Before we talk about any of this let us first clarify what a building code is. A building code is a published body of rules and regulations for building practices, materials, installation, performance designed to protect the health, and the welfare and safety of the public. These range anywhere from the minimum size allowance for a room to how many, how far apart, and what size nails are used when the structure is put together. The code can also address what type of glass is used in a window, or the size wires used in the electrical system for the different types of applications. The building code list is very long and very technical, but is there to insure safety and awareness.
Building codes change through time and location, and there are literally thousands of codes. The building codes in the United States started in late 1927, before that time there were no written and agreed upon uniform standards of construction. The public was mainly relying on the builder and the tradesman to be an ethical, honest, and a good craftsman, which to a large degree they were. How this affects inspections today is that we don’t know what every code was when a property was built, nor do we know all the codes involved. Even a City Inspector doesn’t know all the current codes, much less past codes.
Every year the codes change, and these changes are put out in writing approximately every three years into book form. The codes can be different depending on the city in which the building is located. There is no way to know all the codes for each different area, and for all the different possible times of construction. Another thing you should know is that the on-site local Building and Safety inspector has final say as to whether something is acceptable per the code. He may also waive a minor infraction if he feels it is in the spirit of the code. There may be a Modification to the Building Code that was filed and accepted for the site, and for a particular circumstance or a variance. Without getting into the technicalities of what these are the simple explanation is that they are all circumstances. They’re not exactly per the code of the time, but are changes that have been approved by the local Department of Building and Safety. They have the final say as to whether something is acceptable per the code.