Q: We recently remodeled a kitchen and were required to upgrade the kitchen plumbing and electrical to current code. However, the inspector went further and required other upgrades to the plumbing drainage and venting, wanted a new electrical subpanel, and required smoke detectors in every bedroom (in addition to the one on each floor). The town also required a full septic system inspection ($400) before issuing a permit, even though we have perfectly functioning system. Is this standard procedure? We are outside of Boston, MA. – JH
A: The general rule is that any system “touched” in a remodel must be brought up to current building code. This would include any subsystems or components directly affected by the remodel.
That would include any electric circuit all the way back to the box, or any plumbing line you are tying into.
For example, if the new kitchen requires additional circuits, that might trigger the need for a new electrical sub-panel or even a main panel that is out of compliance. If the plumbing vent that you are tying into is not properly vented, then that would need to be fixed.
In some cases, the older work is “grandfathered” and allowed to stay as is. However, if the existing work is viewed as an imminent hazard, the code officials are going to make you upgrade to current code. This would be the argument for the additional smoke detectors that were not required when your home was built.
As with all code issues, there is a fair amount of discretion on the part of the local building jurisdiction and the individual inspector. In some cases, it is the tradesperson who is pushing for the upgrade, so don’t hesitate to ask if an upgrade is required by code or just recommended by the contractor. Some old systems are perfectly safe and functional, so it’s worth asking whether the additional work is required by code.
The septic system inspection is a separate issue. Here, it sounds like the town was using its leverage over your building permit to force an inspection and possible upgrade. This is a trend in areas where older septic systems or cesspools are polluting the groundwater. If you system is found to be failing, you could be in for an expensive upgrade, but one that you would need to deal with sooner or later. — Steve Bliss, Editor, BuildingAdvisor.com