April 9th, 2017 8:54 AM by Jackie A. Graves
You may save money when you DIY, but
unless your projects are up to code, you’re flirting with expensive fixes and
putting your home and family at risk.
A good DIYer knows a lot about tools and techniques, but the
best DIYers know about building codes, too. Completing home improvement
projects that are code-compliant — and can pass inspections from your local
building authority — are the route to a safe and happy home, and well-done DIY projects.
few homeowners can claim an encyclopedic knowledge of their local building
codes, here’s a heads up on seven of the most common code violations that
DIYers are guilty of:
Sure, permits cost money. And
if you don’t apply for one, who’s to know?
A lot of DIY homeowners have that point of view, and it’s wrong-headed. Yes,
homeowners are allowed to do their own improvements without a contractor’s
license, but you still need a permit for many remodeling projects.
That’s important because:
You’ll know that your improvements are safe and reliable.
Your work will comply with the latest energy- and
water-conservation measures. That saves you money in the long run, and makes
your house more marketable when you decide to sell.
Work that’s not up to code may be discovered by an inspector
when you try and sell, putting a big damper on your plans. You may be required
to fix any problems (with added expense) before a buyer will consider making an
offer. And if your buyer should later discover fixes that aren’t up to code,
you could be sued for repairs and damages.
If you have permits, your
project will be inspected. Don’t think of visits from a building inspector as
adversarial; rather, they’re opportunities to learn about construction
techniques and materials. A building inspector can be a valuable helpmate for
Not all projects require permits and inspections. Start off by inquiring with
your local building authority and discussing your project in detail.
2. Not Testing Older Materials for Asbestos and Lead
These two dangerous materials lurk in many older building
materials, and their disposal is strictly regulated in most states.
Those laws not only protect your health, but protect trash removal
workers and landfill operators, too. If you dump tainted remodeling waste,
you’re putting others at risk.
Asbestos is found in many common building
materials, especially in houses built before 1970, including:
Popcorn ceiling texture
Drywall joint compound
Hot-water pipe and duct insulation
Vermiculite attic insulation
Cement shingle siding
communities have independent testing facilities that, for $25 to $50, can
determine if asbestos is present in samples.
However, even the removal of samples is risky. If you suspect asbestos, contact
your local building authority or regional Occupational Safety and Health
Administration office to find out the best way to test for and remove
Lead paint has been outlawed since 1978. Laws
prevent contractors from doing work without taking specific precautions to
contain and dispose of lead-contaminated building materials.
DIY homeowners aren’t subject to those laws. But if you’re hiring a contractor
to do some of the work, your pro must adhere to the laws or be subject to fines
of up to $37,500 per day. Talk about putting a crimp in your plans!
Other than that, your own health may be at risk if you cut, scrape, or sand
materials — especially paint — with lead in them. DIY lead test kits are
cheap ($8 to $35) and easy to use.
a deck is the ideal DIY project — it’s fairly straightforward and materials are
But a recent spate of deck failures reveals that many decks fail where the deck
ledger fastens to the house — one of the more technically challenging steps of
The North American Deck and Railing Association says two of the most-common
Improper (or missing) flashing to keep water from seeping behind
the ledger where it can soften and rot out wood.
Using old fastening methods, such as plain nails, to secure the
ledger to the house.
a good idea to have your deck inspected for proper construction techniques when
you build it, and to do yearly DIY inspections and repairs.
Seems like a no-brainer: Junior
needs his own bedroom, and you’ve got all this space in your basement. A few
walls and carpet and voila! — an extra bedroom.
But it’s not that simple. Codes say that any “sleeping room” must include
an egress window that’s at least 20 inches wide and 24 inches high,
with a minimum opening of 5.7 square feet — enough for an adult to crawl
Because it’s a basement, you’ll likely need to excavate outside the window and
add a window well to help keep water out.
The installation of an egress window costs $2,500 to $5,000 — well
worth it for your peace of mind and the safety of your family. Without an
egress window, a real estate appraiser won’t qualify the space as a bedroom,
which may hurt your chances to sell your home.
spiffed up the guest bathroom and even added a new bathroom vent fan — nice
going. But you aren’t finished unless you vent that fan all the way to the
outside of your house.
Venting directly into an attic space might be easy, but your fan is going to
deliver plenty of humid air into your attic where is can cause mold and rot.
Building codes say you’ve got to vent the air from the fan to outside your
house using a 4-inch-diameter vent pipe.
Some inexpensive bath fans have 3-inch-diameter fittings. If so, buy a piece of
converter pipe that changes the diameter to 4 inches.
6. Botched Electrical Work
Few examples of home improvement and repair are life
threatening, but electrical work definitely can be. That’s why utmost
caution is needed when you do your own wiring. Here are a few common wiring
Wrong size circuit. Basically, 15-amp circuits are for lighting
fixtures and 20-amp circuits are for receptacles. If you’re renovating and want
to add a receptacle, don’t splice into a lighting circuit to do it — rather,
extend from an existing 20-amp circuit.
An exception is a refrigerator, which can be on a dedicated, 15-amp circuit.
Splicing wires without a junction box. Don’t splice wires together
with a couple of wire nuts and some electrical tape and call it a day. All wire
connections must be inside an approved junction box. While you’re at it, you
can’t hide a junction box inside a wall — it must be visible and accessible.
Missing GFCIs. A ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is
required for any circuit that services an area where water might be present:
bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages, and outdoor receptacles. A single
GFCI at the beginning of a circuit can protect other receptacles on the same
7. Not Following Fence Height Requirements
Fences are a major source of disputes with
neighbors, and a top source of complaints to local building and planning
Many problems stem from the fact that homeowners, in an
attempt to establish privacy, build fences that are too tall. Most codes limit
fences on the sides and in the back of property to 6 feet, and 42 to
48 inches in the front.
If you build a fence that’s
not in compliance, a complaint could
bring a building official to your property with an order to tear your fence
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