Q&A / 

Building Inspector

I was a pretty young pup when I had my first encounter with a building inspector. To be honest, I can’t tell you the exact outcome, but I’m sure everything went well. I don’t ever recall failing a building inspection, but on some of my jobs other subs failed electrical or other inspections because of small issues.

Building inspectors are necessary evils. I hate to put it in that light, but a building inspector with the wrong attitude can be a builder’s worst nightmare. What is that saying about absolute power corrupting? Some inspectors thrive off the power they wield over builders and subcontractors. I would be fascinated to see the psychodemographic analysis data about the psychological profile of most building inspectors. Something tells me it would be close to that of young police officers. Now mind you, I’m not saying all building inspectors and police officers are power freaks.

Building inspector jobs are sought frequently by contractors who used to work in the building industry. My conversations with many indicated they preferred to be around the activity, the sawdust, the mud and the outdoors, but they didn’t want the uncertainty of a paycheck. When you’re a building inspector, you tend to have steady employment and little fear of layoffs. Of course with the huge historic downturn in construction in 2008 and beyond, I’m quite sure several building inspectors at the bottom of the totem pole have lost their jobs.

Depending upon where you live, you’ll deal with a county building inspector or a city building inspector. I had to work with both in Cincinnati, OH. The city building inspectors only had jurisdiction within the city limits. But the county inspector could look at anything in the county. The interesting thing is that they used slightly different codes. Yes, each government body can modify the building code to suit the situation in their area. Imagine being a builder and having to keep all of that straight. You can do something correctly in one area and a mile away it becomes a code violation. Strange but true!

To become a building inspector you have to go through a certain amount of training. There are any number of building inspector certification programs throughout the nation. It’s important that you make sure you get the correct certification that’s recognized by the place you’re trying to get a job.

If you start studying to become a building code inspector be prepared to learn all about soil strength, concrete, reinforcing steel, beams, framing connectors, safety issues, handrails, etc. There are many things in the building code that are quite technical, and it’s really important that you grasp how all these things interact to make a structure that’s safe. That’s the primary purpose of the building code - to ensure a building is safe to occupy and will remain safe for a number of years.

Building inspector training can happen in the classroom to a certain degree, but the real education happens in the field on real job sites. The one thing you can say about many of the sections of the code is that the issues are black and white. Either something passes the code or it doesn’t. There are few gray areas. If you don’t believe me, just grab a copy of the code. Here’s an example: The code gives minimum and maximum dimensions for stair risers and treads. That’s something that’s crisp, can be measured and where there would be little room for argument.

If you decide to become a commercial building inspector, be prepared to study that much harder. The commercial building code is intensely complicated and expansive. Public safety in commercial buildings is paramount. If something goes wrong in a large commercial building that contains thousands of workers, shoppers, visitors, all sorts of bad jujumagumbo can happen.

When you become a building inspector, try to be understanding. What most builders want is an inspector that’s tough but fair. Resist the temptation to cut corners because you happen to like a particular builder. Be very careful of accepting gifts of any kind as that will flip a switch in your brain that makes you feel compelled to go easy on a builder.

Always think of all the people in the future that will occupy the building you’re inspecting. They are counting on you to make sure they’re safe. Never forget that you didn’t pass the code - you just are expected by the public to enforce it. Remember that some builders are like little children, they continually ask for favors just to see when you’ll cave in. Don’t do it. Stay strong and enforce the code.

Column Q&A


6 Responses to Building Inspector

  1. How many feet away from the exterior wall of a house does a propane tank need to be? The propane is being piped through the wall in orfer to feed an appliance. Thx

  2. Hello, is there any recourse when an electrical inspector is wrong? We recently installed three ductless AC units in our home (with a shared condenser). They installed a shut off for the entire system as is normally done. The inspector then came back and told us that EACH unit needs its own shut off. The reasoning he gave doesn't even make sense - he said it's in case we need to service one unit, that way the others don't have to also be shut off. Um, our house hasn't had AC for 100 years, what's the big deal if the other units have to be off for the short time a repair is being made? I can't find anything in local codes stating this is a requirement, especially in residential. The HVAC company is flabbergasted but said they couldn't talk sense into the inspector. We've spoken to other electricians and contractors who've all agreed they've never heard of such a thing. We really don't want a separate switch in each room. Not only will it look bad, but it will require putting even more holes in the walls that we'll have to go back and repair. Do we have any option at this point or are we stuck with his bad call? Thank you!

  3. I'm in the market for a house and have a question of something I've never seen. The house in question is a 1958 built home in Akron Ohio, completely Remodeled. In the attic (it's large enough to stand up right in and also is a pitched a frame roof) there is a gravel material. Now, between the ceiling rafters, being the attic floor is standard insulation, then a plywood floor. On top of the floor is a gravel mix. Imagine taking asphalt roads, grinding them up and thats what is there. It's not light weight. It literally looks like rocks and tar about an inch thick. Then there is brown paper on top of that. At first I thought Vermiculite but that's not it. Any idea of why this would be up there? Standard asphalt shingle roof as well.

  4. I have a rather interesting predicament. I acquired a 30 foot wooden boat from Craigslist in the hopes I could turn it into a cool playground/ pool house for my 2 year old son. The boat is on jack stands in our side yard, but I plan on permanently affixing the boat in the backyard ( near a future inground pool). Now obviously there is nothing in the code about this... what is the best way to present this task to my town as I hear the inspector is less than helpful?

  5. Hello,
    I've been trying to pass an inspection with port authority for a little over a year now for a small business, each time they come they go over the fix list & add on more each time. Is this legal?

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.