It’s pretty obvious that the worst thing that can happen during your home inspection, is that the inspector misses a major defect. Next on the list though is writing up a defect that isn’t a defect at all. It can cause a lot of confusion between the Realtors, buyers, and sellers. We have run into this many times over the years (and have been guilty of it a few times as well), and we’ve compiled some of the more common myths we see and hear inspectors writing up.
1. Myth-The door between the house and the garage needs to be a fire rated door. The truth is that a fire rated door is one of three options. The local code states “Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1 3/8” in thickness, solid or honeycomb core steel doors not less than 1 3/8′ thick, or 20-minute fire rated doors. Notice the “or”. While, its a good option, its just an option.
2. Myth-The wall between the house and the garage is a fire rated wall. This stems from the same confusion as number 1. While the garage/dwelling separation wall does need to meet some fire separation requirements, it is not a fire rated wall. Any deficiency can compromise the safety of inhabitants, but not the fire rating of the wall-as it has none. A fire rated wall has many more requirements above and beyond the drywall requirements shown below for garage/dwelling separation.
3. Myth-Any window less than 18 inches from the floor requires safety glass. The truth is a window less than 18 inches from the floor may require safety glass, but not necessarily. It needs to meet 3 other conditions for safety glass to be required. Safety glazing is needed “in an individual fixed or operable panel that meets all off the following conditions. 1. The exposed area of an individual pane is larger than 9 square feet; and 2. the bottom edge of the glazing is less than 18 inches above the floor; and 3. The top edge of the glazing is more than 36 inches above the floor; and 4. one or more walking surfaces are within 36 inches, measured horizontally and in a straight line, of the glazing. The code is pretty clear, so while a window too close to the floor may require safety glazing, there are 3 more measurements an inspector needs to take to determine if a window needs safety glazing. The caveat is that inspectors are not required to determine which windows need safety glass.
4. Myth-Gas fired appliances can not have a flexible vent. The truth is that there are UL listed flexible B-vents that are allowed to be used in almost the same capacity as rigid vents. They can be difficult to discern from dryer vents sometimes, but they typically have a label stating their listing. You can see in the cut out photo to the left the flexible B vent has two walls just as a rigid B-vent does.
5. Myth-Gas ranges need to be vented to the outdoors. While going to the outside is a best practice, and some of my clients have made it a priority for me to check if it goes to the outside, it’s not typically required. Local building codes do say that “Range hoods shall discharge to the outdoors through a single-wall duct…”, but wait, there’s more. “Exception: Where installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions , and where mechanical or natural ventilation is otherwise provided, listed and labeled ductless range hoods shall not be required to discharge to the outdoors.” Generally, these range hoods recirculate the air through a filter and generally accepted by local building codes.
6. Myth-Switches are not allowed to be within 3 feet of a shower- I believe this myth originated from a Canadian code. While its true you can’t have a switch inside of a shower (duh!), there is nothing prohibiting a switch from being located outside the shower space. There is no minimum distance.
7. Myth-The panel has fuses which are not safe and should be replaced with a breaker panel. As far as over current protection is concerned, fuses are just as safe as breakers. Fuses will generally trip faster than a breaker. For most fuses, when the current running through a fuse exceeds the listed limit, a thin piece of metal will melt and cut power to the circuit. Breakers trip on a curve. They are designed to trip after being overloaded for period of time. The higher the overload, the faster they will trip.
Fuse panels can generally have the same defects found in a breaker panel. However, since a fuse panel has been in the home for much longer, we do tend to find more actual defects in them. Fuses also lend themselves to misuse by homeowners as homeowners will “fix” a fuse that continues to blow by installing a higher rated fuse which is definitely a safety concern. Some insurance companies have higher premiums for homes with fuse panels, or won’t insure them at all.
So while an upgrade is a great idea, it shouldn’t be done on the back of an inspectors condemnation of the fuses as unsafe.
And of course my obligatory disclaimer-home inspectors are not code inspectors, and have no authority to interpret or enforce code. Home inspections are not code inspections, nor should they be and you should not rely on a home inspector to find code deficiencies in your home.