Just because you own your house doesn't mean you can do anything you want to it. Local building codes detail what you can and can't do to modify your home, and what requirements you have to meet when it comes to plumbing, electric wiring, structural integrity and other features. The laws can be confusing and are usually updated every few years, so it's difficult to keep track of all of them. Fortunately, experts can help you make sure your house is safe and up to code. If you are planning to remodel, expand or sell your home, take some time to study the laws and how they can affect your project.
What Is Building Code?
Building codes cover just about anything that you can do to your home, beyond minor changes like wallpaper. Whether you are changing a light fixture or installing a new sink, there is probably a law to guide you. It might be frustrating to have to look up every small thing, but remember the code is there for your safety.
Specific housing codes vary by municipality, although most are based on models like the International Residential Code and the International Plumbing Code. For more detailed information, check out your home city's website or visit the building department.
Is My Old Plumbing Up to Code?
If you live in an older house, there is a decent chance your plumbing may not meet current code. Many municipalities update their laws every three years, mostly based on the International Plumbing Code published by the International Code Council in Washington, D.C.
Some of the more common problems include not installing shield plates where pipes pass through the studs, not burying the plumbing deeply enough underground and not having the proper shut-off valves in place. Inadequate drain slopes can also be a problem, allowing the pipes to clog because the escaping water leaves behind solid materials. Improper venting can also cause problems down the line.
One other area to be aware of is to avoid installing uninsulated pipes in areas where they are subject to freezing temperatures. In colder parts of the country, you risk bursting your plumbing and flooding your house if you don't follow the legal guidelines.
What if I'm Out of Compliance?
There's no need to panic if your plumbing is outdated and not up to current code, unless there is some immediate safety issue. Older buildings are protected by grandfather clauses because it would be impractical and prohibitively expensive for everyone to update their system every three years. However, if you are planning on redoing your bathroom or kitchen you might be required to upgrade parts of your plumbing that have fallen out of date.
With a little research you can figure out in advance when you need to get a city permit or bring in an inspector. Officials in the local building department can be very helpful in guiding you through the process. If you aren't sure, seek help from a qualified plumber who is up to date on the current code and can ensure that your project is in compliance. Your local Benjamin Franklin® can answer your plumbing questions, help you plan your project and perform any work needed to bring it up to code.