7 Common Building Code Violations (and How to Avoid Them)

Amy Pawlukiewicz
Written by Amy Pawlukiewicz
Updated January 4, 2022
The interior of a bright home office
Photo: Morsa Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Improper permitting is a common building code violation.

  • Check for asbestos and lead paint to avoid a building code infraction.

  • Per building code, there are specific requirements for where you can place smoke alarms.

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Everyone makes mistakes, and building code violations are more common than you might think. Some infractions are easily fixable, while others may require a total overhaul of your renovation or remodeling project. Let’s take a look at the seven most common building code violations and how to avoid them.

1. Improper Permitting

Working without a permit may seem like a way to save a few bucks upfront, but you’ll pay the price later. Many home improvement projects require building permits, such as adding a bathroom or converting the garage into a living space. Permits are very important because they ensure that the work happening on your house, whether DIY or by a professional, is safe, reliable, and meets all of the energy standards that your municipality requires. 

If a building inspector discovers that work on your property was not permitted correctly, you could pay thousands of dollars in fines or even face jail time. Do yourself a favor and make sure everything is permitted correctly from the start.

2. Ignoring Dangerous Materials

If a building inspector finds evidence of harmful materials, such as asbestos or lead paint, that’s a surefire code violation. Asbestos was banned from use in building materials in 1972, but it still lurks around in the insulation, flooring, plaster, ceiling tiles, and other places in homes built before that year. When left alone, asbestos isn’t a health risk; however, when the material starts to break down and the particles get into the air, it can cause cancer and other breathing issues. That’s why it’s essential to hire a professional to evaluate and remove asbestos before anyone moves in.

Lead paint is another sneaky danger since it wasn’t banned from use until 1978. Contractors are required to test for and properly dispose of lead-contaminated materials. If they don’t, then you are on the hook for fines of up to $37,500 per day. Plus, lead paint can cause serious health problems, so ensure your professional contractor is testing for and removing lead from your home.

3. Basement Bedrooms Without an Egress Window

Egress—that’s a bird, right? Not quite. An egress window is a small type of window that someone can fit through in the event of a fire or other emergency, and building a bedroom in the basement without one is a serious code violation, not to mention a safety hazard. Egress windows cost between $2,500 and $5,000, but the peace of mind they provide is priceless.

4. Misplaced Smoke Alarms

You might think that just having smoke alarms in your home is enough, but they actually need to hang in specific spots in order to detect smoke and carbon monoxide properly. According to building code, smoke alarms need to be on each level of the house with one additional alarm outside each bedroom. 

Additionally, new construction homes need to have a hard-wired alarm with a backup battery in each bedroom so that if one goes off, they all go off. Ceiling-mounted alarms must be at least four inches away from the walls, and wall-mounted alarms must be at least 12 inches down from the ceiling.

5. Venting the Bathroom Fan Into the Attic

A bathroom exhaust fan
Photo: FellowNeko / Adobe Stock

When you put in a new bathroom, a venting fan will help stop moisture from gathering in the room while you’re showering. But your contractor needs to ensure that you’re venting that fan outside and not into the attic. 

Not only is venting your bathroom fan into the attic a code violation, it will cause mold and mildew to grow in your attic, which will almost certainly lead to structural problems down the road.

6. Botched Electrical Wiring

You can expect a building inspector to examine every aspect of your home’s electrical wiring. Since faulty or old electrical wiring is a common cause of house fires, your home needs functional wiring so that it’s able to handle whatever appliances and lights you plug in. 

Plus, you’re required to have GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets in all kitchens, bedrooms, and garage outlets. This type of outlet automatically cuts power if they detect a current change, preventing electrical shocks. If you’re having new electrical wiring put in by a local electrician, ensure they install the correct amount of GFCI outlets and account for the load your appliances will place on your system to avoid a building code violation.

7. Lack of Wiring for Permanent Kitchen Structures

While we’re on the subject of kitchen wiring, it’s a code violation to have any permanent structures in your kitchen, like an island, that doesn’t have permanent wiring installed. This is because having cords stretching across walkways is a safety hazard, as people walking through the kitchen could trip while you’re using an appliance on the island. If you’re completing a kitchen overhaul with a new island, don’t forget about wiring outlets into it.

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