No one wants to read the Chicago Building Code. It’s lengthy, it’s detailed, and let’s just say it’s not much of a page-turner. Here, we will sum up the basics and let you in on some of the most useful tips for homeowners to avoid a violation when in the midst of a construction project.

Chicago Building Code History

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed about 3.3 square miles of the city. Subsequently, there was a lot of rebuilding that needed to take place. Possibly in response to the amount of construction going on was the implementation of a building code in Chicago 4 years later in 1875.

Building codes have always been—and continue to be—about safety and responsibility, but recent code amendments have shown an inclusion of sustainability and conservation in the list of priorities.

Today, Chicago remains the only city in America to use a building code written completely by its own administration rather than installing a generalized model code like virtually all other cities in the country.

Common Building Code Violations

Porches and Decks: A few rules apply when constructing a porch (with a roof) or a deck (roofless) made of combustible materials. They must not be higher than three stories and cannot stick out more than ten feet from the building or house. This is perhaps the most strictly enforced building code provision in Chicago due to a number of deadly incidences in the past where porches collapsed.

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Smoke detector placement: Smoke detectors are required to be on each floor of a building and within 15 feet of all bedrooms. If on the ceiling, the smoke detector must be at least 4 inches from the side wall. If on the wall, the smoke detector must be placed between 4 to 12 inches from the ceiling.

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Handrails: Stairways require handrails on both sides unless the stairs are less than 44 inches wide, in which case a handrail is only required on one side. The height from stair to handrail must fall between 2’10” and 3’2” and the handrail must return to the wall at either end so as not to catch clothing and cause falls.

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Mortar and grout in brick masonry: There are distinct mortar and grout specifications that must be met when constructing brick structures. Our customers can trust that the masonry work we do at Edmar has always been and will continue to be up-to-code so that there is never a worry regarding code violations.

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Chimneys: A chimney’s vent, entrance, and connectors must have the correct size measurements specified by the Chicago Building Code. Any work done to construct or fix a chimney must also be done in safe working conditions.

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Avoiding Building Code Violations

The easiest way to avoid a building code violation in Chicago when undertaking a construction project is to be educated about the Chicago Building Code, and to trust that whoever you have contracted to work for you knows the Code as well. Much of the Code can be written off as common sense, but there are a few provisions that are very specific or can be difficult to comply with. The list above is not exhaustive, but will hopefully help you to avoid some of the more common problems that people run into when building or renovating in Chicago.