Just because It’s Grandfathered ……Doesn’t Make it Safe

In this blog I’m going to discuss the Grandfather Clause, how it applies to your home inspection and why it doesn’t necessarily equal safety. The grandfather clause has been around for a long time and affects many industries. In a home inspection it usually refers to safety legislation for homes.

What exactly is a grandfather clause? It’s a clause exempting certain classes of people or things from the requirement of a piece of legislation affecting their previous rights, privileges or practices. In easier terms it’s when a new rule doesn’t apply to some people or things. Zoning laws often have grandfather clauses. Say you have a small store and the area it’s in gets rezoned residential. They may grandfather you and other small businesses in that area to stay open but no new businesses will be allowed to open.

When it comes to your home, you need to understand that while certain things may be legal, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. GFCI outlets are a good example. These are outlets that have a safety feature to prevent electric shock and are now required to be used in certain areas of the home near water or dampness. They became required in the late 70’s early 80’s for different parts of the home. These laws were designed to protect homeowners and forced home builders to follow these safety requirements. People who had homes with the old outlets were grandfathered. They were not required to change over to the newer safer outlets.

Other grandfathered areas in the home include

  • open grounding/ lack of grounding
  • hand railings on stairs
  • deck guard railing spacing
  • firebreaks between the garage and house

These are all things where codes have been updated to make people more safe in their own home but older homes weren’t REQUIRED to update.

While builders and homeowners may find new codes costly or a nuisance, they are designed to keep us safe. The number of electrocutions in the home reduced significantly after GFCI outlets were mandated.

How will old grandfathered features in your home affect your home inspection? If they are grandfathered you should be ok right? Wrong. Home inspectors are required to judge a home based on current code and what is safe. If you have old outlets in your bathroom, home inspectors will recommend they be updated to the new GFCI outlets. It is our responsibility to report what will keep your family and the home buyers family safe.

Now, it is important to note that if you already have an accepted offer on your home and it is contingent on the home inspection, you have options. If there are many costly upgrades you may be able to negotiate who pays for those. You should discuss your options with your realtor.

I’m just here to tell you that it’s in everybody’s best interest that those safety features get upgraded to code. That is my responsibility as a home inspector. I am required to judge a home on current code. The term grandfather won’t ever be mentioned or considered in my reports.

I know upgrading areas of your home to current code for safety are not fun expenses but it is necessary for you and your families safety and hopefully it is successfully negotiated on your behalf

As someone who sees safety issues in homes every day, I would recommend homeowners upgrade to current safety codes now and not wait for a home sale. They were designed to protect you and your family so why wait?