If you are planning a major upgrade to your home, look before you leap. Your home is subject to local building codes, complex regulations that govern the structure, electric wiring, plumbing, and HVAC installations. The rulebooks can exceed 1,000 pages and are frequently updated, so even if you built your own house and studied the law closely a few decades ago, there are probably new rules to follow that you don't know about. If you are planning to remodel, expand or sell your house, take some time to study the laws and how they can affect your project.

What Is Building Code?

Whether you're building a new home, adding an addition or doing more minor modifications, there are laws that govern what you can and can't do. Everything from the wiring in your light fixtures to the venting in your plumbing is regulated by building code. While it can be annoying to have to pull permits and follow convoluted rules while working on your own home, codes are written for a reason and are primarily concerned with protecting the safety of a home's occupants.

Specific housing codes vary by locality, although most are based on models like the International Residential Code and the Uniform Mechanical Code. For more detailed information, check out your home city's website or visit the building department.

Is My HVAC System Up to Code?

The installation of an HVAC system is a delicate process and subject to numerous code provisions. Most localities base their code on the Uniform Mechanical Code, written and updated every three years by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. Unless you’re an HVAC technician you should never try to install a new system on your own. Not only could you inadvertently break the law by violating current standards, it's dangerous as well, since you're dealing with combustible fuels and harmful cooling chemicals. Rules also cover regular maintenance of your heating and air conditioning units.

Common mistakes in heating and cooling systems can include improperly sized or placed ductwork, insufficient ventilation, and even placing smoke or carbon monoxide detectors too close to HVAC vents, interfering with the airflow and hindering the warning device's ability to do its job. You should always call a professional to service or install your HVAC equipment for your own safety and to ensure your system complies with local laws.

What if I'm Out of Compliance?

If you have an older home, there might be numerous areas where it doesn't measure up to current code. However, preexisting houses are grandfathered, so you don't have to be constantly monitoring the law and updating your system every three years. If you plan on selling your house, though, there may be areas that you need to upgrade before the sale can go through. Alternatively, some insurers may decline to issue insurance for older HVAC or electrical systems.

If you are doing a project that requires a city permit, you will have to bring any related part of your system up to date. Speak to the officials in the building department for guidance on how to deal with any bureaucratic or logistical issues up front. Don't hesitate to contact a qualified HVAC professional who has experience in building code and can help you keep your house in compliance with the law.

Contact local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning® technicians for more information. They know the local codes and can make sure your system's installation and service meet the standards.