Everyone talks about the building codes.
Buyers want to know if the work that was done is “up to code.”
Inspectors like to claim they are not code inspectors.
Some simply wish the codes didn’t exist.
Let’s face it, when it comes to codes they can be a pain in the butt in the context of selling or buying a house.
As we “do si do” to the tune of the code dance I thought it would be fun to show an example of how “literal” (and thus confusing) the codes can be. While I won’t fool everyone with this “trick question,” I think I can still demonstrate that the dance is not as easy as it looks on TV.
The question involves stair or deck barrier railing spacings (or as the codes call them: “guards”).
Everyone knows that in modern construction the maximum width is 4,” correct?
Well “technically” that is NOT correct.
You see the code has to be worded in such a way as to include ALL types of designs for barriers. So while a huge proportion of barriers have some sort of baluster that breaks up the plane---and these indeed cannot be more than 4” apart---there are many designs that do not utilize vertical dividers. Barriers with “horizontal” dividers could have a space of almost any width---and of course the space between them could not be more than 4.”
So the way the code handles this is to simply state that guards “shall have intermediate rails or ornamental closures which do not allow passage of a sphere 4 inches or more in diameter.” In this sense the space is only “indirectly” related to height and width.
Another seldom recognized variance from this requirement is that for guards/barriers on stairs, the size of the sphere changes to 4-3/8.” This variation was instituted so that on stairs where the balusters terminate at the treads, there could be two balusters per stair tread instead of the three it would take if they had to adhere to the 4” rule in some cases.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board