Is my house up to code?

This is a question we often get from homebuyers who are a little confused about the scope and intent of a home inspection.  Remember, the home inspection is designed to identify major deficiencies that will either cost you a lot of money or that may pose a safety hazard.  A home inspection is most definitely and quite specifically NOT a code inspection.

I’ve found that most people, when they ask this question, are really seeking to find out if the home is safe.  Much of the residential building code is geared towards safety, but the vast majority is not.  Keep in mind, a home inspector should identify safety concerns to you, but he should not refer to them as being up to code or not.

In fact, in Kentucky it is against state law for an inspector to say whether something is or is not up to code.  There are several good reasons for this limitation, not least of which is his licensing:  a home inspector is not a code inspector.  Code inspectors are hired by the municipality; they inspect a very narrow segment (plumbing, for example) and are not looking at the home as a system.  Codes change all the time, and an inspector who cites code is not only violating state law but is also opening himself up to all sorts of liability (for example, if he mentions one item is not up to code, he should then follow with every other item not up to code).

So the short answer is, “No, your house is not up to code.”  I can say that with near certainty on any existing home simply because codes change so frequently.  As an aside, it is a very good thing we do not need to get a home up to code before it can sell- to do so would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and in the case of some older homes, would probably cost more than the home is worth.

Focus on the important items at your inspection, such as the things that will cost you quite a bit of money to repair or replace in the short term, and any safety items.  And consider working with your realtor to help you negotiate any items that are particularly important to you.

A home inspection is a snapshot in time of your new home.  Remember no home is perfect, and it’s probably ok that your home has some character.  Don’t let the small things loom larger than they should- you selected that home for a reason.  Unless the home inspection reveals something truly surprising or unexpected, it’s probably still the best home for you.