State Building Code Will Now be Enforced in Rural Areas


 Tom Larson  |    January 05, 2005
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Beginning January 1, 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Commerce will require all new homes in Wisconsin to be inspected to ensure compliance with the state's Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC). This is a change in state law, which previously exempted new homes from inspection requirements if a home was located in a community with a population of less than 2,500.

The change was made in response to complaints from numerous rural homeowners who, after finding major defects with their homes, discovered that their homes had not been inspected. Under the exemption for small communities, an estimated 10,000 homes per year were not inspected.

The uniform dwelling code

The UDC is a uniform statewide code that sets minimum standards for fire safety; structural strength; energy conservation; erosion control; heating, plumbing and electrical systems; and general health and safety in new dwellings. The UDC applies to all new one- and two-family dwellings built since June 1, 1980, and their additions and alterations.

Enforcement of the UDC

The UDC is primarily enforced by municipal or county building inspectors who must be state certified. In lieu of local enforcement, municipalities have the option to have the state provide enforcement through state-certified inspectors but only for new homes. To determine whether the municipality, county or state provides UDC enforcement, contact your municipality or the state Division of Safety and Buildings at (608) 266-3151. Permit requirements for alterations and additions will vary by municipality. Regardless of permit requirements, state statutes require compliance with the UDC rules by owners and builders even if there is no enforcement.

To help builders and property owners identify qualified building inspectors in their area, the state Department of Commerce has created a preliminary list of building inspectors. The list identifies qualified inspectors in each county and will be updated on a regular basis. To access the list, visit www.commerce.wi.gov/wps/sb/content/docs/SB-UDCMuniStatus.pdf. However, the best way to determine who is qualified to inspect homes in your area is to contact your county, town, village or city clerk's office. The Department of Commerce will be mailing information about qualified inspectors directly to communities.

Common Questions Regarding Building Inspection

To help builders and consumers better understand the building inspection requirements, the Wisconsin Builders Association has prepared the following questions and answers:

What buildings are covered by the UDC?
The UDC covers new one- and two-family dwellings built since June 1, 1980, and their additions and alterations. This includes:

  • Seasonal and recreational dwellings. (Electrical, heating or plumbing systems are not required, but if installed, they shall comply with the applicable codes. If a home is heated, then it shall be insulated. Local sanitary requirements may require certain plumbing systems.)
  • One- and two-family condominium buildings.
  • A single-family residence connected to a commercial occupancy.
  • Community-based residential facilities with up to eight residents.
  • Manufactured, modular or panelized dwellings regulated by the state (but not mobile or manufactured homes regulated by the federal government).
  • Additions to mobile or manufactured homes produced after June 1, 1980.
  • A non-residential building, such as a barn, that is converted to a dwelling.

Which structures are not covered by the UDC?
The following structures are not covered:

  • Dwellings built before June 1, 1980, or additions and alterations to such dwellings.
  • Mobile (manufactured) homes, which are instead subject to federal standards.
  • Multi-unit (three or more) residential buildings, which are regulated by the state commercial building codes.
  • Detached garages or accessory buildings.

What about homes built before June 1, 1980? The state does not have a construction or heating code for additions or alterations to older homes or any accessory structures or outbuildings. However, the state plumbing, electrical and smoke detector codes do apply to all dwellings, regardless of their age.

Do all homes have to be inspected? Beginning January 1, 2005, all new homes, wherever they are built, must be inspected. Prior to January 1, a town or village with a population of less than 2,500 could allow new homes to be built in the community without a building inspection.

Who can do the inspection? A state-licensed building inspector must conduct the inspection. The inspector may be employed by the local government or the county, or he or she may be a private agent working under contract with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

What qualifications must inspectors have? An inspector must have a state inspector's license, and can only inspect parts of construction covered by his or her license. There are separate inspector certifications for construction, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and insulation, although many inspectors have all five certifications.

What will an inspection cost? The cost of an inspection will vary from community to community. Wisconsin law requires the building permit fee to be no more than the actual cost of providing the inspection service. The Department of Commerce's guidance document on how inspection rates should be calculated estimates inspections may range from $368 to $427, or from $0.10 to $0.27 per square foot.

Will houses already under construction require an inspection? No. The new inspection requirement does not apply to homes that are covered by a state administrative building permit issued prior to January 1, 2005, or to homes where the footings and foundation were completed prior to January 1, 2005.

Will additions or remodeling require an inspection? The Department of Commerce will not require additions or remodeling to be inspected. Local governments, however, may require those projects to be inspected.

What if the inspector is a competing builder? Inspectors are not allowed to also perform construction in the communities they inspect.

Will there be long waits for inspections? No. Inspectors are required by state regulation to respond promptly (usually within two to five business days) to inspection and building permit requests. In most cases, if the inspector fails to show up for a scheduled inspection, the builder may proceed with construction.

Will hunting shacks, ice shanties, etc. have to be inspected? All "dwellings" must be inspected. It is up to a local government, through its zoning power, to decide what a "dwelling" is. If there is no local zoning ordinance on the subject, the Department of Commerce will not require the inspection of buildings that have less than 120 square feet of living space or that have fabric walls.

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