Brick planter should not be built against the house
Q: Last year, I built a brick planter against the front wall of my home. Now that I'm selling the property, the termite inspector says there should be an air space between the planter and the building to prevent moisture damage in the wall. This seems unnecessary because I installed sheet metal behind the planter for the very purpose of preventing moisture problems. I explained this to the termite inspector, but he says the air space is still required. Can you please settle this matter? What are the requirements for building an attached planter?
A: When you installed sheet metal flashing behind your planter, you were only partially in compliance with applicable codes. Planters that are installed against a wood frame building must have flashing, but requirements also include a 2-inch air space between the planter and the building. Sheet metal must be used in conjunction with, not in lieu of, this air space. Without the flashing, a 6-inch separation from the building would be required.
The use of flashing, without an air space, presents two potential problems:
• Sheet metal flashing between the planter and the house is a temporary barrier only. Continued moisture exposure to the sheet metal leads to eventual rust damage. Thereafter, moisture from the planter would have a direct path to the wood-frame wall;
• Even when the sheet metal is intact, it can only prevent moisture penetration from the planter itself. The upper edge of the flashing remains exposed to water intrusion from direct rainfall or irrigation. Any water that drains between the flashing and the wall surface can promote fungus damage and mold.
Obviously, it is too late to provide an air space behind a brick planter that is already built. Your termite inspector may suggest some alternate methods to minimize the potential for moisture intrusion. For example, you could put potted plants into the planter.
Q: I converted my attic to make two additional bedrooms. At the time, I thought everything was done to code. Since then, I've learned that the 7-foot-high ceilings are too low, and the 18-inch by 24-inch windows are too small. Are code requirements different for attic bedrooms? If not, how will this affect me when I sell my home?
A: Codes affecting ceiling heights and bedroom window dimensions are the same, regardless of where the rooms are situated. Hence, your converted rooms do not comply as legal bedrooms and cannot be represented as such when you sell the property. However, you may be able to salvage the situation.
Replacing the windows with larger ones is probably not too difficult. It may also be possible to reframe the ceilings to the required height. If so, you might consider applying to your local building department for an as-built permit. This would afford you the opportunity to bring the added bedrooms into compliance, thereby increasing the value of your home.
If you leave the rooms as they are, your only obligation at time of sale is to fully disclose to buyers the current status of the attic as functional but noncomplying bedrooms.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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