How to Avoid Residential Building Code Violations in California

One of the most stressful parts of new home construction is knowing how to avoid building code violations. This is especially difficult in Los Angeles, where building codes are long and difficult to understand.

Building a new home consists of all the well-known joys and stresses. You’re able to customize parts of your house, you have control over things like floor coverings, paint and window placement, and you’ll be the first owners.

Once you’ve gotten through the whole process of building a new home, it should be a time to move in and enjoy the space that is truly yours – time to relax a little.

Unfortunately, not paying attention to the building codes can cause unbelievable headaches later.

What to Consider to Avoid Building Code Violations

Building codes mandate many aspects of your home construction, from

  1. The size of rooms
  2. The height of the ceiling
  3. Electrical and plumbing requirements
  4. Home Owner Association requirements

These requirements are for the safety of all homeowners, yet they can be extremely difficult to understand.

As a new home builder, it’s to your advantage to be aware of some of the pitfalls, and avoid any building code violations.

Here’s what to think about before you begin the process.

1. Make Sure the Proper Permits Are in Place

Don’t undertake a home building project without making sure that you are correctly permitted by the local building authorities.

There’s a reason that building contractors in California are required to be licensed.

A good contractor will handle this process for you, and they will call out a building inspector prior to your occupation of the premises.

Some may view the process of getting permits and inspections to be invasive – but it’s to your advantage.

In the future, you will be protected from loss of insurance coverage due to improper building techniques, and real problems when you sell your house in the future.

Dodging permits and inspections can cause major expenses in repairing items that fail the buyer’s property inspection.

2. Keep Up With the Changing Codes

Building codes change pretty frequently, in response to:

  • — New construction materials
  • — Consumer demand
  • — Changing technologies

Although they are written up by the International Code Council, and republished every 3 years as the International Residential Code, they aren’t mandatory.

For example, codes may even vary slightly from town to town. It doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on the state and local guidelines, so that you’ll be informed.

The California Building Standards Commission determines the updates and publishes their codes every 3 years, with supplemental updates in the interim.

You can view the codes online at the CBSC website. Local ordinance changes can also be found via the same website.

A competent contractor will always be aware of the updates and local variations, making your research time minimal.

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3. Pay Attention to Materials and Home Feature Placement

The purpose of building codes is to keep the public safe. Many of the updates involve new materials and how they relate to things like fire prevention and exposure to harmful substances.

One example is GFCI outlets. At one time, these were not specified in home construction. These outlets are now mandatory for:

  1. Kitchens
  2. Bathrooms
  3. Garages
  4. Outdoor circuits

These protect against shocks when the current changes – shutting off power to the outlet if detected.

Types of Requirements

California also led the nation in green building code requirements – the CalGreen codes have been in effect since 2011, and require new builds to use more efficient plumbing to help conserve water, for example.

Other requirements require that the construction materials come from companies that minimize their environmental impact.

Another safety advancement concerns smoke alarms.

New construction requirements for smoke alarms are for a smoke alarm in each bedroom, hard-wired with a battery backup. If one alarm triggers, typically all alarms must go off as well.

Being aware of what is going into your home’s construction can help spot problems before they become building code violations.

4. Be Especially Aware if Installing Decks

Our California climate means that exterior features, such as decks, are always popular home features.

However, these items have become the focus of much scrutiny in past years, due to some well-publicized accidents.

Decks and stairs now have stricter requirements about total loads and general construction.

The National Deck and Railing Association (NADRA) is a valuable source of information about changes in their industry, and actually recommends independent inspection of existing decks.

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5. Mind Your Fences

Although it is one of the last things to go up in a new home construction, your fencing can easily create building code violations.

Most commonly, they are too high; be sure to check your local regulations for fence height, which may vary by where it is located.

For example, fences can often be taller at the back of a property than the front.

Home Owners Association rules may also regulate the materials used in your fence.

If you are building a new home in a development, it’s important to not leave the details of this important step until the last minute.

Make sure that you are compliant with any restrictions, and verify all property lines before installation. Tearing down or relocating fencing can be a costly mistake.

6. Check Your Gutters

It’s unlikely that you’ll need to even think about cleaning your brand new gutters, but they can be one of those items that fall under very local and very specific requirements.

California codes can dictate everything from what the gutters are made from – for example, they must be made of non-combustible materials –  to whether they are even required.

If your new home is built in an area where the soils are prone to collapse or movement, they may be mandatory.

In other areas, regulations control the size of gutters and downspouts. Be aware, and don’t let small details like these create costly building code violations.


New building codes are being updated and reviewed almost constantly.

As they are, at their heart, dedicated to the protection and safety of consumers, they are not just annoying requirements -they benefit you, as the builder.

There are many areas of construction in the residential codes, and their breadth can be overwhelming.

Nevertheless, it’s good to be aware of their existence, and they are not hard to obtain for your own reference.

The Necessity of Staying Compliant

Staying compliant with your new home construction will both ensure you and your family’s safety, while preventing headaches down the road, should you sell your home or deal with insurance claims.

One of the benefits of dealing with an experienced contractor is their own experience with the local and state codes. Choose yours wisely, and you’ll have one less stress in your home-building experience.


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