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5 Building codes homeowners should know

by Cheryl Goedeke 07/20/2022

Engineers and architects adhere to building codes when creating structures like your home and other buildings. A building code makes sure everything is constructed safely and correctly to protect a building’s occupants and the building itself.

Even if you’re not an engineer yourself, it’s important to know about relevant building codes before any major construction project.

Here are five of the most common building codes to know:

Smoke detectors & smoke alarms

According to building codes, all new buildings need smoke detectors and alarms on every floor or level. In homes, every bedroom requires a smoke detector, either mounted on the wall or ceiling. All the detectors and alarms need to be correctly wired together and equipped with backup batteries.

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI)

Ground fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs, protect outdoor circuits and outlets in places where they could contact water. According to most building codes, GFCIs should be included in bathrooms, kitchens and garages to prevent the risk of dangerous electric shocks.

Load bearing beams

All beams in the structure need to be sized correctly to bear loads safely. While this is not a common issue in new construction, it’s common for homeowners to choose the wrong sized beams for their renovation projects. Check the details of your local building codes for your project.

Emergency exits

Finished attics, basements and bedrooms all have to have an emergency escape or opening. This means that while you don’t need to have a window in your basement, building codes require you have an opening to the outside.

Window wells

There are specific dimensional requirements for window wells. For example, the horizontal area of a window well must be at least nine square feet. This provides adequate space for emergency escape and rescue.

This is just a simple overview of common building code standards to be aware of. Check local, state and national building codes for details, and consider consulting an engineer if you need assistance.

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