How to Safely Bend the Rules and Still Meet Code

How to Safely Bend the Rules and Still Meet Code

As a homeowner or contractor, you may find yourself in situations where you want to bend the rules a bit to save time or money on a project. However, it's important to understand the codes and regulations in your area so you don't compromise safety or set yourself up for headaches down the road. Here are some tips for safely bending the rules while still meeting code:

Know Your Local Building Codes

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the building codes and regulations in your city or county. Building codes are in place to ensure structures are safe, accessible, energy-efficient and up to current standards. Codes cover things like:

Building departments usually make the code books available online so you can review the rules. The International Residential Code (IRC) is a model building code widely adopted in the US. Your local jurisdiction likely has amendments to the IRC.

Inspect Existing Conditions Carefully

When remodeling or adding onto an existing building, carefully inspect what's already there. Older homes often have non-conforming conditions that were acceptable under past codes but not current ones.

For example, you may find:

Documenting existing conditions helps you devise solutions to update things safely without completely gutting the home.

Understand Where You Can Stretch the Code

Some parts of the building code are black and white while others allow some interpretation. Areas where you may be able to safely bend the rules:

However, don't mess with codes related to structural, fire safety, or emergency exit requirements.

Use Approved Alternatives

Most codes allow alternatives that provide an equivalent level of safety. For example:

Just be sure to have approved engineering for any substitutions. Get the building department to approve your plans upfront.

Add Safety Features

Incorporating additional safety features can sometimes offset other areas where you may not fully meet code:

These show good faith effort to meet the intent of the codes.

Bending the building rules too far can put your project or the safety of occupants at risk. But following the tips above, you can often strike a balance between sticking to code and not breaking the bank!