How do current building codes affect an older home?

Answered by Jeffrey Anderson ~ July 17, 2013 ~ No Comments

I am trying to sell my 1979 house and an inspector reported that I need a fire rated door between my garage and bedroom. Given the age of the home is this required? In addition, the inspector stated each room needed its own heat source. I have a pellet stove rated to heat my entire home. Do I really need to install a heat source in every room? The home is located in Kern County, California.

- Nickie

Jeffrey Anderson

Nickie, complying with building codes can be somewhat confusing from state to state -- sometimes even from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within the same state. The two primary residential codes used in this country and which inspectors go by are normally decided at the state level. However, many local jurisdictions have the leeway to tweak the codes a little to meet their specific needs.

That being said, I wouldn't think that any jurisdiction would require that an older home be brought up to modern code standards if it met the standards being used when it was built. The only exception that I'm aware of is when remodeling or a home addition is done and even then, meeting the modern code is only required in the area affected by the project.

When you say that an inspector is telling you that the improvements are needed, I'm guessing the person is an independent contractor hired by a potential purchaser. If so, I suggest checking with a Kern County building official to verify that what you're being told is correct.

Modern code does require that there be a fire-separation door between the garage and living areas. I'm not sure what 1979 code in Kern County required, but the official building inspector should know. Also, some solid wood and hollow-core metal doors meet fire-separation specifications so what you have may be okay even for today's building code.

As far as a heating source being needed in each room, that requirement would be very unusual. Even modern code normally only requires that there be a heating system that is capable of maintaining the interior of a home at a specific temperature. There are many people in my area who heat their entire homes with pellet and wood stoves. I'm sure they would be quite upset to discover that a heat source had to be in each room before their houses could be sold.

Private inspectors can be very helpful when someone is purchasing a house, but if you're the seller, keep in mind that they're looking out for their client. I have had many potential home buyers hand me lists compiled by their independent inspectors of changes they wanted done to a home that had just been constructed.

Every once in a while there was a code or safety item that the official building inspector and I had missed, but most of the time they were changes that weren't required. If it meant selling the house, I might do a few of the items to make the buyer feel as if they were getting something -- fire-separation doors are normally fairly inexpensive so you might want to think of installing one in the same fashion.

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