Job Descriptions, Definitions Roles, Responsibility: Construction and Building Inspectors
Construction and building inspectors examine the construction, alteration, or repair of buildings, highways and streets, sewer and water systems, dams, bridges, and other structures to ensure compliance with building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations, and contract specifications. Building codes and standards are the primary means by which building construction is regulated in the United States for the health and safety of the general public. Inspectors make an initial inspection during the first phase of construction, and followup inspections throughout the construction project to monitor compliance with regulations. However, no inspection is ever exactly the same. In areas where certain types of severe weather or natural disasters—such as earthquakes or hurricanes—are more common, inspectors monitor compliance with additional safety regulations designed to protect structures and occupants during these events.
In the past, most localities based their building codes on regional model codes established by the Building Officials and Code Administration (BOCA), the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), or the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI). Therefore, building inspectors in one region who were experts in one code found it difficult to move to an area of the country in which another code was used. To eliminate differences among the three sets of codes, these organizations jointly created the International Code Council (ICC) in 1994 and released the Nation’s first set of uniform building code regulations in 2000. In 2003, BOCA, ICBO and SBCCI consolidated their operations into the ICC. All code development and support services are now provided by the ICC. This makes it much easier for construction and building inspectors to work in different regions within the United States.
There are many types of inspectors. Building inspectors inspect the structural quality and general safety of buildings. Some specialize in such areas as structural steel or reinforced concrete structures. Before construction begins, plan examiners determine whether the plans for the building or other structure comply with building code regulations and if they are suited to the engineering and environmental demands of the building site. Inspectors visit the worksite before the foundation is poured to inspect the soil condition and positioning and depth of the footings. Later, they return to the site to inspect the foundation after it has been completed. The size and type of structure, as well as the rate of completion, determine the number of other site visits they must make. Upon completion of the project, they make a final, comprehensive inspection.
In addition to structural characteristics, a primary concern of building inspectors is fire safety. They inspect structures’ fire sprinklers, alarms, and smoke control systems, as well as fire exits. Inspectors assess the type of construction, building contents, adequacy of fire protection equipment, and risks posed by adjoining buildings.
Electrical inspectors examine the installation of electrical systems and equipment to ensure that they function properly and comply with electrical codes and standards. They visit worksites to inspect new and existing sound and security systems, wiring, lighting, motors, and generating equipment. They also inspect the installation of the electrical wiring for heating and air-conditioning systems, appliances, and other components.
Elevator inspectors examine lifting and conveying devices such as elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, lifts and hoists, inclined railways, ski lifts, and amusement rides.
Mechanical inspectors inspect the installation of the mechanical components of commercial kitchen appliances, heating and air-conditioning equipment, gasoline and butane tanks, gas and oil piping, and gas-fired and oil-fired appliances. Some specialize in boilers or ventilating equipment as well.
Plumbing inspectors examine plumbing systems, including private disposal systems, water supply and distribution systems, plumbing fixtures and traps, and drain, waste, and vent lines.
Public works inspectors ensure that Federal, State, and local government construction of water and sewer systems, highways, streets, bridges, and dams conforms to detailed contract specifications. They inspect excavation and fill operations, the placement of forms for concrete, concrete mixing and pouring, asphalt paving, and grading operations. They record the work and materials used so that contract payments can be calculated. Public works inspectors may specialize in highways, structural steel, reinforced concrete, or ditches. Others specialize in dredging operations required for bridges and dams or for harbors.
Home inspectors conduct inspections of newly built or previously owned homes. Home inspection is becoming a standard practice in the home purchasing process. Prospective home buyers hire home inspectors to inspect and report the condition of a home’s systems, components, and structure. They typically are hired either immediately prior to a purchase offer on a home, or as a contingency to a sales contract. In addition to structural quality, home inspectors inspect all home systems and features, including roofing as well as plumbing, electrical, and heating or cooling systems.
The owner of a building or structure under construction employs specification inspectors to ensure that work is done according to design specifications. They represent the owner’s interests, not those of the general public. Insurance companies and financial institutions also may use the services of specification inspectors.
Details concerning construction projects, building and occupancy permits, and other documentation generally are stored on computers so that they can easily be retrieved, kept accurate, and updated. For example, inspectors may use laptop computers to record their findings while inspecting a site. Most inspectors use computers to help them monitor the status of construction inspection activities and keep track of issued permits. Many inspectors also use a paper checklist to detail their findings.
Although inspections are primarily visual, inspectors may use tape measures, survey instruments, metering devices, and test equipment such as concrete strength measurers. They keep a log of their work, take photographs, file reports, and, if necessary, act on their findings. For example, construction inspectors notify the construction contractor, superintendent, or supervisor when they discover a code or ordinance violation or something that does not comply with the contract specifications or approved plans. If the problem is not corrected within a reasonable or specified period, government inspectors have authority to issue a “stop-work” order.
Many inspectors also investigate construction or alterations being done without proper permits. Inspectors who are employees of municipalities enforce laws pertaining to the proper design, construction, and use of buildings. They direct violators of permit laws to obtain permits and submit to inspection.