House numbers should be clear enough so that police, the fire department, paramedics, etc., can quickly locate properties in an emergency. House numbers are often the only way that first-responders can identify their intended destinations. A number of jurisdictions have begun enforcing laws through strict fines for homeowners who do not comply with laws that impose requirements for house numbers.
Many municipalities and counties have implemented ordinances requiring property owners to standardize the display of house numbers on buildings. The city of St. Martinville, Louisiana, for instance, is considering requiring its citizens to display street numbers in block numbering that is at least 4 inches tall and is either illuminated at night or has a reflective finish. If the ordinance is passed, the city will fine offenders $200, plus hundreds more in court fees. In Florida, the cities of Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg have begun enforcing their own municipal codes that regulate the visibility of house numbers, imposing fines for violators.
In order for house numbers to be visible from the street, InterNACHI advises that they should:
- be large. Jurisdictions that regulate the size of street numbers generally require that them to be 3 to 6 inches tall. Many jurisdictions require that the numbers be of a certain thickness, such as 1/2-inch, as required by New York City;
- be of a color that contrasts with their background. Reflective numbers are usually helpful because they are easier to see at night than numbers that are not reflective;
- not be obscured by any trees, shrubs, or other permanent objects;
- face the street that is named in the house’s address. It does emergency workers no good if the house number faces a different street than the one the workers are traveling on;
- be clearly displayed at the driveway entrance if the house is not visible from the road.
According to 6.5.12 of the International Standard for Inspecting Commercial Properties, inspectors should:
Inspect the address or street number to determine that it is visible from the street with numbers in contrast to their background.
Even if a house number is currently adequate, it might need adjustment in the future. The following are common reasons for future adjustment:
- The numbers assigned to houses by the municipality occasionally change, and homeowners must adjust their house numbers accordingly.
- The trees or shrubs in front of the house have grown so much that the number is no longer visible. House numbers installed in the winter may be visible during that season but become blocked by budding vegetation by spring or summer.
- House numbers will require maintenance when they get dirty. Numbers may not be reflective or contrasting if they are covered in mud.
- Snow piles created by snow plows during the winter may be high enough to cover the number. If this happens, the number should be raised so this situation does not repeat.
In summary, house numbers serve a critical function for emergency personnel and should be clearly displayed.