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Home Inspection vs. Code Inspection

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Unless your house is brand new, I promise, you have code violations in your home. And it is NOT the job of a home inspector during the purchase of that home to find them, comment on them or call them out.

Many times, code violations and health and safety items overlap, but codes can change, and if you have the attitude that all houses need to be up to the most recent codes, you’d have to rebuild your home every time the code changed.

If your home is 60 years old, it’s possible that the stove is too close to the kitchen sink, had that same house been built today. Maybe the hallways would have to be widened if you did a large renovation, but they don’t need to be widened just because you bought the house and want to live there.

If your water heater is 15 years old, it may not have an expansion tank or a manual shut off valve and depending on which city you live in, you may or may not need to add those when you install a new water heater with a permit.

If you have a gas fireplace installed in the ’70s or ’80s, the pilot valve piping might be made of aluminum. That’s not the piping they use today. Is there a law stating that you need to rush in there and replace it? Of course not.

If a home inspector wanted to talk about building codes, they would have to talk about all of them, know all of them for the last 100 years, know when every feature in a particular house was installed and know all the differences, city by city. Now, consider the fact that most cities have multiple inspectors with their own specialties, e.g. roofing, foundation, electrical, etc. and the thought of having a home inspector knows all of them isn’t reasonable.

Just because a home is changing ownership, does not mean that it needs to be brought up to today’s code standards.

The code is for current and active building and renovations, not the change of ownership. Could you imagine if every house that was sold had to be brought up to every new code? Every time the code changed? And every time a house was sold?

But, since a home inspector has the name inspector in their name, the general public can have the misperception that they are on-site looking for code violations.

The job of a home inspector is to ensure that a person doesn’t inherit a problem, unknowingly. The keyword is unknowingly: someone can buy any house they want to. People live in houses all day long with Federal Pacific Panels, aluminum wiring, and polybutylene piping. There’s no law against it. It IS up to you as to whether you want to buy a house with those items that are more likely to cause an issue down the road or not.

Now, if your home inspector tells you that your water heater is old, potentially failing, and has corrosion all over it, it is your job to do your due diligence, hire a plumber, and find out what will be required if you pull a permit and put a new water heater in.

The mistake some home inspectors make, is that they learn a little code here, and a little code there and want to show how much they know, but when you combine only a few code items and the general public’s idea of an inspector, they are underserving the client by not talking about ALL the code necessary or referring the questions to a contractor who pulls permits and installs and works on those systems, and has to pass a code inspection after the work is done. Learn more about home inspections.

A good home inspector will do their best to put their eyes on as much of the house that is available to act as your home buyer advisor, being thorough, but not alarmist, and the good ones will make sure they communicate their findings in a way that helps you know what you are getting into, but if you plan on makes large renovations, or replacing the water heater, roof or the HVAC, you should expect that there will be some costs to install the new system with new requirements, but you don’t need to make those upgrades until you actually make the upgrade. It would be smart to bring contractors, plumbers, electricians, etc. out to help you understand the upgrades and costs involved.

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