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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I recently bought a 1944 home that needed many repairs. Before buying it, I hired a home inspector, but he missed many of the problems, including windows that won’t open. I’m planning to replace all the windows in the house and have three questions: 1) Shouldn’t my home inspector have reported the faulty windows? 2) Is a building permit required for window replacement? 3) Can they really deny my right to occupy the house until the window replacement is approved? According to the permit application form from the building department, a Certificate of Occupancy cannot be issued until the permit is signed off. Delbert

Dear Delbert: Here are three answers to your three questions:

  1. Home inspectors typically test a random sample of windows to ensure that they function properly. When windows are not tested, it is usually because furniture or window coverings restrict access. Ensuring that windows are functional is particularly important in bedrooms and bathrooms. Bedroom windows must be openable and must meet minimum dimension requirements to enable emergency escape by occupants. Bathroom windows must be openable in order to provide ventilation, unless an operable exhaust fan in installed.
  2. The building code does not specifically require a permit for window replacements, but it does require permits if you “alter” a building. Some building departments interpret this code to include window replacements, while others do not. However, when window replacements include changes in the wall framing, a permit is more likely to be required.
  3. The requirement for a Certificate of Occupancy typically applies to buildings that are under construction, not homes where windows are being replaced.

Before commencing work on your home, check with the local building department for clarification of their requirements.