Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: How can I find pre-1985 building codes online. I was told that conditions that were legal when my house was built are subject to the “grandfather” rule and need not be upgraded to newer building standards. Is this true, and if so, how can I verity it? Beverly

Dear Beverly: Building codes have never been available online because the publishers of the building codes are in business to sell codebooks. And even if the codes were available on the web, you probably wouldn’t understand the esoteric language in which they are written.

The so called “grandfather” rule applies to all older construction. A building is only required to comply with codes that were in effect at the time of construction, unless specific upgrade requirements have been enacted. For example, all homes must have smoke alarms, regardless of whether smoke alarms were required when the home was built, and fireplace chimneys must have spark arrestors, regardless of older standards.

For specific answers to code questions, you don’t need to read the code. Just contact your local building department. The building official can tell you what was and what is required and can translate the codes to verbiage that you can understand.