Seven Common Building and Plumbing Code Violations

These all-too-common “blunders” include a couple of zingers that may surprise you. Building suppliers such as CSI, the author of this article, have seen it all.

Both building code violations and plumbing code violations can cause major problems in a home or any building. Most of the rules are in place to ensure the safety of a building’s occupants, so disregarding them is putting people’s safety in jeopardy. This list compiles some of the most common plumbing code violations as well as some regularly-seen building code violations.

1. Improper Bathroom Venting

Most bathrooms have exhaust fans. These fans send steam or odors out of the bathroom and into a vent. These vents are meant to lead directly outside, but they often end in an attic instead. This is dangerous, as moisture can collect in an attic and cause rot and other issues. Also, since the warm air and moisture is getting trapped in the closed space of the attic, they may get stuck in the bathroom, causing mold and mildew to form. To avoid those problems, all vents should have their outlets outside the building, either through the roof or through the side of the building.

2. Misplaced Smoke Alarms

smoke alarm placed proper distance from ceilingBuilding codes require smoke alarms to be placed on each level of the house and outside each  bedroom. Codes for new homes are even stricter, requiring a smoke alarm in each bedroom, hard-wired with a battery backup, and interconnected. This means that if one activates, they will all activate. The most commonly-seen mistake with smoke alarms is that they are placed too low. Because smoke travels upwards, it can sometimes miss smoke alarms that are too low on a wall.

Smoke alarms can be either ceiling-mounted or wall-mounted. Ceiling-mounted alarms should be installed at least 4 inches away from walls. Wall-mounted alarms should be installed between no less than 4 but no more than 12 inches down from the ceiling. These guidelines are provided in the directions included in their packaging. Smoke alarms are important life-saving devices and must be installed properly.

3. Improper Drain Pipe Slope

Drain pipes do what their name implies: drain. In order for a pipe to drain correctly, it needs gravity.  Therefore, drain pipes must be angled downwards in the direction they are draining. This will prevent backflow and allow all contents of the pipe to properly flow through. Standard practice requires drain pipes to have a 1/8″ per foot pitch for 3″ pipe or larger. Improper pitch can cause leaks and slow drainage of sinks and bathtubs. This simple mistake can cause all kinds of problems in a home over time.

4. Insufficient Space Around Toilet

toilet placed proper distance from wallIt is hard to believe that this is one of the most common plumbing code violations, but it’s true.  Code requires finished walls to be no less than 15″ from a toilet. The distance from a toilet to any walls to its sides is measured from the toilet’s centerline, not the outside edge, so this distance is not as far as it may seem. When installing a toilet, most plumbers will measure the distance when they set the toilet flange in the floor.

Keep in mind, that centerline must be 15″ away from “finished walls,” so if you are installing a toilet in a room that does not yet have drywall, measuring may be trickier. Standard drywall is 1/2″ thick, so if you measure to the wall framing, you will need to subtract at least 1/2″ from the measurement.

5. Improper Installation of Water Heater Pressure and Temperature Relief

Every residence has a water heater that controls water temperature and provides a ready supply of warm water when needed. The temperature is controlled by a thermostat in the heater itself. This thermostat ensures the water temperature does not get higher than the maximum temperature that has been set (usually between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit).

A combination temperature and pressure-relief valve should be present in a water heater’s drain line to activate the drain in case A) water gets too hot or B) pressure gets too high. The water should not get too hot unless the thermostat breaks. If this relief valve is improperly installed, it may fail to activate in such an instance, causing pressure in the tank to increase. Once the pressure in the tank is above the specific tank’s capacity, the tank could burst and expel superheated water and metal shrapnel with explosive force. To prevent such a catastrophic failure, water heaters need to be installed with the utmost care and inspected regularly.

6. Handrails Without Returns

Staircases are high accident areas, especially for elderly users. All possible problems must be identified and prevented when possible. This is why building codes require handrails to have “returns.” A return is when a handrail turns and ends at the wall instead of just running and ending in the direction the staircase ends. Sleeves or purse straps can get caught on the end of handrails, causing dangerous accidents. Returns prevent those accidents from happening.

7. Missing or Defective GFCIs

“GFCI” stands for Ground-fault circuit interrupter. GFCI protection is now required for all outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, and garages, as well as all outdoor circuits. A GFCI cuts power to a circuit if it detects a current change or gets wet. This protects against electrical shocks and can save appliances from being fried by a surge of power. GFCI outlets have a reset button on them that you can press to re-activate them after power has been cut from them. Without taking off the outlet cover, it is impossible to visually see if an outlet has a GFCI, so you can test your outlets with a GFCI tester, which can be found for less than $10 at home improvement stores. If you don’t want to buy something, simply use a screwdriver to remove the outlet cover and see for yourself if your outlet has a GFCI.


Contractors sometimes skip over steps to save time, but building and plumbing code violations can endanger building occupants and your reputation as a contractor. Keep your eye out especially for these most common problems, as they are often the easiest to fix!

Originally published by Commercial Industry Supply

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