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Building Code Inspections? To Code Or Not To Code, That Is The Question

Jul 31, 2008
First of all we have to look at what a building code is and the difference between a property inspection and a building code inspection.

First lets determine what a building code is. Definition: A published body of rules and regulations for building practices, materials, installation and performance designed to protect the health, welfare and safety of the public.

These range anywhere between the minimum size of a room to how many, how far apart and what size nails are used when the structure is put together. Also they can address the type of glass used in a window to the size wires used in the electrical system for different applications. The list of building codes is very long and very technical.

Why do we say we dont do code inspections? The simple answer is because codes change through time and location and there are literally thousands of codes. A bit of history is in order.

The building codes in the United States started in late 1927. Before that time there were no written and agreed upon uniform standards of construction.

The public was mainly relying on the builder and the tradesman to be ethical and honest and good craftsman. To a large degree they were. How this effects property inspections today is that we dont know what every code was when a property was built nor do we know all the codes. City inspectors dont know all the current codes much less past codes.

Throughout every year the codes change. These changes are put out in writing approximately every three years in book form. The codes can be different depending on the city in which the building is located. We do inspections in over 25 different municipalities. There is no way we can know all the codes for each different area for all the different possible times of construction.

Another aspect that can come into play is the on-site local Building and Safety inspector has final say as to whether something is acceptable per the code. He may waive a minor infraction if he feels it is in the spirit of the code.

There may be a Modification to the Building Code that was filed and accepted for the site for a particular circumstance or a Variance. Without getting into the technicalities of what these are the simple explanation is they are all circumstances that are not exactly per the code of the time but are changes that have been approved by the local Department of Building and Safety. They have the final say as to whether something is acceptable per the code.

I am sure you now get the point of why we dont do a code inspection.

We do however use the various building codes as basic guidelines. We study the codes extensively to give us some basic rules for safety. If a question comes up as to whether something is up to code or not for that location or time of construction it will be necessary to consult with the local Department of Building and Safety. This is not part of a general visual inspection that we do.

There are times where we try to communicate changes that have occurred through the years in the codes that we feel are better or safer. One classic example of this is GFCI plugs. These are safety plugs with little buttons in them that can shut off the power to that outlet in less than 1/40th of a second if something non optimum occurs such as a coffee maker while plugged in falling into the office sink. These types of plugs are mandatory in many areas such as restrooms, kitchen areas, or any area near running water and the exterior by most current jurisdictions.

To the best of my knowledge it is not mandatory at this time to have these safety outlets installed in older buildings when they are sold or leased. They usually cost about $25 - $35 per plug to have installed and would have stopped approx. Of all the electrocutions last year if they were installed in all the recommended areas. If you do not have them we will usually suggest you get them for safety however it is usually not mandatory at this time to make the change. I am just mentioning this as an example and depending on the site there may be a few suggestions such as this.

During an inspection we are looking at anywhere from 300-500 different items. Many deal with safety and many deal with function. We do not care about cosmetic issues such as the color of the paint, worn carpet or the style of architecture.

Our main concern is safety and function.

Our reports are extremely detailed and will provide you with a significant amount of information that you can use to make an informed decision.

Our purpose is to make sure you are aware of any significant defects in the building and site and to help you understand what you are agreeing to, not to determine if something is up to code.
About the Author
Bob has been a Certified Inspector since 1994 and a licensed contractor for nearly 4o years. For more information about commercial real estate inspections visit his website at http://www.commercialrealestateinspectors.com to find out how he can help with your real estate inspection.
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