Building codes exist to keep you safe. They may seem bothersome, but they are important. Most states have adopted a set of residential building codes known as the International Residential Code (IRC), often with additional regionally appropriate provisions. Ask your local building department which codes your remodeling project needs to meet.
Building codes represent the minimum standards for avoiding disaster. Whether you DIY or hire a contractor, it’s often desirable to exceed code requirements.
Permits: Don’t Get Caught Without One
Everyone bemoans the building permit, but failing to pull a permit is breaking the law. If you’re caught doing unpermitted work, a fine will probably be added to the cost of your permit. If you are caught after the project is complete, you may be required to tear out work to allow inspection.
Permits, like building codes, are there for your protection. Permits can be obtained only by licensed pros and homeowners. If a builder suggests that you obtain your own permit, that’s a red flag. If you get the permit, you assume full liability and the warranty laws of your state fall on your shoulders, not the contractor’s.
Your Friend the Building Inspector
Building inspectors are misunderstood and often vilified. In truth, inspectors are your friends. Their job is to check that your remodel is constructed according to building codes and the approved plans. On DIY projects, inspectors can provide a wealth of knowledge. Share the details of your project and solicit their input rather than trying to hide things. A happy inspector is a good ally.
Green Building and the Codes: Friends or Foes?
While building codes address things like fire safety, ventilation, structural strength, and insulation, they historically have not addressed green-building criteria. This is beginning to change, as green criteria are finding their way into codes and standards.
Green building promotes energy efficiency, resource efficiency, and indoor health. It rarely conflicts with building codes, except in the case of innovative green products or systems such as a graywater system, rainwater harvesting, or composting toilets.
Serious About Going Green? Certify Your Project!
More and more local governments are requiring that building projects meet minimum green-certification levels. Others encourage but don’t mandate certification. Even if it’s not required, you may want green certification for your own peace of mind and to increase your home’s value.
Find out which green-building programs are available in your area. For remodeling projects, the options are limited. If your area doesn’t have a program, look for one in a state with a similar climate and use it as a guide. Let your code officials know that you are doing a green remodeling, and you may find that they offer special services, such as expedited plan review, extra assistance from inspectors, and reduced fees.
When interviewing contractors, say that you want green certification. Some contractors will be resistant; this is another red flag, since the only requirement for green certification on the part of contractors is documentation, testing, and third-party verification that they did the work properly. These procedures generally add little to the cost of your project, while significantly increasing its value.
During construction, you may need to remind the contractor and crew of your green- certification requirements. It’s better to have some friendly prompts midstream than to have an “oops!” moment at the end.