Offering Civil Servant's Discount on Home Inspection Services

5 common building code violations

External Author   |  

A house with a blue roof

Building code violations are far more common than one might assume. The 2013 Common Code Violations Survey found that upwards of 45% of inspected homes had some kind of housing code violation. It is thus likely that the same may apply to your home; you may not need to repair such violations if they don’t pose a safety risk, but it helps to be aware of them. So, before delving into what common building code violations are, it is useful to define what being “up to code” means.

Up to Code

A rather loose term at its core, since codes can vary from state to state, being “up to code” simply means that a building or home adheres to official standards. Practically, then, it means that your home meets the minimum home safety requirements across some main categories, including;

  • Energy conservation
  • Lighting and ventilation
  • Structural strength
  • Means of egress
  • Life safety
  • Sanitation

Most housing codes are derived from the International Building Code (IBC) guidelines, with slight local adaptations. The IBC itself includes major international code guidelines, such as the International Fuel Gas Code, the International Plumbing Code, the International Fire Code, and so forth. Why adherence to it matters is simple – whether you plan to relocate to, say, Austin, or settle down in Brooklyn stress-free, it plays a big role in the process. If you’re selling your old residence, an unfavorable post-offer housing inspection can drastically reduce your asking price, or even deter buyers. If you’re building a new residence, there may be costly expenses to remain compliant or similarly costly penalties for violations. Thus, it is very important, and likely financially wise, to hire a home inspector in all cases; caution and research can save you from unforeseen troubles. Whether you intend to relocate or simply maintain your current residence properly, hired professionals can ensure a smooth process.

Common building code violations

With definitions out of the way, let’s explore 5 common building code violations.

1.Handrails and guardrails

Most local housing codes have handrail and guardrail requirements; shortcomings in this regard do constitute a potential safety risk.

A handrail in a building

The most common building code violations in this regard include open-ended rails, incorrect rail height placement, and non-graspable rails. By code, rails must be at least 34 inches above the floor, but no more than 38; approximately 3 feet, then. They must also not be open-ended; while this is a relatively new feature in residential construction, it is a long-standing one in commercial buildings. The intent in commercial buildings was to protect firefighters from accidents as they carry hoses, but the same principle applies to residential buildings and homes in regular conditions. Open-ended rails can catch purses, bags, and clothes, and cause a fall. Likewise, rails need to be graspable, and usually no more than 3 inches in diameter – due to similar safety concerns. A poor grip can lead to a safety hazard, and it is one a home inspection must not miss

2.Carbon Monoxide detectors and smoke detectors

The International Code Council found such building code violations to be very common. Namely, improperly installed or even broken carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors were two of the most common violations observed. Home inspections do tend to often find such violations as well, among other mistakes.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoke detectors are best installed on each level of a home. There should be one in each bedroom and outside every sleeping area, such as living rooms. Homes that are considerably larger may require more detectors than regular-sized homes for efficiency. Carbon monoxide detector requirements do vary by state, but the general recommendation is to follow similar guidelines to smoke detectors; alarms should be placed on each level and near each sleeping area.


While missing energy documentation on-site is a common builder oversight, residents do need to be wary of energy code violations in their homes themselves. This building code violation can be avoided with a few simple actions that are often overlooked; namely, sealing up openings, insulating ducts, and improving a window’s U-Factor.

A fogged-up window

A breach of an exterior wall, be it by a vent, pipe, or any other cause, can expose your home to water damage. To ensure this vulnerability is addressed, it’s imperative that you seal and insulate such openings. Similarly, you should ensure that the ductwork remains properly insulated – not doing so presents the risk of water condensation, and thus water damage. Lastly, windows with a higher U-Factor (the measure that determines how much heat is blocked or transferred into a home) may constitute building code violations. Double or triple-pane windows or heat-resistant films can remedy this issue.

4.Fire hazards

Oversights in this area are also fairly common, and proper management is absolutely crucial as such problems constitute serious potential hazards. Electrical malfunctions can very commonly lead to house fires; from 2014 to 2016, they were the second most common cause of fatal house fires.

It is thus imperative that you have your wiring checked by a professional, to ensure it is properly insulated. On this front, too, fire extinguishers can be a wise investment – there may be no laws that require fire extinguishers in residences, but they can be invaluable. Holes in drywall can be a violation as well since they can exacerbate such hazards; holes allow oxygen to travel more easily, feeding electrical fires. Notably, such damage can commonly occur while moving, as large furniture may not be given thorough care. If you're relocating, professionals such as Movers 101 NYC can ensure that accidents of that kind don't occur.


Improper decks are certainly not the most common building code violation by definition, but also not as uncommon as one might assume. 40 million decks can be found in America today, and roughly 50% of them were built in the early 1990s; it is not unreasonable that some may be poorly maintained.

Floorboards on a deck

Faulty ledger connections can be extremely dangerous, in that they are the primary cause of deck failure. You could thus ensure that your deck’s ledger and its anchors are in good condition; if they are not, due to rust or water damage, repairing them will ensure you’re up to code. If your deck is 30 inches (or more) above ground it must have a guardrail, optimally 36 inches in height, so make sure you install one. Lastly, if you are building a new deck instead of maintaining an old one, make sure to follow the manufacturer instructions closely so that your project adheres to the guidelines.