A simple answer would be yes and no. A more complex answer would be “sometimes” or “it depends”. Let that sink in. Not real helpful, right?
When I’m asked if a certain issue discovered during a home inspection meets code, here is my standard answer: maybe yes, maybe no and here’s why...
First, we need to define the title of Home Inspector. What is a Home Inspector and how is he/she different from a Building Inspector? A common definition of a Home Inspector is: a trained individual (sometimes required to be licensed by the state) who performs a limited visual inspection of the readily accessible general systems and components of the home to identify any system or component which may be in need of immediate major repair. Notice, no mention of CODE.
On the other hand, the definition of a Building Inspector, who is presumed to work under the direction of a Building Official: a Building Inspector is a individual who is an appointed officer or employee of the Building Department of a local jurisdiction, be it county, city, township, etc. Those individuals work under the Building Official who is an appointed officer of the jurisdiction and charged with the administrative responsibilities of the Building Department and was likely appointed by a mayor, council, commission or other administrative authority.
The Building Official is authorized and directed to enforce the provisions of the adopted code. The Building Official also has the authority to render interpretations of the code and to adopt policies and procedures in order to clarify how the code will be applied or enforced.
As you can see, the realm of the Home Inspector is vastly different from that of the Building Inspector. In fact, quite humbling.
I was formally trained to become a Home Inspector. My instructors made it clear that we should be careful about using the “code” word when inspecting homes for our clients. Reason being, we didn’t want to confuse our clients into thinking we were Building Inspectors for the local jurisdiction, having the same knowledge of specific codes for the property location or having power and authority to administer or enforce those codes.
Now, I recall going through the home inspector curriculum and realizing that much of what we were being taught could be traced back to the broad based International Residential Code (IRC) which most jurisdictions adopt, but also have the authority to add to, reject or interpret to fit the needs of their particular geographical location. So, to answer the question of whether Home Inspectors inspect for code violations, well, I could answer yes if the issue discovered during the home inspection happens to coincide with local code. But, the Home Inspector is not required to have knowledge of any code on any given day. Also, I am certainly not endowed with the exact same knowledge or authority of the local Building Inspector. On the other hand, if your Home Inspector has sufficient knowledge of how homes are supposed to work or knows where to look for answers to a certain issue found in a home, you can bet he/she is diving into a code book or other reference material to arrive at an explanation based on best practice, but not necessarily in compliance with current local codes or those in effect at time of original construction.
The IRC code is updated every three years. Is every local jurisdiction required to adopt the revised code? No. Some do, many don’t. Often times they pick and choose what portions of the code suit their needs/location. I don’t expect any home I inspect which is older than 5 years to fully meet current codes, standards or best pratice. And in most cases, your local building department doesn’t expect this either. They usually leave you alone until you pull a permit for a significant major repair, addition or upgrade. At that point, they may require compliance with current adopted code for certain parts of your home.
The purpose of building codes is to establish minimum requirements to safeguard public safety, health and general welfare. Your home should protect you, not harm you. It should be affordable, strong, sanitary, light and well ventilated, energy efficient, keep you and your property safe from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment. Your home should also provide safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency situations.
With that in mind, as long as I’m able, I will continue to perform limited visual pre purchase inspections of the readily accessible general systems and components of my clients subject properties to identify any system or component which may be in need of immediate major repair. Sounds simple enough. But day after day, every home is different, unique. I never cease to be amazed at some of the things I discover.