Building Inspections 101: What to Know in 2023 and Beyond
Published on: October 31, 2023
When a new building is constructed, inspections are a legal requirement in the United States. Regardless of whether a building is residential, commercial, or industrial in nature, proper inspections ensure the safety and structural integrity of the building itself.
If you’re considering a career in construction, then working as a building inspector is one potential avenue to think about. Specifically, building inspectors work to ensure that buildings meet all zoning regulations, building codes, ordinances and contract specifications. This can be a rewarding career for those who are interested in the more technical side of construction and enjoy working with their hands.
So, why are building inspections so important, what does a typical inspection look like, and what else do you need to know about this dynamic job? Let’s dig in.
Why Are Building Inspections Required?
Believe it or not, building inspections weren’t always the norm in the United States. In fact, as recently as the 1960s, only 5% of buyers even arranged for a building inspection before buying a property. However, by the late 1960s, banks and other lenders realized that they needed to protect their investments by requiring borrowers to carry out inspections on properties before they sold. In 1976, the American Society of Building Inspectors (ASHI) was formed and created the framework for the standards of practice and code of ethics that building inspectors still use across the country today.
There are many reasons as to why building inspections are required of all new construction buildings in the United States. In some cases, ongoing inspections may even be required after the initial inspection or any time major changes/renovations are made to the building itself. From making sure that zoning laws and codes are being followed to ensuring that people living and/or working in the building are safe, building inspections are a critical part of the construction field.
The Importance of Building Inspections
First and foremost, building inspections are designed to look specifically for flaws in design or construction that could put the health and safety of others at risk. This includes looking closely at the types of construction materials being used to ensure that there are no harmful substances being used in the building. An inspection may also look at key components of the building itself (such as its ventilation system) to ensure that it will be safe for people to live and/or work in upon completion.
Ordinance and Code
Aside from health and safety reasons, inspections are also important for making sure that construction crews are following local ordinances, codes and zoning laws. Depending on the type of building being constructed, for example, coding laws may require a certain number and placement of smoke detectors throughout the building. An inspection will ensure that these codes are being followed.
Likewise, different plots of land are zoned for different purposes (commercial, residential, industrial, etc.). However, the only way to be sure that a building is being used for the same application it has been zoned for is to conduct a physical inspection of it.
Who Conducts Building Inspections?
The professional who carries out a building inspection will ultimately depend on the type of inspection being done and the type of building. Commercial building inspections, for example, aren’t the same as residential inspections. As a result, a professional who specializes in commercial inspections will be needed. In some cases, more specialized inspectors (such as a code enforcement inspector) may be called out to perform the work or complete a follow-up visit.
Regardless, people who work as building inspectors are those who have received very specific education and training. Typically, building inspectors have at least a high school diploma, though many go on to pursue degrees in construction management or a related field to make themselves more competitive in the job market.
Building Inspection Requirements
There are a lot of different components that go into the average building inspection. These are all things that an inspector will need to take into consideration during the inspection itself.
Permits and Paperwork
First, an inspector will need to pull copies of all permits and paperwork related to the building itself. This will often require a visit to the department of building inspection (or equivalent office) within the city or municipality. Taking the time to review this documentation will ensure that the necessary permits were filed and approved—and that all necessary paperwork related to the job was completed. This is a common area of the inspection process where mistakes are often found, as it is always possible that a builder failed to obtain a permit or get plans formally approved.
State and Building Type
The state in which the building is being constructed and the type of building must also be taken into consideration when an inspection is being performed. Different states have their own requirements when it comes to what constitutes a required inspection, building code requirements and what is required for a final building inspection.
This can also vary depending on the type of building that is being constructed. A residential building, for example, will need to qualify for a certificate of occupancy. A commercial building, on the other hand, may need to meet other requirements. An experienced building inspector will know what needs to be assessed based on the state in which they operate and the type of building being inspected.
Contractors and Building Inspectors
In some cases, the construction manager, permit holder, owner or other building official will need to be present during the inspection. Even if this is not a requirement, a professional inspector will give permit holders the opportunity to be present during an inspection so they can explain any issues or answer any questions along the way.
Common Inspection Types
It is not uncommon for a building under construction to require several rounds of inspection before a final inspection can be completed and the building can open. While this is not a comprehensive list of every inspection type performed, it does cover a few of the most common and what they entail.
This is often the first inspection performed on a building early in the construction process. It is generally conducted after excavation of the ground is complete and before concrete is poured for the foundation. This type of inspection is important when it comes to ensuring that all water lines, drain lines, plumbing and other supply lines are correctly positioned and installed before a foundation is poured.
Another critical type of inspection that should be performed during the construction process is the structural inspection. This type of inspection is typically done after the bracing, floors, roofing and all other framing components are in place. The purpose of this inspection is to make sure that the building itself is structurally sound according to the design specifications, building type and local codes/ordinances.
A close-in inspection is one of the last types of inspection performed on a building and is also one of the most complex because it requires a lot of attention to detail. Specifically, this inspection is performed after all major components are in place (plumbing, electrical, mechanical, etc.) but before any insulation and drywall are installed.
Special Inspections and Cases
In some situations, special inspections may be required to ensure that a building is not only up-to-code, but safe for its inhabitants. This may be the case, for example, when a building is being constructed with an unusual design or with materials that are not typically used. The mere location of a construction project may also necessitate a special inspection. For instance, a building that is being constructed on a pier or near a body of water may be subjected to additional inspections to ensure that the building meets more stringent requirements.
The Final Inspection
Even after foundation inspections, structural inspections, close-in inspections and special inspections are completed, a building must still pass a final inspection before all is said and done. A final inspection should only be completed once the construction on the building is finished, including all grading and drainage on the property.
A final inspection is extremely thorough, sometimes taking hours to complete (depending on the size of the building) and is centered around making sure that the approved plans match the finished product. Some other things an inspector will look at during a final inspection include:
- Proper installation of windows and doors
- Caulking and sealing measures
- Wiring and light fixtures
- Gutters (if required)
- Drywall and mudding completion
- HVAC and ductwork
Next Steps Following Inspection
Ultimately, the specific items looked at during a final inspection will vary based on local ordinances and the type of building/zoning. If a building passes its final inspection, it will receive its certificate of occupancy. If any items still need to be addressed following the final inspection, the permit holder or building owner will need to take action on these items and follow up with another inspection when the work is done. During this follow-up, an inspector will check to ensure that any necessary repairs or changes were made and that the work was done correctly.
If a follow-up inspection is required, it is possible that the permit holder or building owner will need to pay to have the additional inspection completed. In some cases, an expedited inspection may be scheduled for an additional fee. This may be necessary for projects that are nearing their targeted completion deadline.
Your Story in Construction Management Starts Here
Working as a professional building inspector can be a rewarding and interesting job. No two job sites you visit will be exactly alike, and you’ll be faced with new challenges and problems to solve with each building you visit. This type of work presents a great opportunity for you to put your own brainstorming and problem-solving skills to use. Meanwhile, you can feel good knowing that you’re doing your part to keep buildings safe for your community.
If you’re interested in a career as a building inspector, your first step should be learning about building design with an Associate of Science in Construction Management or a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management. Park University is proud to offer both of these degree programs to help you gain classroom experience and practical hands-on experience in the field. People who complete these programs often go on to find success in such jobs as facilities manager, building surveyor, site engineer and building inspector.
These degree programs are also offered both in-person at our campus centers across the country or online, so you can be sure to find an enrollment option that suits your needs. Ready to get started in construction management? Get the ball rolling today by reaching out to our team to request more information or by starting your online application.