10 Products You Can Buy at Home Centers That Actually Violate Building Codes
If you think every item sold at a home center meets your local building code, think again. There are national, state and local codes and home centers don't limit their offerings to only what is building code compliant in your local area. It's up to you to know which products meet code and which ones will fail an inspection. Here's a list of the most common products that will get you in trouble with the local building inspector.
Saddle valve for ice makers and furnace humidifiers
They’re easy to install and that’s why everyone uses them. But they’re notorious for leaking and plugging up. That’s why local building code forbids them. If you install one of these valves during a remodel, you can expect to be called out on it. Don’t risk it. Install a sweat or compression tee with a quarter-turn stop valve instead. Here’s how to replace a saddle valve with one that’s building code compliant.
You’re adding a new circuit for a basement family room and grab a standard circuit breaker off the shelf at the home center. Even though it’s compatible with your electrical panel, chances are you’ll fail the inspection. The National Electrical Code has changed and now requires arc fault protection in all living spaces. Since most local authorities have incorporated those changes into their building code as well, you’ll have to install an arc fault circuit breaker or individual arc fault outlets. This is how to install an arc fault circuit breaker.
Flexible vinyl dryer vent
Yes, it’s still sold and yes, it violates building code. If you really want to burn down your house, pick up a section of this cheap PVC and use it to vent your dryer. If you want to do it the right way and reduce lint buildup, skip the flexible venting altogether. Here is the right way to install a dryer vent.
Snap covers for outdoor outlets
Water and electricity don’t mix; never did. So, the building code says NO to those old flipper-door, snap-cover plates. The code now requires wet-while-in-use covers that prevent water from reaching the outlet while a cord is plugged in. Plus, the outlet itself must be either a GFCI style or be connected to a GFCI circuit breaker. It must also weather resistant with a “WR” stamp on the face. Here’s how to properly install a GFCI outlet.
Standard electrical outlets
Home centers sell boatloads of these, but they don’t meet current building code. Tamper-resistant outlets with a “TR” stamp on the face are now the standard. TR outlets have spring-loaded shutters that don’t open unless all three plug prongs are inserted at the same time. The lockout feature prevents kids from jamming scissors, screwdrivers and other pointed objects into the outlet. Even if you don’t have kids in your home, you must install TR outlets any time you add, update or repair an outlet. TR outlets cost about 75 cents more than the old style. What drove the change? Well, statistics show that every year around 2,400 kids are burned and shocked severely by the older outlets, and six to 12 of them die. You’ll probably sell your home some day and the new owners may have kids. So make your home safe for them and meet code at the same time by installing TR outlets.
Non-interconnected smoke detectors
Let’s be clear; non-interconnected smoke detectors aren’t illegal per se. However, if your home has either AC (hardwired) or battery-powered interconnected smoke detectors, and you want to add another detector or replace an old one, you must install a compatible interconnected detector to be building code compliant. Code requires all smoke detectors to go off at the same time once one detector senses smoke or fire. Are your smoke detectors interconnected?
Air admittance valve
An air admittance valve is a one-way valve that self-vents a drain line while providing sewer gas backup protection. DIYers buy them to eliminate the hassle of running a vent line. But air admittance valves don’t meet building code in most cases. If you install one without checking with your local building inspector, you’ll probably not pass inspection and have to take it out. Even if you don’t pull a permit, installing an air admittance valve instead of a vent line can come back to haunt you when your home is inspected before you sell it.
There are some exceptions. Some inspectors will allow an air admittance valve for an island sink installation, but others won’t. In other words, check before you buy. Here is how to vent an island sink.
Hose bibb without backflow preventer
An exterior hose bibb exterior faucet requires a backflow preventer/vacuum breaker to meet building code. If you’re replacing an old hose bibb, we recommend buying a name brand unit with a built-in vacuum breaker (shown here) instead of adding a screw-on vacuum breaker. Here’s why: The seal inside a vacuum breaker deteriorates over time. Replacement seals aren’t available for the screw-on units, so you’ll have to replace it every few years. Think that’s easy? Here’s how to do it. But, if you buy a hose bibb with a built-in vacuum breaker, you just pop the cap and replace the internal parts. No drilling required.
Whole house fans
A whole house fan is a great way to cool down your home by bringing in lots of fresh air through lots of open windows; LOTS of open windows being the operative phrase. Many building codes don’t allow whole house fans because, well, they kill people. That can happen any time the whole house fans pulls more air out of the house than is coming in through the open windows. In other words, the fan creates negative air pressure inside your home and that’s what pulls carbon monoxide down the flue, dissipating it throughout your house.
If whole house fans aren’t allowed by your local building code and you install one anyway, plan on getting caught when it’s time to sell your house. You’ll most likely have to remove it or permanently disable it to complete the sale.
You can’t just grab any joist hanger off the shelf at a home center and assume it meets building code specs for use on a deck built with treated lumber. In fact, the type of joist hanger allowed by your local building code depends on the type of treated wood you’re using (alkaline copper quaternary, or ACQ, and copper azole, or CA) and the local environmental conditions. It isn’t just an issue of whether to use double- or triple-dipped zinc-coated joist hangers, because your local code may actually require stainless steel joist hangers. In other words, the triple-dipped hangers may be fine for interior use, but fail a deck inspection. Check local deck building codes before buying joist hangers and nails. Here’s everything you need to know about installing joist hangers.
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