Prevent accidents and make your home safer by fixing these five common code violations—bad GFCIs, an improperly located smoke alarm, an incomplete handrail, bad bathroom venting and missing deck flashing.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:June 2007
Building codes go a long way to assuring you that you live in a safe house. But unless you check, you never actually know whether parts of your home need upgrading to meet the current code. This is especially true when you move into a new home.
Some common, and
violations are hard to locate and
even harder to fix because
they’re buried behind finished
walls. These include improper
framing, excessively cut and
notched studs and joists, and
inadequate connections between
building materials. However, the
following common violations
are easy to find.
Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)
protection is now required for outlets in
the kitchen, bathroom and garage and for
all outdoor circuits. It cuts power to a circuit
if it detects a current change, protecting
against electrical shocks. Test for the
presence of GFCIs by plugging a GFCI
receptacle tester (about $15 at home centers)
into an outlet in each of these
areas (photo “violation” below). It’ll detect
whether there’s a GFCI on the circuit
and other wiring problems,
such as reverse polarity and open
A GFCI tester detects a bad GFCI as well as other wiring problems.
Codes require handrails to have “returns,”
meaning they need to turn and end at the
wall (photo “Solution” below). Returns keep items
such as sleeves and purse straps from getting
caught on the end of the rails and
causing a fall. Handrails need to be placed
34 to 38 in. above the nose of the stair
treads and must be 1-1/4 to 2-5/8 in. thick.
Stairways are high accident areas. Up-to-code handrails are important for safety.
Bathroom exhaust fans should vent to the
outside—either through the roof or the
side of the house—not into the attic
(photo “violation” below). Stick your head into the
attic to see how yours is vented. Venting
the warm, moist air into the attic can
cause rotting in the roof framing and
sheathing, and may not properly rid the
bathroom of moisture, leading to mold
Venting to the attic dumps a lot of moisture into that space. In cold weather the moisture will condense on the underside of the roof and potentially cause rot.
Flashing needs to be installed between the
deck ledger board and the house, and the
ledger needs to be firmly attached (photo
“solution” below). A building inspector we talked to
said incorrectly installed ledgers are the
main cause of problems in do-it-yourself
decks because the ledger may pull loose
from the house. These decks can actually
collapse, especially when loaded with
The deck/house joint is a common place for rot. Not only will the rot weaken your deck. It’ll also weaken structural members in your home, which will require an expensive repair.
Codes require a smoke alarm on each level
of the house and outside each bedroom
(photo “solution” below). Codes require new homes
to have a smoke alarm in each bedroom,
hard-wired with a battery backup and
interconnected so if one activates, they all
go off. Ceiling-mounted alarms should be
installed at least 4 in. away from walls, and
wall-mounted alarms 4 to 12 in. down
from the ceiling.
Smoke alarms are critical life-saving devices in case of fire. Position them according to directions.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You'll also need a GFCI circuit tester and bottle jack.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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