Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

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doss
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Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by doss » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:28 am

Hi all,
I have an old house with an unfinished basement that I want to totally remodel. Unfortunately, the height from the basement concrete floor to the ceiling joists is exactly 7ft....and our local code regulations state that that is the minimum allowed in residential dwellings. I called the local city inspector and he said that I also wouldn't be able to get a variance.

I don't mind leaving the ceiling open as-is, but I do want to do a home theater and that means I need to put some soundproofing up that is going to require drywall attached to the joists. This will put the basement ceiling height under 7ft and won't pass code inspection.

Should I only be concerned about not passing inspection when I sell? We are thinking of staying in this house for the next 15yrs...which at that point I can rip out the drywall to meet the 7ft requirement.

Smoke
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Smoke » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:35 am

Perhaps, install a short dropped ceiling with grid and tile. a lot easier to "rip" down if you decide to sell.
Arguing for the sake of arguing is something I am not going to engage in.

stan1
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by stan1 » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:35 am

I would do it and wouldn't rip it out until the buyer asked you to. Even if you disclose that the ceiling height is not to code the buyer may like it finished and want to keep it.

Jack FFR1846
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:41 am

Perhaps put some nailers up in the rafters enough so you can install drywall to meet the bottom points of the rafters. Then just tape and texture the ceiling. You'll be right at 7 feet.

I wouldn't be ignoring anything. An inspector for town appraisals could come in, see the code violation and you get an order to rip it out. (I know for sure that in my town, that would happen)
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katrid11
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by katrid11 » Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:46 am

I have a 1908 home with 6ft 3" clearance in most of it. I have a partially finished basement. Yeah people have to duck but space is space.
Our basement space is not considered living area for resale - even if it is the nicest basement with 9ft ceilings. Any underground space in our area can only be listed as "finished basement" but not added in the square footage. Technically per code, I cant have my washer/dryer or storage in my basement. Technically my basement stairs are too steep as well. But it is grandfathered in due to age and it is in good condition. The only thing that sucks is my husband has to duck in a few places because the hw radiator feeder pipes hang at 5'9"

If it were me, I would finish off your home theater and use it. It will have no marketable value in 15 years when you sell but you get 15 yrs of use.

Oh, and I am adding a thin beadboard ceiling to our finished part to make it nicer along with insulation between for sound attenuation between the basement & first floor. No, I do not need a permit for it. No, I cannot get a variance. What I know I cannot do is add a bathroom. That addition would require a permit and that would not be granted.

Skiandswim
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Skiandswim » Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:27 am

Many states have variations for new versus existing buildings, specifically for the ceiling height in a basement. I would double check with a contractor about the statement from building inspector (clarification is sometimes needed). For example, in one state the code allows for "Minimum ceiling height, existing building: Alterations to existing basements or portions thereof shall have a ceiling height of not less than 6 feet 4 inches (1931 mm), including beams, girders, ducts, or other obstructions." The requirement for new ceilings in a basement is 7 feet 0 inches. If you have already read your local code, I regret posting superfluous information.

barnaclebob
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by barnaclebob » Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:29 am

Do you need a permit to finish the ceiling?

I'd do it and wouldn't think twice. Any future buyer who asks for it to be remedied would be crazy.

jharkin
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by jharkin » Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:34 am

Not every old space can be renovated.... Sometimes it just doesn't work. You are lucky with 7 feet - my basement has barely over 6 to the floor joists and the water and steam pipes hang low enough that I have to duck to not hit my head. If you want to do this legally You'll need to jack up the house and build up the sill to lift that ceiling - yes it can and is done... but its $$$$$$$$$. If you don't you you either have to do it all yourself and hope you don't get caught, or hire a contractor that is willing to work under the table and not pull permits.

I never understood the obsession with living in the basement. Basements are cold and damp and dark and make wonderful workshop or storage spaces. If people where meant to live underground we would all be in caves....


Is there any other space in the house you can make a theater room?
Last edited by jharkin on Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:36 am, edited 2 times in total.

pennylane
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by pennylane » Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:35 am

stan1 wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:35 am
I would do it and wouldn't rip it out until the buyer asked you to. Even if you disclose that the ceiling height is not to code the buyer may like it finished and want to keep it.
+1

To hell with the code. If it’s your house and is not a safety hazard, do it.

adamthesmythe
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by adamthesmythe » Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:48 am

Spray-paint everything black and call it done.

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Watty
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Watty » Wed Dec 19, 2018 10:27 am

adamthesmythe wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:48 am
Spray-paint everything black and call it done.
+1

One thing I really like about an unfinished basement is that it makes all the pipes and ductwork easily accessible.

You can to wrap the ductwork with soundproofing material before you paint to help the prevent the sounds from carrying up through the ducts.

You can also put strips of soundproofing material up between the joists without lowering the ceiling.

For soundproofing you might also look at the flooring that is in the room that is above to see if thicker carpets and pads might help if the sound from the home theater is a problem. They make special soundproofing carpet pads.

Good soundproofing is really hard to do. If there are lots of deep base explosions in some action show it will be hard to prevent that from being heard upstairs. Putting up a drywall or acoustical tile ceiling might not all make that much difference.

The soundproofing might not be a big problem if everyone will generally down in the home theater room when it is being used. If someone will be watching movies down there by himself then high quality wireless headphones are also an option.

In reality most home theaters are not typically used all that much anyway after the first few months.

shorty313
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by shorty313 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 10:24 am

That's essentially our plan. We drywalled the front half of the basement as media/playroom. The back half is open and is where most ducts/pipes are. DH did all the work himself, and if needed we will pull it down when selling, 10 years or so from now. We would not market it as having a finished basement. We will get 20 years enjoyment out of it. We are about an inch shy of the required 7 ft. Our basement is used almost daily still 10 years into the remodel.

Coincidentally, my parents finished their basement in the 90s, 8ft ceilings with a contractor but apparently no permits were pulled. When they went to sell in 2015 it cost $10k to get back permits the buyer insisted on.

We'll See
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by We'll See » Thu Dec 20, 2018 10:38 am

pennylane wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 9:35 am
stan1 wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:35 am
I would do it and wouldn't rip it out until the buyer asked you to. Even if you disclose that the ceiling height is not to code the buyer may like it finished and want to keep it.
+1

To hell with the code. If it’s your house and is not a safety hazard, do it.
Totally agree. 7' clear is really good. Putting in a drop or drywall ceiling is not going to be a safety hazard.

Smoke
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Smoke » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:39 pm

I guess it all depends on what codes are in any one locality.
My last home I sold in 1993, I finished off a part of the basement with a large room, walls, ceiling, floor. Playroom office area.
Local codes stated as long as it did not have any permanent heat it was not considered living space, just a nice basement area.
So I insulated everything including the raised floor, and used a portable electric oil radiator for heat, which hardly turned on due to the insulation.
Removed the portable unit when selling, met existing codes and sold with no issues.
It was however a good selling point which buyers liked.
Arguing for the sake of arguing is something I am not going to engage in.

earlywynnfan
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by earlywynnfan » Thu Dec 20, 2018 1:42 pm

When we had our addition done under 10 years ago, we dug under a new room to match the rest of the basement. Came to learn I can't call it a "basement" because it isn't tall enough, it's a "crawl." Asked a realtor and she agreed: I have my man-cave in a 6.5' "crawl." It's all about the semantics.

PVW
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by PVW » Thu Dec 20, 2018 2:07 pm

Would your basement remodel require a permit and inspection? If so, then you are asking Bogleheads how to skirt your local building codes. The only suitable advice on this board is don't do it.

earlywynnfan
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by earlywynnfan » Thu Dec 20, 2018 2:37 pm

PVW wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 2:07 pm
Would your basement remodel require a permit and inspection? If so, then you are asking Bogleheads how to skirt your local building codes. The only suitable advice on this board is don't do it.
Not sure about the OP's case, but my inspection passed with no problems

Broken Man 1999
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Broken Man 1999 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:11 pm

A neighbor was replacing his fence, and inquired about a permit. The code guy said
you aren't putting up more than a couple of sections to repair your fence right? My neighbor said no, he was replacing the whole fence. The code guy repeated his statement that neighbor was putting up replacement sections. This time the neighbor said, yes, I am repairing my fence. The code guy said, hey, if you find more bad sections you need to replace them as well, and said he would check that repaired fence because he had to make sure the repairs were done properly!

The code folks can be helpful, but I have encountered a couple that I think relished their ability to hassle residents. Very heavy-handed in some cases.

Hopefully a section or two of my backyard fence will need replacingrepairing next year.

Broken Man 1999
“If I cannot drink Bourbon and smoke cigars in Heaven than I shall not go. " -Mark Twain

MarkerFM
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by MarkerFM » Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:42 pm

Broken Man 1999 wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:11 pm
A neighbor was replacing his fence, and inquired about a permit. The code guy said
you aren't putting up more than a couple of sections to repair your fence right? My neighbor said no, he was replacing the whole fence. The code guy repeated his statement that neighbor was putting up replacement sections. This time the neighbor said, yes, I am repairing my fence. The code guy said, hey, if you find more bad sections you need to replace them as well, and said he would check that repaired fence because he had to make sure the repairs were done properly!

The code folks can be helpful, but I have encountered a couple that I think relished their ability to hassle residents. Very heavy-handed in some cases.

Hopefully a section or two of my backyard fence will need replacingrepairing next year.

Broken Man 1999
We had a house in an place known for extremely diligent adherence to codes and exterior appearance rules, down to a list of approved paint colors. This was the whole town, not an HOA. Anyway, we added a deck on the back of the house and got a permit. When we needed to close out the permit to get a Certificate of Occupancy for a mortgage refi, they came to inspect the deck. They noticed that we had added (several years before, without a permit), a wood enclosure around an outdoor shower, with a wood platform as the floor. They flagged the shower because it was inside the building setback boundary. I called them thinking they would probably make me pull the enclosure and floor out. They told me it would become a fence (not subject to setback rules) instead of an outdoor shower (which is) if I removed the floor and sent them a picture. Not being there at the time, I hired a guy to do just that, put the floor back, and we got our CO. When we sold the house a number of years later, the outdoor shower was shown on the survey but no issue was raised.

DVA79
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by DVA79 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 6:30 pm

So worst case you go to sell and the inspector tells the buyers that this is not to code—they can chose to ask you to do something or leave it as is as they may like it. Go for it!

michaeljc70
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by michaeljc70 » Thu Dec 20, 2018 8:04 pm

I would spray paint it black. You don't need drywall for soundproofing. I would look into other methods of soundproofing that can go between the rafters (maybe spray foam). I would also consider how important it is for it to be soundproofed. How often will you use this newfound space and what is above it?

delamer
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by delamer » Thu Dec 20, 2018 8:53 pm

Are there potential insurance issues if you do work that does not meet code (as in not enough clearance, in this case)?

After all, if you aren’t doing it to code then you aren’t getting the legally-required perrmits either.

mariezzz
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by mariezzz » Thu Dec 20, 2018 9:15 pm

Jack FFR1846 wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:41 am
Perhaps put some nailers up in the rafters enough so you can install drywall to meet the bottom points of the rafters. Then just tape and texture the ceiling. You'll be right at 7 feet.

I wouldn't be ignoring anything. An inspector for town appraisals could come in, see the code violation and you get an order to rip it out. (I know for sure that in my town, that would happen)
Given the comments above, it's not clear to me that a code violation would result if the OP proceeded; that is yet to be determined.
Are you legally obligated to allow a government employee inside without a search warrant? According to this, you're not (the argument laid out sounds reasonable, but it is an internet site!): https://www.taxhatchet.com/waltzing-assessor/

Regarding another comment in this thread: I find it hard to believe that a government organization can dictate the color of a house. That seems to be an infringement on your property rights & potentially, right to speech (through choosing the color of your house ). HOAs can - but that's because when you buy in an HOA, you agree to follow the policies established by the HOA (with the caveat that the HOA cannot establish certain polices if they are not constitutionally permitted or forbidden by statute, ordinance, etc.) I suspect governmental limitations wouldn't hold up as a blanket policy if challenged strongly. It might work in a historical district, but then you purchase the property knowing about the restrictions that are imposed in that district.

Edited to add link above.
Last edited by mariezzz on Thu Dec 20, 2018 9:56 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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fortfun
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by fortfun » Thu Dec 20, 2018 9:24 pm

Can't you just sell it as non-conforming? You might ask a local realtor.

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deanbrew
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by deanbrew » Fri Dec 21, 2018 11:34 am

Jack FFR1846 wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:41 am
I wouldn't be ignoring anything. An inspector for town appraisals could come in, see the code violation and you get an order to rip it out. (I know for sure that in my town, that would happen)
Are you talking about assessors? I've owned houses in two states for 40 years and have never had a government inspector or appraiser come into any of my houses. Even if it is allowed/required, that would be a mighty diligent and observant assessor to discover a basement ceiling that was 1/2" less than 7 feet.
"The course of history shows that as the government grows, liberty decreases." Thomas Jefferson

delamer
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by delamer » Fri Dec 21, 2018 1:48 pm

deanbrew wrote:
Fri Dec 21, 2018 11:34 am
Jack FFR1846 wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:41 am
I wouldn't be ignoring anything. An inspector for town appraisals could come in, see the code violation and you get an order to rip it out. (I know for sure that in my town, that would happen)
Are you talking about assessors? I've owned houses in two states for 40 years and have never had a government inspector or appraiser come into any of my houses. Even if it is allowed/required, that would be a mighty diligent and observant assessor to discover a basement ceiling that was 1/2" less than 7 feet.
When we bought our current home, the previous owner told us that he had finished the basement x years prior. Either our home inspector or real estate agent (can’t remember which) checked the county records and discovered that no permits had been pulled.

We said either it passes inspection now or the deal’s off. So the owner ended up paying more after-the-fact to get the approval than if he’d just done it at the time.

stan1
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by stan1 » Fri Dec 21, 2018 1:54 pm

[quote=delamer post_id=4272878 time=1545418109 user_id=24124

We said either it passes inspection now or the deal’s off. So the owner ended up paying more after-the-fact to get the approval than if he’d just done it at the time.
[/quote]

I would have told my agent to go to the back up offer or put it back on the market (which you can do if its a seller's market). If it is a buyers market the seller has fewer options.

fire0216
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by fire0216 » Fri Dec 21, 2018 1:59 pm

doss wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 8:28 am
Hi all,
I have an old house with an unfinished basement that I want to totally remodel. Unfortunately, the height from the basement concrete floor to the ceiling joists is exactly 7ft...."

Have you researched digging up the floor to get add'l height? Many foundations have footings that are about 18" deep. You can ask your contractor to dig up the floor BUT only about 6" away from the foundation. Yes you will have a step but you can then start your "walls" on top of these foundation steps.

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doss
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by doss » Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:15 pm

@fire0216,
Actually, we dug up around the perimeter of the house and discovered there were no footings as we were putting in a tile drain. Mind you, this house was built (row house) in 1920. We did find lots of old circa 1920s bottle caps and corks from the workers! :sharebeer

I am not sure about digging up the floor...seems like too much $$ for simply making an already decent basement into a stellar one. I have no idea of the costs, though.

Sam1
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Sam1 » Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:40 pm

We faced the same thing and went for it. Worst case scenario we have to tear the ceiling down.

No one knows the correct answer because we don’t know what the market will be like when you go to sell. If it’s a sellers market then no buyer is going to nickle and dime you or ask about back permits for a basement. If it’s a buyer’s market and you get tangled up with an ahole, then you could run into some problems.

Personally I don’t think most buyers are even thinking about permits. I know our house has newer windows and that was advertised in the listing. I never once wondered if the windows had been permitted, but technically they are supposed to be.

We need to replace our AC unit and was surprised this requires a permit. I highly doubt most people get a permit for a new AC. Or really most work.

Broken Man 1999
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Broken Man 1999 » Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:43 pm

doss wrote:
Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:15 pm
@fire0216,
Actually, we dug up around the perimeter of the house and discovered there were no footings as we were putting in a tile drain. Mind you, this house was built (row house) in 1920. We did find lots of old circa 1920s bottle caps and corks from the workers! :sharebeer

I am not sure about digging up the floor...seems like too much $$ for simply making an already decent basement into a stellar one. I have no idea of the costs, though.
Might seem suspicious if you start carting dirt from your basement. :shock: Though maybe I have just read/watched too many murder mysteries. :D

Broken Man 1999
“If I cannot drink Bourbon and smoke cigars in Heaven than I shall not go. " -Mark Twain

delamer
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by delamer » Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:50 pm

Sam1 wrote:
Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:40 pm
We faced the same thing and went for it. Worst case scenario we have to tear the ceiling down.

No one knows the correct answer because we don’t know what the market will be like when you go to sell. If it’s a sellers market then no buyer is going to nickle and dime you or ask about back permits for a basement. If it’s a buyer’s market and you get tangled up with an ahole, then you could run into some problems.

Personally I don’t think most buyers are even thinking about permits. I know our house has newer windows and that was advertised in the listing. I never once wondered if the windows had been permitted, but technically they are supposed to be.

We need to replace our AC unit and was surprised this requires a permit. I highly doubt most people get a permit for a new AC. Or really most work.
The county/state we live in has a fair amount of regulations regarding home construction, remodeling, and repair, including many covering the companies in the industry.

So reputable companies are not going to risk fines or their licenses by not getting permits when required.

That was one of the issues with our basement. The prior owner basically bragged about having the work done on the cheap, which led us to check on the permit.

Sam1
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by Sam1 » Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:01 pm

Where I live requires a permit for everything. Even repairing a shingle. Painting your front door a difference color requires permission and a fee and tax. So does replacing your front door hardware. As a result, a lot of work is done unpermitted.

Permitting doesn’t necessarily protect you from a faulty job. It’s more just a way to tax a homeowner.

As a buyer would I buy a home with an unpermitted addition or structural work? No way. A new bathroom vanity? Yes. New basement ceiling? Yes.

I mean do you really look at everything recently done to a house and check to see if a permit is pulled? Like there is a newish microwave...did they get a permit?

michaeljc70
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by michaeljc70 » Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:05 pm

Sam1 wrote:
Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:01 pm
Where I live requires a permit for everything. Even repairing a shingle. Painting your front door a difference color requires permission and a fee and tax. So does replacing your front door hardware. As a result, a lot of work is done unpermitted.

Permitting doesn’t necessarily protect you from a faulty job. It’s more just a way to tax a homeowner.

As a buyer would I buy a home with an unpermitted addition or structural work? No way. A new bathroom vanity? Yes. New basement ceiling? Yes.

I mean do you really look at everything recently done to a house and check to see if a permit is pulled? Like there is a newish microwave...did they get a permit?
I agree. People tend to check out permits for structural things or if things don't look right.

Is someone going to go get the original blueprints for a home and compare every electrical outlet to the plan and check for permits on new outlets? No.

corysold
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Re: Basement minimum height requirement -- can I ignore until house sale?

Post by corysold » Fri Dec 21, 2018 3:06 pm

They make 1/4" drywall. As long as you have your joist to screw to, there won't be any sagging. I'd argue 1/4" is probably pretty close to the margin of error on a regular tape measure. Unless your inspector is the most diligent inspector ever...

Heck, you probably have a 1/4" play just in your floor. Measure by the drain, that's the lowest point.

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