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.
Balusters Too Far Apart
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.
No Bathroom Venting
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.
Lack of 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.
Wiring Connections Outside Junction Boxes
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.
No Egress Window in Basement Bedroom
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
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.
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
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.
Renovations Without Permits
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.
Bring Up To Code
Does your home have potential code violations? Make sure you take care of them sooner, rather than later.
Your home is most likely your largest investment. Home insurance is a valuable way to protect the investment, but could you save money on your home insurance policy? Read our top tips for how to safeguard your property while saving money.