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  1. #1
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    Default How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Does a home automatically become unsafe, or contain a defect just because the code or construction standards have changes? And, if the defect or safety issue is noted by the inspector, what is an appropriate wording for the report?

    Think of the Stair Code related to rise and run. Some time ago, it was common to see stairs built to a standard that allowed a rise of 8-1/4". Then there was a change to the stair code that allowed a maximum height of 7-3/4" I have even read recently of one state that changed BACK to the older standard. There were similar changed to the minimum run (tread depth) from the old standard of (I think it was 9") to 11". Now, that was a big change.

    The builder did it right when he built the home many years ago. The current owner made no changes and did no damage that needed repair. Now the code is different than in the past.

    What do you write in your report?

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by John C Hansen, LEED AP View Post
    Does a home automatically become unsafe, or contain a defect just because the code or construction standards have changes? And, if the defect or safety issue is noted by the inspector, what is an appropriate wording for the report?

    Think of the Stair Code related to rise and run. Some time ago, it was common to see stairs built to a standard that allowed a rise of 8-1/4". Then there was a change to the stair code that allowed a maximum height of 7-3/4" I have even read recently of one state that changed BACK to the older standard. There were similar changed to the minimum run (tread depth) from the old standard of (I think it was 9") to 11". Now, that was a big change.

    The builder did it right when he built the home many years ago. The current owner made no changes and did no damage that needed repair. Now the code is different than in the past.

    What do you write in your report?
    Think of it this way instead - the stair did not 'become unsafe' when the code changed - the stair 'was already unsafe', the code changed to recognize that fact.

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

  3. #3
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    With most items I simply use the "according to modern standards... " wording and explain what is wrong and why.
    As we have said many times, fire, electricity, etc. does not read a code book.
    Unsafe is unsafe and things that may have been "safe" in their day are continuously being made "more safe" with each code revision. One that leaps to mind is smoke detectors that did not exist just a few decades ago, but anyone with a brain would agree have saved many lives.
    As with many things, common sense and judgment are called for in reporting but I inspect and report most everything using modern standards.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Plano, Texas

  4. #4
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by John C Hansen, LEED AP View Post
    Jerry, you seem to be saying that the ability of the inspector to know something is safe or not is based on his knowledge of the codes in place on the day of the inspection.

    But is that what the SOP says? Is it a matter of the code in place on the day of the inspection that informs an inspector whether something is safe or not?
    Do code changes make the prior inspections wrong at some later date?
    And what do you write in your report? Something like this: "The current residential construction code recognizes the stairs in this home as non-compliant and therefore unsafe because the stair riser is too tall and the tread is too narrow"? Or might we inform the client that the modern interpretation of stair safety by the codes adopted in this city indicate these stairs are unsafe based on the currently adopted codes in this locale.
    We must strike a balance between a valid report on a good house built prior to the last code revision; and a report that identifies every code change since the house was built.
    Do inspectors use a phrase something like this: "Current standards indicate these stairs are too steep"?
    John, how do you handle it?

    Scott Patterson, ACI
    Spring Hill, TN
    www.traceinspections.com

  5. #5
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Patterson View Post
    John, how do you handle it?
    Scott, Thanks for asking that question. I am just beginning to study for the Illinois license test. And, having built a very large number of homes in many jurisdictions around Illinois, I took great care to meet the stair code at the time of construction. But there was a period when the codes were changing related to stairs and some cities took years to adopt the changes.
    Now, fast forward to today. Inspectors are expected to declare stairs unsafe if they were built just 15 or 20 years ago by virtue of what is currently adopted in that particular city or state. Stairs are not something like a smoke detector or CO detector that can be added for a fixed price.
    I may adopt a phrase like the one that Jim Luttrall suggested: "According to modern standards..." because it conveys a useful meaning to the item being noted.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by John C Hansen, LEED AP View Post
    Scott, Thanks for asking that question. I am just beginning to study for the Illinois license test. And, having built a very large number of homes in many jurisdictions around Illinois, I took great care to meet the stair code at the time of construction. But there was a period when the codes were changing related to stairs and some cities took years to adopt the changes.
    Now, fast forward to today. Inspectors are expected to declare stairs unsafe if they were built just 15 or 20 years ago by virtue of what is currently adopted in that particular city or state. Stairs are not something like a smoke detector or CO detector that can be added for a fixed price.
    I may adopt a phrase like the one that Jim Luttrall suggested: "According to modern standards..." because it conveys a useful meaning to the item being noted.
    John,

    My approach is kind of a mix of JP and JL. As has been said at other times in this message board, we are hired as consultants to give a professional opinion. As such, we are not limited by code.

    For example, Here in CA, codes change periodically to make homes more earthquake resistant. Most of us are going to make comments on older homes recommending seismic upgrades. In contrast to your comment about stairways, I make a note at any steps, even a single riser, that a handrail would be safer and helpful for people with mobility issues. Certainly not a requirement, but many of us have aged parents, grandparents or friends who have difficulty negotiating even a single riser.

    Last edited by Gunnar Alquist; 02-10-2016 at 10:12 PM.
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    John
    As a Home Inspector, I consider myself as a client's agent for caveat emptor. The process of inspecting a home is your responsibility to make the buyer beware, or in the case of a pre-sale inspection - make the owner aware. Many aspects of an established home may not comply with a home under recent or current construction. Notwithstanding specific defects, damage or items in need of repair, matters which do not comply with current code may be reported as such, giving reasoning. i.e, "Stair riser dimensions have changed over time and, as installed, may be considered unsafe by modern construction standards." I rarely include any code reference in my report but will do so, as a matter of reference, when an individual defect is challenged - usually by the sellers agent.

    Typical home inspections are not Code Inspections and care should be taken when identifying any contradictions by referencing code in reports. It's up to the client as to whether they accept the defects or those aspects which fail to comply with current standards - all of which can become matters for further negotiation.

    An Inspector has (should have) a degree of expertise which the client does not possess and relies on the inspector's opinion in order to make an informed decision. Additional information may be required depending upon your State or governing body's s.o.p.


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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Up here new codes are not retroactive. In other words if the stairs were built twenty years ago to code there is no requirement to bring them up to the new code, unless the stairs are being changed out during a renovation.

    Last edited by Raymond Wand; 02-11-2016 at 04:20 AM.

  9. #9

    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    I think we all struggle with this issue and depending on the item (and its severity) we may report it or not report it as needing corrective actions.

    In the case of an older home with steep stairs that were acceptable when the home was built but no longer meet more modern standards I would simply note it in the report and may or may not recommend corrective action or updating it depending on the home.

    However, if in my view the issue is a significant safety hazard I call it out. An example follows: the kitchen receptacles lack any modern GFCI protection and while this was not required when this home was built, these safety standards have changed for good reason. Electrical safety has evolved and not updating this system presents a significant known safety hazard and it should be corrected.

    In other words it will depend on the age, condition, and the issue and it involves some judgement.

    Jeff Zehnder - Home Inspector, Raleigh, NC
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    [QUOTE=Jeff Zehnder;263804]I think we all struggle with this issue/QUOTE]

    I don't see a reason to struggle with it at all. My approach is what is generally accepted. Citing or following some regulatory requirement is the job of the AHJ and does not fall within the scope of my agreement.

    - - - Updated - - -

    [QUOTE=Jeff Zehnder;263804]I think we all struggle with this issue/QUOTE]

    I don't see a reason to struggle with it at all. My approach is what is generally accepted. Citing or following some regulatory requirement is the job of the AHJ and does not fall within the scope of my agreement.

    Eric Barker, ACI
    Lake Barrington, IL

  11. #11
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    "Inspectors are expected to declare stairs unsafe if they were built just 15 or 20 years ago by virtue of what is currently adopted in that particular city or state"
    What idiot told you that?
    Generally the Code is NOT retroactive. There are situations related to rehab and extent of work that require an older building to meet current standards but that gets a little complicated.
    Just because an older staircase doesn't meet current Code that doesn't necessarily make it unsafe. Unless of course we are talking about old Chicago attic staircases that have a 9" run and 11" rise. Those things are scary no matter what.
    You can say it doesn't meet current Code but you better be careful about your wording otherwise you'll get slapped and rightfully so.
    Give me a call if you want to discuss in detail for what's applicable here. You've got my number.



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  12. #12
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    In this particular case, we are focusing on stairways because the OP brought it up. However, if we broaden our view we can find other examples.

    Lack of safety glass in doors and specific windows - that met code.
    Lack of grounding at receptacle outlets - that met code.
    Lack of smoke alarms - that met code.
    Wide spacing on guardrail balusters - that met code.

    Which of these will we not address because they met code when the house was constructed?

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  13. #13
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by John C Hansen, LEED AP View Post
    Does a home automatically become unsafe, or contain a defect just because the code or construction standards have changes? And, if the defect or safety issue is noted by the inspector, what is an appropriate wording for the report?

    Think of the Stair Code related to rise and run. Some time ago, it was common to see stairs built to a standard that allowed a rise of 8-1/4". Then there was a change to the stair code that allowed a maximum height of 7-3/4" I have even read recently of one state that changed BACK to the older standard. There were similar changed to the minimum run (tread depth) from the old standard of (I think it was 9") to 11". Now, that was a big change.

    The builder did it right when he built the home many years ago. The current owner made no changes and did no damage that needed repair. Now the code is different than in the past.

    What do you write in your report?
    As we all know, we are not doing code inspections (with a few rare exceptions) and WE know that the code is a moving target. Be it electrical grounding, stairs, WRB, etc. EVERY home built is or will be out of compliance with the most modern code.
    So this is alway and ongoing question, whether to call it out or not. The easy answer is to follow your governing SOP. My state says I WILL call out certain things but is silent on others. Like it or not, it will come down to a judgment call that each of us has to make peace with. Above all, I try to protect my client from life/safety hazards and then there is a bit of self preservation thrown into every report.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Plano, Texas

  14. #14
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    A different take ...

    One common issue that comes up around the scope of a home inspection involves safety items. Many home inspectors that I know are very focused on safety issues. I am not. ....
    Update on CSA Standard A770 - Home Inspection - CLARKE ENGINEERING


  15. #15
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus Keller View Post
    ... What idiot told you that?
    Markus, Your question is a great way for me to test the process I am going through as I learn this stuff for the first time.

    I read all kinds of articles in addition the training course I am taking. During this initial stage of my education, I may be inferring things rather than actually reading or hearing someone tell me something.

    In the case where I wrote: "Inspectors are expected to declare stairs unsafe...." - No. it was just the way I worded it and no person has actually said that to me. I will be more careful how I phase my questions and comments in the future.

    But I do want to thank you. I frequently am called on to defend where I read or heard something and I can usually find it in writing, or recall where I heard it. Not this time though. It was just me over-stating the situation.

    This is turning into a great learning experience related to the concept of "judgement" as I read what is being offered here in this discussion. With experience and time I will develop the judgement needed to know what I will determine to be significant and what I will be including in my reports.


  16. #16
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    If a staircase is unsafe then its unsafe but that isn't necessarily just about the Code. I wrote up a staircase last week as D&H. The staircase went from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor. Stairs were original to the house and the moderate rehab in the home over the years didn't require the stairs to meet current code. Run and rise were ok overall. However, the handrail stopped 3 steps from the top and was too low; the carpet on the stairs wasn't a good choice for stability and there was a window at the bottom of the flight of stairs at the winder with no tempered glass or guardrail. If nobody falls its fine, if somebody falls its going to be a bloody mess.
    In that case it wasn't necessarily about Code compliance, even though the handrail and window were an issue, it was more about the combination of factors that could result in very bad injury if someone stumbled.
    If you want to see yourself as doing a good report, great report, etc. Then think in terms of providing people with relevant real life information. Any checkbox idiot and check the 'satisfactory' or 'needs further evaluation' boxes. When you provide clients information that they can understand and use then you are providing the level of professional service buyers deserve as part of making one of the most important financial decisions of their lives.

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  17. #17
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    Up here new codes are not retroactive. In other words if the stairs were built twenty years ago to code there is no requirement to bring them up to the new code, unless the stairs are being changed out during a renovation.
    That is true in the States as well, until somebody falls! Then it is whatever the attorneys can get to work!

    Scott Patterson, ACI
    Spring Hill, TN
    www.traceinspections.com

  18. #18
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Yes we have blood suckers up here too.


  19. #19
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Aside from the various code comments there's another guideline often used in architectural (building) design known as "ergonomics". Often standards that are part of "codes" are based on consideration of safe guidelines for movement of humans interacting in their environment. In this case such as the study of "safe" travel on a set of stairs.

    As we all know we have an obligation to point out or better yet report potentially "unsafe" conditions.

    In my area one of the most common issues with stairs involved war-time homes and high-pitched bungalow roof homes where "someone" decided to make use of the attic space as a living space. Typically stairs were adapted to fit a tight space and not to forget about ceiling joists often becoming under-"designed" and act as floor joist.

    Of course as a home inspector it is difficult to predict when the change occurred, but nonetheless we would obligated to report such conditions.

    Last edited by Claude Lawrenson; 02-13-2016 at 11:00 AM. Reason: Typo

  20. #20
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Many times with most older homes the rise/run cannot be improved as there simply is no room to replace stringers to accommodate a new rise/run stringer to meet 'safe' requirements.


  21. #21
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by John C Hansen, LEED AP View Post
    In the case where I wrote: "Inspectors are expected to declare stairs unsafe...." - No. it was just the way I worded it and no person has actually said that to me. I will be more careful how I phase my questions and comments in the future.
    John - In this job you really have to scrutinize what you write and say. In fact you should be anal about it. A good practice is to carefully read initial posts that inspectors make on the online discussion boards. They are often confusing to figure out. Then read the responses - they often often go out into left field. Don't put yourself in the position of not saying what you meant to say. It's a habit that as inspectors we all need to work at.

    A final note - before you send your report out CAREFULLY proof-read it. It will very often sound quite different than when you were typing it and may not reflect what you were trying to say.

    Eric Barker, ACI
    Lake Barrington, IL

  22. #22
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    Default Re: How do reports deal with changes in construction standards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Barker View Post
    John - In this job you really have to scrutinize what you write and say. In fact you should be anal about it. A good practice is to carefully read initial posts that inspectors make on the online discussion boards. They are often confusing to figure out. Then read the responses - they often often go out into left field. Don't put yourself in the position of not saying what you meant to say. It's a habit that as inspectors we all need to work at.

    A final note - before you send your report out CAREFULLY proof-read it. It will very often sound quite different than when you were typing it and may not reflect what you were trying to say.

    ...Could not agree more.


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