Home Repair Codes and Safety

When planning a home improvement project, don’t forget to familiarize yourself with building codes and guidelines. Doing your homework will keep you safe and save money.

If you have a home do-it-yourself project in mind, it’s important to consider the law when planning your work. The National Electrical Code written by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) has guidelines that will help insure a safe and legal electrical repair or update.

Examples of Code Restrictions

Receptacles and Switches

Fire Prevention Code limits the number of wires under each screw in a receptacle or switch. It appears safe to use two, but fires can occur when the second wire pops out from underneath the screw, so one is the maximum. Code also requires that outlets be placed every six feet along walls in most rooms, and every two feet along kitchen counters to accommodate the short safety cords on kitchen appliances.

Kitchen Electrical Requirements

All light fixtures must be grounded. In kitchens, there must be a 15-amp lighting circuit, as well as a separate circuit for the dishwasher and refrigerator, and two 20-amp circuits for receptacles.

Foam Insulation

Fire Prevention Code also requires a layer of drywall when installing foam insulation, even when it’s being faced with other wall coverings like wood, bamboo, or faux coverings. This added layer delays the spread of fire and contains some of the acrid black smoke created when foam insulation burns. This is a safety precaution, but it’s also the law.

Understanding Your Responsibilities

Local and federal codes change, so it’s important to do the necessary research before you begin a project. Restrictions are put in place to ensure your safety and the safety of your family and neighbors, and there are serious legal ramifications to ignoring them. Check for the appropriate offices in your area by visiting the National Building Code Library for all 50 states at firstsource code listings.

Should you have to hire a professional for any future projects, the presence of repairs or additions that are not up to code may result in expensive rework. In the event of a sale of your home, an inspection that reveals violations may result in your not being able to complete a sale until all necessary standards have been met.

The best way to make sure that you are meeting current codes is to ask your local building inspector. There are many published how-to leaflets and books available through your local building supply or home improvement outlet that will also help you make a safe and legal repair. Large jobs will require a permit, and your local building department will often be able to provide you with common code references.

Home repair and improvement can be satisfying, less expensive than hiring a professional, and quicker than placing your project on someone else’s schedule. Before you start a project, though, keep in mind that building codes exist for your protection. A little research will result in repairs that are safe and legal.

Home Safety Tips

The most active rooms in the home are the kitchen and bathrooms. These also are the areas where most household accidents usually occur.

Every family member needs to remember and regularly practice safety measures in these and other rooms of the home. To avoid accidents, take extra precaution when using appliances and taking showers and baths.

Bathroom Safety

Never touch electrical appliances such as hair dryers with wet hands or when standing on wet surfaces. Never use portable appliances, such as telephones, in the shower unless they are manufactured specifically for this purpose. Phones are not made for use in or around water, but certain brands of radios and shavers are marketed for use in showers. Investigate these claims carefully before using the products.

Eliminate all obstructions in the bathrooms that can cause injury when entering or leaving a tub or shower. Close any cabinet doors and remove items from the floor. Have an anti-slip mat or treads on the bath/shower floor to increase foot traction and help prevent falls.

Kitchen Safety

Unplug all small appliances when they are not in use. These include mixers and toasters. When left unattended, these appliances can create a risk of fire. Keep appliance cords away from hot surfaces. Cords can be damaged by excessive heat.

It may be easy to forget that the knobs on electric stove tops, after use, were not turned to the off position. For this reason, never place dishes on the burners. Ceramic materials will crack and burst, sending chards flying through the kitchen. Plastic and related materials can melt and damage the stove’s heating elements.

Loose-fitted clothing should never be worn near a stove. This includes robes with baggy sleeves or tops that easily can pass over flames.

Never insert a metal object such as a knife or fork into any appliance without first unplugging the unit from the outlet. A good rule is not to place any kind of item, including fingers, into appliances unless they are unplugged.

Electrical Safety

Consider replacing standard electrical outlets with Ground Full Circuit Interrupters (GFCI). These devices will provide shock protection by quickly cutting the circuit. They should be UL approved and installed by a licensed electrician.

Changing light bulbs is one of the most frequent home maintenance projects. Use the correct wattage and the kind of light bulb recommended for the fixture. The incorrect size or wattage can lead to overheating and fire. When the proper wattage for a socket cannot be determined, don’t use a bulb that is larger than 60 watts.

Four Pieces of Safety Equipment That You Need to Have at Home

Every project that is performed around a house requires specific tools and specific knowledge to complete that project. But one thing that many people forget about when performing home improvement projects is safety. It is commonly said that safety is no accident. This is because every accident is completely avoidable. For most home improvement projects, there are four pieces of safety equipment that everyone should have.

Safety Glasses

Safety glasses offer much needed protection to the eyes when cutting, painting, demolishing, or using chemicals. The human eye is extremely susceptible to injury and even a small cut can be extremely painful and possibly detrimental to your eyesight. Sunglasses are not safety glasses, as they are not tested for impact resistance the way safety glasses are. However, safety glasses can be purchases tinted to protect your eyes from sunlight. Most safety glasses cost around $10 per pair.


Respirators protect your lungs from inhaling toxic chemicals in strong paints, spray foams, or any toxic chemical reactions that can affect the lungs. The real damage that occurs to the body from inhalation of toxic chemicals is not to the lungs, but the brain. Over exposure to these chemicals can alter brain activity permanently. Respirators have filters that are attached on either side of a mask that goes over the nose and mouth. The straps go over the head and behind the neck to keep the mask tight to the face and avoid inhaling any toxic fumes. The respirator cartridges or filters should be changed with every use. A good respirator costs around $40.

Elbow Gloves

Elbow gloves are rubber gloves that extend to the elbows and are extra thick providing superior protection from harmful chemicals or skin irritants. Many household remodeling projects require the mixing of chemicals in order to remove certain compounds including floor stains, paint on wood, and polyurethane on wood. Elbow gloves average around $5.

Electrical Pen Tester

Any type of electrical work requires the electrical equipment be shut off before working on the particular circuit in question. However, it is important to test the circuit at the point you are working on it as breakers are often mis-labeled, especially in older homes. A pen tester is pen that has a red light on the top of it that blinks and typically makes an audible noise when touched to live electrical circuit. This is an easy and economical way to test an electrical circuit to make sure that it is safe to work on. Pen testers average around $20.

These pieces of equipment are all simple and fairly inexpensive. Most of all, they will keep you safe.