DEAR BARRY: As a carpenter and contractor, I meet building inspectors who allow construction that is not built to code. When I asked one inspector about this, he said that he has the authority to approve work that is not to code if he finds the quality of materials and workmanship to be sufficient.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem right. What’s the point of having a building code if inspectors can set whatever standards they wish?

DEAR BARRY: As a carpenter and contractor, I meet building inspectors who allow construction that is not built to code. When I asked one inspector about this, he said that he has the authority to approve work that is not to code if he finds the quality of materials and workmanship to be sufficient.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem right. What’s the point of having a building code if inspectors can set whatever standards they wish?  –Charles

DEAR CHARLES: There are long-standing debates over questions of building-code enforcement. To some, the building official is the absolute authority, empowered to determine construction standards and using the building code as a set of guidelines. To others, the building code is a set of absolute laws to be strictly enforced by the building official.

The key to this argument is contained in the building code, which defines itself as a "minimum standard." If the code is a minimum standard, variances should tend toward higher levels of quality, not lower ones.

Here is a new example, soon to enter the debate: The new International Residential Code eliminates the requirement for a one-hour firewall in attached garages. This negates a fire safety standard that has been in effect since 1927.

The change presents an opportunity for municipal inspectors to exert their authority in a positive and beneficial way. Will they follow common sense and maintain the old firewall requirement, or abolish garage firewalls in lockstep with the ill-advised new code?

The answer will soon be known. Hopefully, contractors will continue to install firewalls, regardless of the code.

DEAR BARRY:  Our home is 2 years old, with ceramic tile flooring throughout. One of the tiles near our front door makes a hollow sound when tapped. We first noticed this when our dog’s nails clicked noticeably against the surface. When I contacted the tile installer, he said this was due to building settlement, which was not covered by his contractor warranty.

But we talked to another tile contractor, and he said the installation was faulty and should be covered by the warranty. What do you think about this situation? –Mary …CONTINUED

Dear MARY: The hollow sound that you hear when the tile is tapped indicates that the tile is not adequately secured with adhesive. There is a void — an unfilled air pocket — between the tile and the underlying surface. A tile that is poorly secured may never worsen, or it may eventually become detached or broken. In a high-traffic area, such as near the front door, eventual detachment is probable. Therefore, I’d recommend a repair.

A prudent tile contractor would recognize this as an opportunity to build good customer relations and establish a reputation as an ethical practitioner. To blame the problem on building settlement is unimpressive.

If the contractor won’t accept responsibility, you should send him a demand letter by certified mail. Let him know that he has 10 days to correct the problem or you will hire another contractor and will hold him responsible for costs. If he still refuses, you can take him to small claims court or you can absorb the cost of a minor flooring repair. Hopefully you have some matching tiles for future repairs.

Distributed by Access Media Group. To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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