How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

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What are the most common problems when a homeowner encloses a porch without a building permit?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Most porches are not built to be ready for enclosure in the future. Also, because a homeowner—or the handyman hired to do the work—is not always familiar with the building codes and the life-safety design standards that are important for any residential building project, things can go wrong. Some are easy to spot, while others are not readily apparent and will only show up later, after you have lived in the house for a while. Here’s our “Top 7” list of common problems with a homeowner porch enclosure:

1) No vapor barrier under the floor slab. The concrete floor slab in a home is required to have plastic vapor barrier laid across the ground before the concrete is placed, to prevent moisture from rising up through the floor when the ground is wet. It is not required for exterior slabs, and it is not uncommon for porch enclosure floors to develop wet, slick spots during rainy weather.

2) No footing under the perimeter of the porch to support the enclosure wall.  Porch and patio concrete slabs do not have the thickened edge and reinforcing steel that is required to support the weight of wall framing.

3) No wall or ceiling insulation. The room will be hotter or colder than the rest of the house if insulation was not installed. We use an infrared camera to verify insulation but, if you remove a cover plate from a wall electric receptacle, you may be able to check for insulation by peeking in any gap around the receptacle box with a flashlight.

4) No registers for supplying heating/air conditioning. Running a duct to a new porch enclosure can be difficult and expensive. But it is necessary, and simply having a large opening to an adjacent room is not acceptable.

5) No required switched lighting at exterior exit door from porch. It’s required that every exterior door into a home have two switches: one that turns on an exterior light so you can walk safely when you step outside at night, and one that turns on an interior light so that you don’t have to try to navigate a darkened room looking for a lamp to turn on when you come in. The door to a porch before it was enclosed will always have the two switches, but it is no longer the exterior door and  switched lighting at the new exterior door is often overlooked.

6) Not enough or no receptacles in the new walls. When the room becomes enclosed and habitable space, it is supposed to have receptacles around the room so that there is a minimum of one on each wall and no point along any wall is more than six feet from a receptacle. 

7) Bedroom egress window eliminated. All bedrooms are required to have a second way out in case of a fire, called an “egress.” It can a door, but is usually a window, and must open directly to the outside. If a bedroom egress window faces an open porch and the porch becomes enclosed, the required egress directly to the outside has been voided. 

   When we inspect a home that has several of these defects in the enclosed porch, it’s obvious it was built with what is jokingly called a “Sunday permit.” Also, if the homeowner applied for a building permit for the enclosure but did not get a final inspection, it can cause problems for closing the sale or future building permits by the buyer. See our blog post Why are expired building permits a problem for both the seller and buyer of a home? for more on this.

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about REMODELING:

What are the problems to look for when buying a homeowner remodeled house?

Does it make sense to buy an older mobile home and remodel it?

Can I leave a gas water heater in place when remodeling a garage into a family room or bedroom?

How can I tell the difference between a renovation project house and a tear-down? 

Do I need a building permit for a backyard shed?

How can I tell the difference between a fixer-upper with potential and a money pit?

How difficult is it to change a window to french doors or a sliding glass door?

Should I buy a fixer-upper?  

• How do I find a good contractor?

• What home improvements require a permit? 

    Visit our REMODELING page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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