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Thread: Basement egress

  1. #1
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    Default Basement egress

    I called out the lack of an egress window in a basement recently for a 1980's property and the sill height was 54" and the installed windows were under 5.0 sq.ft. of opening.

    I talked with a plan reviewer with the MUNI who then sought the advice of a few other MUNI officials and said they are not requiring existing homes to meet the code requirement for basement egress windows unless someone changes the use and adds a NEW bedroom to the area.

    He went on to say, the buyer may run into this issue when they go to sell since ammendments change over time. He also said, that it sounded like a dangerous situation with the windows being too small and too high with only the stairs for egress, but a risk assessment by the MUNI suggested that "sleeping rooms" are much riskier than a basement used for other purposes.

    So, it is code to have an egress window, but the MUNI does not currently enforce it, and now the seller is using that information (for the next buyer, since my client walked) in his disclosure along with my report saying the basement needs one.

    My question is, there seems to be a liability issue for a home inspector but none for the MUNI who can say whatever they want. How do you inform your clients the issue is important without the AHJ reducing the severity of the issue, or do you just let the issue go since the AHJ has ruled on the subject?

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    To me, the ruling from the AHJ was incomplete, not sure if that was due to the lack of the specific question or if they ignored the specific question.

    When they came back and said that the EERO *would* be enforced for a *new* bedroom, the specific question to have asked is 'What do they consider a "new" bedroom? Was the bedroom in question a legally existing bedroom which was permitted and approved at the time of the conversion of that space to a bedroom? If that bedroom was not permitted at the time of conversion then it is not a legally existing bedroom and thus needs to be permitted at this time, i.e., that bedroom becomes a "new" bedroom at the time of permitting and would then be required to meet the EERO requirements, right?'

    The reason I say the above is because my take on what the AHJ said was this: 'If a basement space were to be converted into a new bedroom, the new EERO section would be enforced; however, we cannot enforce a new EERO section which was not in the code at the time the conversion took place.' That would be the correct, legal, AHJ stance ... provided that the 'existing' bedroom conversion was in fact 'existing', i.e., "legally existing", meaning that it was done with a permit at the time it was done. If "legally existing" the AHJ would be correct - that DOES NOT mean it is safe, only that, at the time the basement space was converted to a bedroom, it was 'considered' safe by the code in effect at the time' ... being as 'time' is not a safety device and that as 'time' goes by people recognize higher levels of safety as being 'safe' and realize that the older and lower levels of 'safe' were not and are not as 'safe' as once thought to be, the "legally existing" 'it is okay' by the AHJ *DOES NOT* mean it is as safe as the new code requires - all that means is that the AHJ *cannot require* any improvements ... unless they have also adopted a property maintenance code which addresses it.

    Just like real old stair railings with 12" openings - we all know those are not 'safe', but, at the 'time', they were considered 'safe'; today we know and understand that kids will fall right through that old railing with 12" openings just like they would fall through a new railing with 12" openings.

    All the above simply says is ("simply"? ): The basement bedroom is Fry Room 1.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    I guess the question involves how do you call out code improvements if the AHJ doesn't enforce them yet? Is it a recommendation until enough time has gone by and enough inspectors have started to make the call? Your example of the 12" rule, was that not called before the next round of code was published?
    I think GFCI requirements were called before the adoption of the next code (say for all above kitchen counters for example), or the change to 4" balusters, now when will we start calling for Arc fault breakers on existing panels? I know inspectors up here who are recommending the upgraded breaker if the panel can handle them. Is it a regional thing? Hmmmm, so many questions...


  4. #4
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    You call it out when you realize it is an unsafe condition, not waiting until enough inspectors call it out (if no inspector calls it out first, how will there ever be any inspectors calling it out if they are all waiting until enough inspectors call it out?).

    My example of the 12" openings was that, at that time, way back then, 12" was considered "safe". That means there would have been nothing to call out, right?

    When the code changed to 9" openings, 12" was now deemed 'not safe' and should be called out. Was anyone going to go back and replace all the 12" opening guard rails? Of course not, but that does not mean the inspector does not recognize it and know it as 'not safe'.

    When the opening size was reduced to 6", 9" opening guard rails were then known to be 'not safe'; and when the opening size was reduced to the current 4", 6" opening guard rails were then known to be 'not safe'.

    One calls it out when they have evidence or knowledge that something is not working as it should or is 'not safe', and those 'safe' standards are continually revised as things are made 'safer'.

    It is not that EERO were not required for bedrooms in basements, it was that no one knew the bedrooms were being put into basements, and when bedrooms were put into basements not everyone realized 'Hey, wait a minute now, we need EERO in this bedroom.', sometimes it takes a while for the light to come on and one to realize 'Hey, I wonder how many of these I saw and missed! Yikes! These basement bedrooms all require a EERO means.'

    Any inspector who has been in business 5 years or longer knows that they are seeing things that they now know are not right, and that it is not that those things are just now being done, those things were already being done, the inspector just 'was not aware of them and is now just seeing those things' ... that is where the "Yikes!" comes in. After doing inspections for 20 years (give or take) I would shudder at what my first few years of inspections were like ... YIKES!

    Now that I am doing code inspections, and have been for 6-7 years now, I now have the opportunity to correct the things which were ignored for so long during construction and code inspections ... and my backup documentation is to bring out the code book and say 'Let's read this together to make sure we are understanding it correctly ... hmmm ... yep, there it is ... you are not allowed to do it that way any more, even if you may have been doing it that way for the last 30 years.'

    "30 years" seems to be the common response ... "I've been doing this for 30 years and you are now telling me I am not allowed to do it this way?" ... "No, what I am telling you is that you were not allowed by code to do it that way for the past 27 years, but I am just not catching it and, yes, you are not allowed to do it that way any more."

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Now basements require a means of egress even if there is no sleeping rooms. Which is what I reported on in this inspection, and which has created the issue for me. I think I do call out these issues whenever they affect the safety of the occupants, whether or not they are an adopted code yet. In this particular case, egress would be very difficult for most people (and fireman). I agree with the "Yikes" factor on my first inspections vs. the ones I do currently. Always improving (hopefully)...


  6. #6
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Recommending some action is very different than requiring some action and you should make the difference very clear to a client whenever you are explaining something. Sometimes, that requires a followup conversation for confused clients.

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Quote Originally Posted by Lon Henderson View Post
    Recommending some action is very different than requiring some action and you should make the difference very clear to a client whenever you are explaining something. Sometimes, that requires a followup conversation for confused clients.
    Home inspectors have no authority to require anything. All home inspectors can do it offer their profession opinion and recommendations.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Home inspectors have no authority to require anything. All home inspectors can do it offer their profession opinion and recommendations.
    Yes, that's an important clarification to what I said. Which leads to another distinction. Saying that something is required vs. requiring it. For instance, in Colorado we have an actual law requiring CO detectors to be installed whenever a home is sold. A home inspector who correctly points out that a home is missing the required CO detectors, isn't personally requiring CO detectors to be installed, but just informing clients of the law that requires it.
    A side note is that all too often, if a home inspector says that something should be so, then all the client heard was that it is required to be so......such as, some inspector says, "this bedroom should have an egress window". The buyer comes away thinking that the bedroom is required to have an egress window.

    And to confound this, are some inspectors who see their roles as something closer to the sheriff than the witness.

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Home inspectors have no authority to require anything. All home inspectors can do it offer their profession opinion and recommendations.
    Yes, that's an important clarification to what I said. Which leads to another distinction. Saying that something is required vs. requiring it. For instance, in Colorado we have an actual law requiring CO detectors to be installed whenever a home is sold. A home inspector who correctly points out that a home is missing the required CO detectors, isn't personally requiring CO detectors to be installed, but just informing clients of the law that requires it.
    A side note is that all too often, if a home inspector says that something should be so, then all the client heard was that it is required to be so......such as, some inspector says, "this bedroom should have an egress window". The buyer comes away thinking that the bedroom is required to have an egress window.

    And to confound this, are some inspectors who see their roles as something closer to the sheriff than the witness.

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    A side note is that all too often, if a home inspector says that something should be so, then all the client heard was that it is required to be so......such as, some inspector says, "this bedroom should have an egress window". The buyer comes away thinking that the bedroom is required to have an egress window.

    I feel that a client needs to hear "required" when it comes to safety issues. Educating home buyers that an inspector has little bite in his bark is one thing, but stressing "should" doesn't seem prudent in this example. Maybe that's what you are implying, I'm just reading it incorrectly?


  11. #11
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Home inspectors have no authority to require anything. All home inspectors can do it offer their profession opinion and recommendations.
    That sums it up pretty clearly. As you can see in your own situation, in many cases even the AHJ doesn't have the authority to actually require that something be done when the property is already existing and occupied. It's going to happen a lot, so you might as well get used to it.

    Jim Robinson
    New Mexico, USA

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Robinson View Post
    That sums it up pretty clearly. As you can see in your own situation, in many cases even the AHJ doesn't have the authority to actually require that something be done when the property is already existing and occupied. It's going to happen a lot, so you might as well get used to it.
    In Alaska, it seems like the appraiser, and sometimes the lender (if they get a copy of a report), are the ones with the "bite" when requiring repairs. Now the agents are not giving the report to anybody in case it complicates the transaction. So we are back to the inspector educating the client on the "important" stuff to ask for in the repair addendum. Whether or not we have the authority to actually require repairs, we seem to be an intregal part of the equation when it comes to the final negotiations. Then the appraiser walks through and comes up with their own list of "required" repairs before the deal is done.
    Kinda reminds me of when a doctor says you need a surgery, maybe they don't have the authority to "require" you to do anything, but I seem to take their advice to heart. (sounds rather concieted comparing inspectors to surgeons!)
    If the AHJ can't "require", the inspector can't "require", and the appraiser and lender don't have the info to "require" then requiring doesn't really enter the picture, except for the buyer's requirements to purchase the home.


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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Mortensen View Post
    A side note is that all too often, if a home inspector says that something should be so, then all the client heard was that it is required to be so......such as, some inspector says, "this bedroom should have an egress window". The buyer comes away thinking that the bedroom is required to have an egress window.

    I feel that a client needs to hear "required" when it comes to safety issues. Educating home buyers that an inspector has little bite in his bark is one thing, but stressing "should" doesn't seem prudent in this example. Maybe that's what you are implying, I'm just reading it incorrectly?
    You need to make it clear that when you say something is required you explain when it is required (i.e. for new construction or for new renovations). Its fine to point out that someone may wish to upgrade something to present standards, but I think too many home inspectors go around telling people that they have to upgrade things, when there is no legal requirement to do so. As an example, if you want to tell someone that AFCIs are a good idea and they may want to install them, thats fine. Telling them that there are no AFCIs and that they should be installed is often interpreted by the buyer that the seller should do this for them. And then there is another issue as to which code provisions are you going to decide that the seller must upgrade?

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Mortensen View Post
    A side note is that all too often, if a home inspector says that something should be so, then all the client heard was that it is required to be so......such as, some inspector says, "this bedroom should have an egress window". The buyer comes away thinking that the bedroom is required to have an egress window.

    I feel that a client needs to hear "required" when it comes to safety issues. Educating home buyers that an inspector has little bite in his bark is one thing, but stressing "should" doesn't seem prudent in this example. Maybe that's what you are implying, I'm just reading it incorrectly?
    You need to make it clear that when you say something is required you explain when it is required (i.e. for new construction or for new renovations). Its fine to point out that someone may wish to upgrade something to present standards, but I think too many home inspectors go around telling people that they have to upgrade things, when there is no legal requirement to do so. As an example, if you want to tell someone that AFCIs are a good idea and they may want to install them, thats fine. Telling them that there are no AFCIs and that they should be installed is often interpreted by the buyer that the seller should do this for them. And then there is another issue as to which code provisions are you going to decide that the seller must upgrade?


  14. #14
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    You need to make it clear that when you say something is required you explain when it is required (i.e. for new construction or for new renovations). Its fine to point out that someone may wish to upgrade something to present standards, but I think too many home inspectors go around telling people that they have to upgrade things, when there is no legal requirement to do so. As an example, if you want to tell someone that AFCIs are a good idea and they may want to install them, thats fine. Telling them that there are no AFCIs and that they should be installed is often interpreted by the buyer that the seller should do this for them. And then there is another issue as to which code provisions are you going to decide that the seller must upgrade?[/QUOTE]


    Lack of GFCI protection is generally regarded as a Health/safety issue up here and are installed on older homes when a property has been inspected and changes ownership. This is just one example where upgrading has become "required" even though the MUNI has not issued a statement that ALL homes need to have this protection. I suppose it is a regional thing where an issue finally becomes recognized and the inspection industry adopts it as a standard whether or not a "legal" precedant exists.
    I try to do my inspections the same no matter who is buying the property, but I must admit, I stress the importance of a 4" baluster spacing requirement much stronger to a young couple with small kids than I do for anyone else.
    When will AFCI's become the next one (assuming the panel can handle it)?


  15. #15
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    You can't control how people read and react to what you write. Or, to take it a step further, what they ask the seller to do or what the appraiser and lender do. All you can do it is write accurately and "lead the horse to water" as the saying goes. IMO, you're overstepping your bounds and an HI. Just give them facts and your recommendation and move on.

    In 13+ years inspecting homes you could search my reports and only find the word "required" on the handful of things. Those being what is actually required on a real estate sale in my area - old wood stove removal, CO detector, Smoke detector with "hush" buttons. Using "required" outside of things that actually are "required" by some law is misleading and inaccurate.

    I agree with you that basement egress is important but it's just not your fight to fight.


  16. #16
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    Default Re: Basement egress

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Fellman View Post
    Y

    In 13+ years inspecting homes you could search my reports and only find the word "required" on the handful of things. Those being what is actually required on a real estate sale in my area - old wood stove removal, CO detector, Smoke detector with "hush" buttons. Using "required" outside of things that actually are "required" by some law is misleading and inaccurate.

    I agree with you that basement egress is important but it's just not your fight to fight.
    I use "required" quite a bit, but I usually include the language "for new construction" so clients at least know the codes have changed and can make a determination if they want to upgrade or not. I would not want to be misleading or inaccurate in any way. I don't feel it's my job to know each and every year a specific code was put into effect by the particular AHJ.
    Back to my original question, informing buyers of existing or potential issues limits liability and improves client knowledge so they can make a more informed decision. In my egress scenario, not informing the client that the lack of egress was dangerous (as acknowledged by the AHJ) just because it "met code at the time" seems irresponsible. Especially when the AHJ goes on to say the issue may raise its ugly head some day down the road when the buyer goes to sell.
    Not being an alarmist, and especially not picking a fight with anybody, just stating the facts.


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