Frequently Asked Residential Code Questions

(Disclaimer: Local ordinances may exist that super cede these answers; however, this is a good place to start prior to contacting your local official)

What kind of work do I need a permit for?

The list of work that requires a permit is extensive, so it is easier to point out which work does not require a permit:

  • 1 story detached accessory structures used as tool and storage sheds, playhouses, and similar uses 1000 square feet or less are not subject to building code requirements, but may be subject to local zoning laws.

  • Retaining walls that are not more than 4' in height, unless they are supporting a surcharge.

  • Replacing private sidewalks, or replacing/repaving private driveways or patios as long as their size is not being increased.

  • Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter-tops, and similar finish work.  Minor replacement of drywall and plaster in limited areas is also exempt.

  • Prefabricated swimming pools that are less than 24" deep.

  • Swings and other playground equipment.

  • Window awnings supported by an exterior wall which do not project more than 54" from the exterior wall and do not require additional support.

  • Minor electrical repair work such as the replacement of lamps or the connection of approved electrical equipment to permanently installed receptacles.

  • Residential burglar of fire alarm systems.

  • The replacement of minor parts of a natural gas system that do alter the approval of equipment or make it unsafe.

  • Portable heating or ventilation appliances.

  • Piping within any heating or cooling equipment.

  • The stopping of leaks or clearing of drains unless the work requires replacement of valves or pipes.

What construction documents do I need to apply for a building permit?

  • A site plan.

  • Floor plans.

  • Elevation view drawings.

  • Sectional details showing framing, finishes, foundation, etc.

  • Cut sheets for any pre-fab or pre-engineered products.

  • Pro Tip: The more time and care you take with your construction documents, the less time you'll wait for your permit.

What is the frost line in our area?

The frost line in PA is between 36" and 44".  (Call your local official to find the exact answer)

Why do I need a footing for a non load bearing wall?

The IRC requires that "all" exterior walls have a continuous footing to protect against frost heave. Frost heave is the natural movement of the earth through temperate change which can causing warping of framing, especially around Windows and doors, unless the wall is anchored to a footing that extends below the frost line.

How do I provide a 1 hour fire-resistance rated wall?

The most common way to provided a 1 hour fire-resistance rated wall for exposure from both sides is 2x4s 16" O.C. with 3.5" mineral wool batt insulation and 5/8" Type X interior or exterior Gypsum Wallboard. The wall board must be attached with 2.25" #6 type S drywall screws at 12" O.C. If using 2x6 framing, 5.5" mineral wool batts must be used.

What is the minimum size of an egress window?

The bottom sill of an egress windows must be 44" or less above the floor. The minimum height is 24", and the minimum width is 20"; however, one or both of these dimensions will have to be bigger to meet the total minimum opening area of 5.7 square feet. The opening is measured with only the bottom sash open on a double hung style window.

What are the insulation requirements in our area?

The prescriptive requirements are R-19 for the floors, R-13 for walls, and R-38 for ceiling/roofs.

What is the ground snow load in our area?

The ground snow load for much of this area is 30psf.

Is OSB sheathing allowed to be used?


Can I use floor or roof trusses?

Yes, as long as the truss drawing bears the seal of a PA registered design professional.

Is ice and water shield required?

Ice and water shield is required on any "A" framed roof from the eave to a point 2' inside the wall line. There is an exception for detached accessory structures not intended to be habitable spaces.

How many roof coverings are allowed on one structure?

The existing roof covering(s) must be removed when any of the following occur:

  • Where the existing roof or roof covering is water soaked or has deteriorated to the point that the existing roof covering is not adequate as a base for additional roofing.

  • Where the existing roof is covering is wood shake, slate, clay, and cement or asbestos-cement tile.

  • Where the existing roof has two or more applications of any type of roof covering.

Can any type of exhaust duct terminate in a vented attic?

No, all contaminants must be exhausted directly to the outdoors.

Can I use a vinyl vent for my bathroom or dryer exhaust?

No, they do not meet flame spread requirements.

Are PVC, CPVC, PEX, or similar products permitted?

Yes, outside of Philadelphia all of these products are acceptable as long as they have been tested and are marked with the appropriate listing for how they are being used.

Can I use an air admittance valve (Studer Vent)?

Yes, as long as it remains accessible and at least one vent stack extends to the open air.

Can I use romex in an unfinished basement?

Yes, as long as it is run through the floor joists. If a cable must be run up against a wall, then it must be in conduit or tubing.

Can I replace a non-grounded type receptacle (two-prong) with a grounded type receptacle (three-prong)?

No, unless you are going to rewire to provide an equipment grounding system; however, there are three options to address this:

  • You may replace the receptacle with another non-grounding receptacle.

  • You may install one GFCI type receptacle that is marked "No Equipment Ground."

  • You may install grounded type receptacles supplied by a GFCI protected circuit with receptacles marked "GFCI Protected" and "No Equipment Ground"

What are the barrier requirements for protecting a pool against accidental drowning?

  • The barrier must extend from a maximum of 2" above grade to a minimum of 48" above grade.

  • Openings in the barrier may not allow the passage of a 4" sphere.

  • The barrier may not be designed in any way that facilitates climbing.

  • A self closing an latching gate that swings outward away from the pool must be provided.

  • If any door(s) from the house provide access to the pool, then a UL 2017 listed pool alarm(s) must be provided.

  • Above ground pools 48" or greater in height may also be protected by providing such a barrier around the steps or ladder to the pool.

  • Above ground pools 48" or greater in height may also be protected by a self folding and latching ladder or steps.

  • Hot tubs are not required to comply with these requirements, if they are provided with a safety cover that complies with ASTMF 1346.