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6 Most Common Code Violations: Is Your House To Code?

General Expertise, Home Maintenance
By Katie Carlson on Mar 16, 2016
6 Most Common Code Violations: Is Your House To Code?

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Most homeowners have heard of home code violations, but many don’t understand the consequences of ignoring them. Keeping a house up to code isn’t necessarily a fun task, but it’s a responsibility all homeowners must address to keep their families, pets and neighbors safe and healthy.

One reason homeowners put off fixing issues around the house is lack of knowledge or confusion over where to start. See the six most common home code violations and recommended fixes.

Service Panel

1. Electrical Errors

The number one most important electrical safety concern you should tackle right away is to make sure nothing is crowding your service panel. Failing to remove nearby objects will result in hazardous conditions and major regrets. All circuits in the panel should be clearly labeled so that a particular circuit can be easily located in a crisis, or for servicing needs. There also needs to be a main disconnect that allows you to shut down the house's electrical system quickly in the case of an emergency. 

The folks at Fine Homebuilding gathered the nine most common wiring mistakes and code violations. This guide should help you understand what to focus in on in your home.

  1. Protect wiring from nails and screws.
  2. Don’t mix line-voltage and low-voltage wires.
  3. Don’t stuff too many wires into a switch or outlet box.
  4. Use a splice box when installing a new fixture to old wire.
  5. Don’t use wire runs as a clothesline. 
  6. Don’t overcrowd holes with too many wires.
  7. Make sure recessed lights don’t become fire hazards. 
  8. Don’t disable a smoke detector with bad placement.
  9. Don’t bury splice boxes. It’s dangerous.

Also, don’t forget to attend to the electrical outlets, especially if you have kids or pets. Tamper-resistant receptacles are designed to stop a child from inserting an object, such as a fork or paperclip, and keeps pets from messing with them.


2. Handrails Not Installed on All Staircases

Are you aware that more people are hurt on the stairs than anywhere else in the home? This should give you an idea of just how important handrails are to the safety of your family. You may not realize it, but handrails must be installed on every single staircase inside and outside of the house.

Railings in stair codes and specifications refer to the safety barrier along steps or stairs. A handrail is a horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support, as opposed to an open staircase that would require a stair rail and guardrail. The upside to this common code violation is that it can be fixed pretty quickly and affordably

Smoke Alarm

3. Missing & Broken Smoke Alarms

Every bedroom in the home is required to have a hard-wired smoke alarm in the room, and in the hallway outside of all sleeping areas. You not only need to make sure your smoke alarms are installed correctly, but also that they’re working properly. This device is going to be your number one defense against a fire.

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Research states that interconnected smoke alarms are known to increase safety. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) conducted a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) survey of households with any fires, including fires in which the fire department was not called, and found that, “interconnected smoke alarms were more likely to operate and alert occupants to a fire.”


4. Improper Bathroom Ventilation

It’s common for older homes to have a bathroom fan that vents air and moisture into an attic. This is not safe. Proper ventilation requires you to make sure all ventilation coming from the bathroom is directed outside.

Failing to do so puts your house at high risk for unpleasant side effects. Pumping humid air into your attic is likely to cause mold and rot. In addition, confirm your fan is venting the air using a 4" diameter vent pipe. Inexpensive bath fans are known to have 3" fittings. If you find this to be the case, insert a converter pipe to quickly repair the problem.


5. Dangerous Windows

Many homeowners and homebuyers look at windows as an added bonus, but fail to consider their condition, location and type of glass. Your first order of business should be to replace windows near stairs and in bathrooms with tempered or safety-glazed glass. In fact, building codes require it in new homes with windows that are near stairs and doorways, in showers or pretty much any place where someone could slip and fall into the glass. Experts recommend that any single-pane windows be traded in for double-pane versions.

Here are a few additional questions and tips to keep in mind.

  • Do the frames have wind load labels?
  • Is the glazing double or triple glazed to provide insulation and to resist impact? 
  • Are there visible fasteners to assure you they’re securely installed? 
  • Tempered or safety glass must have a manufacturers designation, defining the type of glass and the safety glazing standard with which it complies.
  • The designation must be visible at final installation and be acid etched (i.e. applied so that it cannot be removed without being destroyed).

Water Heater

6. Water Heater

An expansion tank is a small, extra tank that relieves the pressure if your water gets too hot and expands. You need to make sure your water heater has one. Without an expansion tank, the pressure can build up and cause the tank to explode.

Good ventilation and a properly working temperature/pressure relief valve (T&P) are essential for a water heater to work correctly. The average lifespans of both electric and gas water heaters are eight to thirteen years, so be sure to schedule professional maintenance checkups and purchase new equipment as necessary. See our installation cost guide to help you budget for any upcoming expenses related to replacing your water heater.


If some of this information is new to you, don’t be alarmed. There are many homeowners in the same boat and that’s why they’re called common code violations. Now that you know what to look for and are aware of some recommended fixes, you can get to work!

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