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“I need a home inspection to make sure everything is up to code.”
 
This is an example of a common request when someone contacts us for a home inspection in North Carolina. Does a home inspection look for code violations? Well… yes and no.
 
No in the sense that this is not a code compliance inspection. As home inspectors, we do not comment on a house’s compliance with local building codes or blatantly call something out as being a code violation.
 
Yes in the sense that as home inspectors, we generally have a working knowledge of codes and standards so that we can identify defects, possible causes of those defects, and safety hazards. Even still, there is no calling out of any code violations.

Home Inspection Are Not Pass/Fail

 
It’s important for clients and agents to understand that a home inspection is not a pass/fail inspection. This is an assessment of the house’s overall health at a particular point in time.
 
Rather than being concerned with code, we are concerned primarily with safety. If there is a part of a home where its compliance with code is questionable, we may use language such as:
 
“This is not a recommended practice”
 
“I Recommend upgrading to current standards
 
Why don’t we call out code violations? Well, the answer is simple: We do not have that authority. Even if we are aware of building code, there is a lot of complication surrounding it.

A Practical Example

For example, a Concord home inspection on a historic home built in 1901 that has not been updated since 1960 will not have GFCI receptacles installed in the bathroom.
By 2021, GFCI protection has long since been a requirement. However, the house built in 1901 is grandfathered and not required to conform to current codes. The renovations that were done in 1960 will then held to standards of 1960. Heck, in 1960, the GFCI wasn’t invented yet.
 
However, because it is a safety hazard, it will be called out as such. It was introduced into the code a little over a decade later because people were dying from electrocution in their bathrooms when water and electricity mixed.
 
The defect in that instance is not that it was code violation. The defect is that it is a safety hazard. Calling a code violation does nothing for a potential buyer of that home. It wasn’t required in 1960. End of story. On the other hand, calling it a safety hazard has a small chance to be beneficial when it comes time to negotiate.

Are Home Inspectors Allowed To Quote Code?

 
In the state of North Carolina, home inspectors are not strictly prohibited from citing code, but there are very strict guidelines. This is from the North Carolina Home Inspection Licensure Board:
 
§ 143-151.58. Duties of licensed home inspector.
 
(a2) State Building Code. – If a licensee includes a deficiency in the written report of a home inspection that is stated as a violation of the North Carolina State Residential Building Code, the licensee must do all of the following:
(1) Determine the date of construction, renovation, and any subsequent installation or replacement of any system or component of the home.
(2) Determine the State Building Code in effect at the time of construction, renovation, and any subsequent installation or replacement of any system or component of the home.
(3) Conduct the home inspection using the building codes in effect at the time of the construction, renovation, and any subsequent installation or replacement of any system or component of the home.
 
In order to fully inform the client, if the licensee describes a deficiency as a violation of the State Building Code in the written report, then the report shall include the information described in subdivision (1) of this subsection and photocopies of the relevant provisions of the State Building Code used pursuant to subdivision (2) of this subsection to determine any violation stated in the report. The Board may adopt rules that are more restrictive on the use of the State Building Code by home inspectors.

Summary

A home inspector in North Carolina is allowed to cite code and inform a client of a code violation. However, if the home inspector is not a qualified code inspector, this can be quite dangerous. It can lead not only to lawsuits, but most importantly to a severely misinformed client. This provision in the North Carolina statutes is a nice way of telling home inspectors to stay in their lane!
 
Moreover, if an inspector is not certified by the local governing body in code compliance, but still elects to cite code in the report, the inspector runs the risk of not being covered under their errors and omissions insurance. Should a mistake be made and lead to a lawsuit, the insurance company may say that inspector did this at their own risk. The reason being the inspector went well outside the standards of practice and an insurance company covers an inspector largely based on the standards of practice in their particular jurisdiction.
 
Just remember – a house cannot fail a home inspection. Home inspectors in North Carolina are allowed to cite code under very specific restrictions, but cannot enforce code. Although most home inspectors will not quote code in their reports, inspectors will use their knowledge of current and previous code to inform their inspection and communication as a means to keep you safe and properly informed.
 
 
The crawl space. It’s the nether regions of a home that almost everyone wants to ignore. In the southeastern part of the US, they are quite common – especially in older homes – and the standard vented crawl space has been deemed an inferior foundation type. What do you if you have one?
 
If you live in a home with a crawl space, you can’t very well pick the house up and replace the foundation with a slab or a finished basement. But you can take steps to maintain your crawl space or drastically improve it.
 

Access Door:

Make sure it closes securely to keep out varmints, rain, and debris. Replace if decayed or doesn’t close tightly.

 

Vapor Barrier:

More accurately, vapor “retarders”, these can be polyethylene, roofing paper, asphalt, or even concrete. Poly sheeting is most common for those with a dirt or gravel floor. The vapor retarder should be installed with seams sealed together cover the soil completely, and be free of holes and tears.

 
Side Note: The crawl space floor should be free of storage and debris – keep it clean! Debris can attract unwanted pests, wood-destroying organisms, and/or microbial growth.
 

Ventilation: 

Codes vary, but generally in a crawl space with a vapor barrier, one sq ft of net venting is required for every 1500 sq ft, with one vent located within 3′ of a corner. Without a vapor barrier, it’s one sq ft of venting for every 150 sq ft of space.

 

Insulation:

If installed in the crawl space “ceiling”, the vapor barrier goes against the floor above with the fuzzy side facing down toward the crawl space. Also, the insulation should fill the full depth of the floor joists. A common improper installation is an R-19 batt (5.5″ thick) installed flush with the floor joists (9.25″ deep), leaving a sizable gap between the subfloor and insulation, allowing for condensation to build up. Insulation that is falling and looks like it’s raining down to the floor is indicative of a moisture issue.

 

Improvements:

  • “Smart Vents” open and close with water movement to prevent the build-up of hydro-static pressure.
  • Sump pumps are often installed to safely drain water from the outside or from a condensate line.
  • Replace the vapor barrier if yours does not cover the entire floor, is torn, or is less than 10 mil thick.
  • Encapsulation is by far the best way to improve your crawl space as it completely seals it off from the outside and effectively conditions the space. Here’s a look from a recent inspection.
 
A good first step to making any improvements is to get an inspection by a waterproofing specialist
At the start of each cooling season, a licensed professional should perform inspection of the Air Conditioning System. However, homeowners can do a lot of this work themselves.
 
Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit & Components
That large box on the outside of your home is the condenser unit. It is designed to move warm air from inside the home to the exterior. Coils of pipe are surrounded by thousands of tiny metal fins that allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat. Power off the unit and follow these tips:
 
Remove any debris from the unit’s exterior and trim back any vegetation several feet for proper airflow.
 
Remove the grill cover to clean out any debris from the interior – you can use a garden hose.
 
Straighten out bent fins with a fin comb.
 
Add lubricating oil to the motor – check your owner’s manual for instructions.
 
Clean the evaporator coil and condenser coil – again, see your owner’s manual.
 
Replace the insulation on the refrigerant line if corroded or beginning to deteriorate.
 
 

Other tips include:

  • Inspect & clean the condensate line. If equipped with a secondary line, a clogged primary line will be evidenced by water coming out of the secondary line which may be connected to the overflow pan under the interior unit (air handler). If you don’t know where either of your condensate lines terminates, ask the technician when you schedule a routine tune-up. For systems with a condensate pump, clean the pump according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Replace the air filter once per month, or wash if reusable. Most households need to replace their air filter at least once per month, even for the filters that claim to be “90-day” air filters. Some units will have a washable filter at the main duct line that connects to the air handler. Clean according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Be sure to deactivate the cooling system in the winter. If you have a heat pump, this is especially important. If activated when the outside temperature is below 60 degrees F, the compressor can be damaged. You can also cover the outside unit during the cold months when it’s not in use to keep out debris and to further protect it from the elements.