probably be noticed, and noted on the report. An inspector’s musings or concerns expressed verbally or on the report should be followed up by referring to a specialist.

It is even less likely that your home inspector will remember when a certain code provision was instituted in the jurisdiction he is inspecting. In Northern Virginia, some communities only a few miles apart will have chosen to enforce certain code modifications at different times. Sometimes it is decades. One of the largest suburbs of Washington D.C. only recently began to require powered vents in enclosed bathrooms even though throughout most of the country and Canada they have required that for years!

I understand that some jurisdictions passed the new AFCI codes for bedrooms before the tested and approved devices came out! How was that enforced?

If you think the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) knows all the codes and when they were adopted, think again. They may not even be able to come up with a history of code articles, dates, or where they are enforced. Photocopies of relevant documents or verbal answers over the phone may not be reliable.

My recommendation: If you are buying a home, not knowing whether a deficiency the home inspector has mentioned is a violation of local codes when the house was built, it is best to ask a specialist in that area. THEY are more likely to know local standards at least, if not the codes. They have learned the codes in the School of Hard Knocks, a cruel, but effective teacher. Oh, and remember Mother Nature…

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 13 commentsJay Markanich • November 26 2008 07:32AM

Comments

Jay:

Recently I attended a Risk Management class here in California that is part of the 45 hours of continuing education that we must have to renew our real estate license. A major focus of the discussion that took place dealt with hiring home inspectors ---- I learned not only here in California do they not have to be license --- that any handy man can claim to be a inspector. So, from now on I will look for if they are a member of CREA, and any other national association. Plus do they have insurance any law suits etc. Also, now I will paid attention do the issues with codes. 

Posted by Lorraine or Loretta Kratz, Certified Negotiation Consultants (Crescent Moon Realty, Inc. & Land N Sea Auctions.) over 10 years ago

I can't believe the post where you don't have to hold a license to be an inspector!  Here in WI thank goodness they do need to be certified by the state...

Posted by Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®, Giving Back With Each Home Sold! (RE/MAX Realty Center ) over 10 years ago

Lorraine and Kristin - state licenses aren't all they are cracked up to be.  A bureaucrat decides on what criteria to impose, insurance limits, what tests to use (typically one from a home inspection association), etc.  Bureaucracies are almost ALWAYS behind the times.  Their criteria is typically less than is required to join a quality inspection association.  Personally I am a member of 5 different associations.  I do over 30 hours of continuing ed every year.  I have various insurances, up to $1 mil.  Interview your inspectors to see what they do and don't do, their qualifications, associations and insurances, etc., but also, check around with the other realtors.  Sometimes that is a good indicator too!

P.s.  Don't hire a handy man to be your inspector...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 10 years ago

Jay, right on the mark with this one. If only the world was black and white:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 10 years ago

Charles - a compliment coming from you...  gracias.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 10 years ago

Hey Folks,  Some times the Code isn't.  Jay as you mentioned different communities have different requirements.  Now here is a kicker.  The grandfather clause.  Every code has a statement that if an item meets the applicable code at the time of installation it does not have to be modified to meet the new standard. 

Confused yet? There are exceptions to the grandfather clause.  Certain items must be upgraded to the new standard depending on jurisdiction.

Just another exapmle why experienced and trained professionals should be consulted.

Posted by Bruce Thomas (A-Z Tech Home Inspections, Inc.) over 10 years ago

Good one Bruce -- and you are right!  I see decks all the time, for example, that are 25 years old.  Not anything like what we put up now, but okay when it was built!  I am often asked if the seller needs to make it meet modern standards - nope...  but if you modify it all the modifications need to be upgraded to meet current code requirements!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 10 years ago

Jay,

We are not code inspectors and do not carry the authority to enforce codes. However I believe that we should have a basic knowledge of codes, especially when inspecting new construction. In that instance codes are absolutely applicable.

I would disagree somewhat about what you said about decks. If a deck is not lagged to the house, is missing proper handrails or the balusters are two far apart, these things should be cited as safety deficiencies with recommendations for repair regardless of codes.

That becomes the difference betweeen home inspoectors and a local AHJ. Citing something as deficient with a recommendation for repair is what we do, they cite something as a code violation and it must be corrected. Since we recommend repair by a specialist, I think you hit on the head, then it is up to the specialist to make the work conform to local code.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 10 years ago

Hi James.  Of course I agree with you!  You may have jumped ahead a bit.  My next installment discusses just what you say in paragraphs 1 and 2!  You must be psychic - either that or well connected to me, handsome and scholarly.  I'll go for the latter...  Thanks for the comment!

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 10 years ago

Jay, Flattery will get you every where! I was called psycho once is that the same thing;)

By the way you are exactly right about the NEC. At an electrical seminar I was at recently a code inspector said there were over 1000 changes in latest edition. That is completely insane! How can any human being keep track of all those changes.

Good stuff, keep them coming.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 10 years ago

James - Being called psycho is nothing, pal!  Well, we shouldn't go there.  But, I digress...

Of course we can't keep up with the changes!  That's the point.  No can-o keep up-o (Spanglish*). 

I did an inspection today with a young, single mother.  She bought her foreclosed house without a home inspection because her VA appraiser told her she didn't need one.  Well, she did!  There were a lot of things, but correctable, and I spent a lot of time teaching her a lot about it and what to do from here.  Info is power.  She now has peace of mind, worth a million bucks.  But -- afterwards, I was called "awesome," and got a hug and a little cheek kiss.  Nothing so good as being called "psycho," but does it count?

* My real Spanish is excellent, by the way, but I love to butcher it.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 10 years ago

Jay, She was advised to not get a home inspection, was this guy working on commission?

Being called awesome and a kiss, that's a good days pay. You must've felt awesome the rest of the day.  Good for you.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 10 years ago

Yeah, her realtor and the VA inspector...

Sí, Jimey, sí...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 10 years ago

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