Building Code Compliance for Contractors & Inspectors eBook (PDF)

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$16.25

An answer book for both contractors and building inspectors, this manual explains what it takes to pass inspections under the 2009 International Residential Code. It includes a code checklist for every trade, covering some of the most common reasons why inspectors reject residential work – footings, foundations, slabs, framing, sheathing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, energy conservation and final inspection.


Knowing in advance what the inspector wants to see gives contractors an (almost unfair) advantage. To pass inspection, just go down the checklists in this manual before the inspector arrives. Even better, use this manual as a guide to what constitutes good construction practice – and is almost certain to pass inspection.


This manual will be worth many times the cover price:


  • If your fingers are crossed every time an inspector walks on the job.

  • If failed inspections are an embarrassing waste of time and money.

  • If you want to build a reputation for professional-quality work.

  • If you need to improve relations with code-enforcement personnel.




The author steps you through the entire permit process, item by item – permit processing, plan review, zoning, site development, all the codes (IRC, IBC, IPC, IMC, etc.), and rules recommend for both contractors and inspectors:


  • Tips for developing good relations with the building inspector.

  • What to do and what to avoid when your job doesn't pass inspection.

  • What to do if you feel you're being treated unfairly (appeals).

  • Where the inspector has latitude and when it doesn't pay to argue.

  • Dozens of tips to ensure you pass the next inspection.

  • Who to ask for at the building department when you need help.



But this is more than a guide to code-compliance. It's also a handbook for building inspectors and anyone interested in a code enforcement career. The author explains how to qualify yourself for a job at the local building department, how to sail through the examination and interview process, and what it takes to be an effective code enforcement official.


If your work requires getting permits and passing inspections, put this manual to work on your next job.


The Author: Lynn Underwood is Chief Building Official for Norfolk, Virginia. He has been a code enforcement official for nearly 30 years, holds a dozen certifications, including plans examiner, building, plumbing, mechanical and electrical inspector, and has conducted hundreds of on-site inspections. There's lifetime of code-compliance and enforcement savvy between the covers of this manual.



This eBook is the download version of the book in text-searchable, PDF format. Craftsman's eBooks are copyrighted material, but you may copy/paste or print PDF eBook content for your personal use and re-download an eBook as many times as you need it.



Craftsman eBooks are for use in the freely distributed Adobe Reader and are compatible with Reader 6.0 or above. Get Adobe Reader.

ISBN 978-1-57218-238-7
Page Count 232
Author Lynn Underwood
Publisher Craftsman Book Company
$16.25

An answer book for both contractors and building inspectors, this manual explains what it takes to pass inspections under the 2009 International Residential Code. It includes a code checklist for every trade, covering some of the most common reasons why inspectors reject residential work – footings, foundations, slabs, framing, sheathing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, energy conservation and final inspection.

Knowing in advance what the inspector wants to see gives contractors an (almost unfair) advantage. To pass inspection, just go down the checklists in this manual before the inspector arrives. Even better, use this manual as a guide to what constitutes good construction practice – and is almost certain to pass inspection.

This manual will be worth many times the cover price:

  • If your fingers are crossed every time an inspector walks on the job.
  • If failed inspections are an embarrassing waste of time and money.
  • If you want to build a reputation for professional-quality work.
  • If you need to improve relations with code-enforcement personnel.

The author steps you through the entire permit process, item by item – permit processing, plan review, zoning, site development, all the codes (IRC, IBC, IPC, IMC, etc.), and rules recommend for both contractors and inspectors:

  • Tips for developing good relations with the building inspector.
  • What to do and what to avoid when your job doesn't pass inspection.
  • What to do if you feel you're being treated unfairly (appeals).
  • Where the inspector has latitude and when it doesn't pay to argue.
  • Dozens of tips to ensure you pass the next inspection.
  • Who to ask for at the building department when you need help.

But this is more than a guide to code-compliance. It's also a handbook for building inspectors and anyone interested in a code enforcement career. The author explains how to qualify yourself for a job at the local building department, how to sail through the examination and interview process, and what it takes to be an effective code enforcement official.

If your work requires getting permits and passing inspections, put this manual to work on your next job.

The Author: Lynn Underwood is Chief Building Official for Norfolk, Virginia. He has been a code enforcement official for nearly 30 years, holds a dozen certifications, including plans examiner, building, plumbing, mechanical and electrical inspector, and has conducted hundreds of on-site inspections. There's lifetime of code-compliance and enforcement savvy between the covers of this manual.

This eBook is the download version of the book in text-searchable, PDF format. Craftsman's eBooks are copyrighted material, but you may copy/paste or print PDF eBook content for your personal use and re-download an eBook as many times as you need it.

Craftsman eBooks are for use in the freely distributed Adobe Reader and are compatible with Reader 6.0 or above. Get Adobe Reader.

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Contents
Section 1

1. Who Needs Building Codes?, 5
Are You Ready for This Career Choice?, 10
Getting the Job, 12
How Much Can I Make?, 15
From Permit to Final Inspection, 15
The Code Enforcement Staff— an Overview, 15
The Organization of this Book, 16
Finally, 17

2. Reasons for the Rules, 19
Why We Need Building Codes, 20
Scope and Intent of the Code, 24
Code Enforcement, 25
Changing the Code, 25

3. Building Code Enforcement Staff, 29
The Big Picture, 30
Plans Examiners, 32
Plan Technician, 33
Permit Technicians, 34
Building Inspectors, 34
The Board of Appeals, 37
Material Standards, 38

4. Your Plans in Plan Review, 41
Construction Plan Submission, 41
Consistent Plan Review, 41
Generalist or Specialist Plan Reviewer, 43
A Typical Plans Examiner's Day, 43
Technical Design Review, 45
Sample Plan Review Checklists Based on the 2009 IRC, 46

5. Building Inspections, 55
Consistent Building Inspections, 56
Enforcing Installation Standards, 56
Finding and Inspection Address, 57
What Makes a Good Inspector?, 57
Generalist or Specialist Inspector, 58
A Day in the Life of a Building Inspector, 58

6. Building Permit Technicians, 61
Your Permit, 61
Role of the Permit Technician, 63
Customer Service, 63
Plan Routing and Permit Processing, 66
Legal Aspects of the Job, 67
Zoning and Site Development Duties, 68
Advice for a New Permit Technician, 69

7. Careers in Code Compliance, 71
Career Change by Accident, 71
Keep Asking Questions, 73
Starting as an Intern, 74
Starting as a Secretary, 75
The Best Job You'll Ever Have, 76
Four Rules to Follow, 77
Barney Fife or Andy Taylor, 77
No Prima Donnas Needed, 79
No Experience is Bad Experience, 80
A Profession to be Proud of, 80
Be a Teacher, Be a Joiner, 81

8. A Job Description for Inspectors, 83
Never a Dull Moment, 83

9. Code of Conduct for Inspectors, 89
A Code of Conduct for Building Inspectors, 89
Explaining a Code Requirement, 90
Common Customer Complaints, 92
Working with Other Agencies and Utilities, 95

10. Inspectors & Inspections, 99
Building Inspections and Teamwork, 100
Violations: Finding and Acceptable Fix, 100
Is a Fix as Good as Following the Code to Begin With?, 100
Talking with a Builder About a Fix, 101
What Not to Say, 101
How to Work With a Builder, 102
Working with and Unreasonable Builder, 103
The Mechanics of an Inspection, 103

11. The Most Common Code Violations, 105
Unlawful Acts, Notices, Prosecution and Penalties, 106
Common Violations, 107
Top Ten Building Code Violations, 107
What's Next?, 111

12. Code Organization & Scope, 113
How Each I-Code is Organized and Arranged, 114
What Requires a Permit and What Doesn't?, 118
"Shall" vs. "Permitted": Mandatory vs. Permissible, 119
Special Inspections, 120
Abatement of Unsafe Structures, 121
Getting a Modification Accepted by the Building Code, 121
Using Alternative Materials, 122

Section II

13. Foundations & Footings Inspection, 125

14. Groundwork Plumbing Inspection, 133

15. Pre-Slab Work Inspection, 139

16. Wood Wall Framing Inspection, 143

17. Floor & Roof Framing Inspection, 151

18. Floor & Roof Decking Inspection, 157

19. Exterior Covering Inspection, 161

20. Intermediate Plumbing Installation Inspection, 165

21. Intermediate Mechanical Installation Inspection, 175

22.Intermediate Electrical Installation Inspection, 181

23. Insulation Inspection, 189

24. Gypsum Wallboard Inspection, 193

25. Final Inspection, 195

Glossary, 213

Index, 219

Who Needs Building Codes?

Builders know how to build. So why bother with all these codes and inspections?

Great idea if you're a contractor. But it hasn't worked, at least since 1792 B.C. That's when Hammurabi, king of the Babylonian Empire, authored what may have been the first building code:

Hammurabi's Building Code Section 229: If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then the builder shall be put to death.

No doubt, more than a few Babylonian contractors considered that excessive regulation. But Hammurabi's Code earned respect that's lasted nearly 4,000 years. In retrospect, the code was probably a good idea, even if not popular with builders at the time.

Hammurabi's Code wouldn't work today. Materials have changed. Our understanding of what constitutes a construction defect has changed. Complexity has multiplied a hundredfold, but some things remain much the same. For example, you'll notice that Hammurabi's Code both sets standards for construction and penalties for infractions. Modern ICC codes do the same, though they're much more focused on standards than penalties. For example, you won't find a reference to capital punishment anywhere in the ICC, no matter how severe the infraction. But you'll find far more detail. To some, especially contractors, the complexity probably seems unnecessary —or even counterproductive.

If you've been in the construction industry a while, you know that complexity adds both expense and risk — the expense of trying to comply and the risk that work has to be torn out. You probably also know that contractors live by cutting costs. Most construction, whether residential, commercial or public works, is done at a price fixed before work begins. Surprises on a construction site are nearly always had news for the contractor. When something goes wrong, the extra expense usually comes out of the contractor's profit margin. That hasn't changed in 4,000 years:

    Hammurabi's Building Code Section 233: If a builder builds a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it, if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.

Few modern contractors face the extra expense of toppling walls. But nearly every contractor can tell a story about the extra cost of code compliance. The most common experience may be simply waiting for the inspector to arrive. Other stories weave a more expensive tale. Maybe a contractor didn't have exactly the right door or ridge beam on hand. But some other material is on hand and should work just as well. OK, almost as well. Or maybe a lesser-skilled carpenter didn't fit those studs under the stairs quite as accurately as he should have. Hey, once the drywall's up, what's the problem?

    "Most construction, whether residential, commercial or public works, is done at a price fixed before work begins."

As an experienced contractor, you've probably done something like this more than once. And you still consider yourself a quality builder. And I agree. But what about the guy who isn't? He cuts every corner he can -- to save himself a buck. He's the one who gives all contractors a bad name. He's part of the reason why most communities enforce building codes very strictly.

But there's another reason for building codes. They serve as standards or guides. They identify for architect, designers and builders what has to be done and where. Codes describe what size lumber to use, how walls and ceilings have to be weatherproofed and insulated, how windows and doors have to be installed, where guardrails and exits are needed, and a thousand other details intended to promote occupant safety and structural integrity. Essentially, codes identify what's considered good building practice and what isn't. And they give every property owner confidence that a new building will be both safe and habitable — for many years.

In a way, contractors should be comforted by an ICC code. Without modern codes, every property owner would have to follow a builder around the job to be sure the concrete is thick enough, sheathing has enough nails and the transit-mix company delivered the right mud. Both owners and lenders are protected by the building code and code inspection. When complete, the structure will be both safe and durable. In the manufacturing industry, this is usually called quality control. Today, as 4,000 years ago, it's still a good idea.

Code Enforcement

For the record, when I refer to the building code, I'm referring to the International Residential Code (IRC) for One- and Two-Family Dwellings, published by the International Code Council, Inc. (ICC). Where the IRC has been adopted, it's an inspector's responsibility to check compliance with the IRC as work is completed. Inspectors have to know precisely what standard applies to each phase of construction. Remember the framing under the stairs I mentioned earlier? An inspector needs to be there before drywall goes up. That's the only way to be sure it's done right. If those studs aren't straightened before the rock gets hung, no one will ever know -- until the stairs start to creak and eventually collapse a few years later. Inspectors shouldn't (and can't) simply just take the builder's word for it.

A contractor's job isn't easy. But neither is building code enforcement. I don't expect to see many building inspectors on a contractor's Christmas card list. I prefer a friendly spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. Both the contractor and the inspector have an essential role to play in every construction project. Working together, a contractor and an inspector create something that will serve as a source of pride and comfort for many years. The people who'll live or work in that building can rely on both the inspector's vigilance and the contractor's expertise. That doesn't happen in every country. Read the international news about the loss of life due to earthquakes and building fires and you'll understand the advantage everyone enjoys where modern building codes are enforced.

Criticism of building inspectors is common among contractors. Some in the industry see inspectors as government bureaucrats with little common sense and the power to cause problems. Others suspect that most inspectors are incompetents who couldn't make it as contractors. I'm not going to take sides in that debate. But I know that practically all code inspectors are dedicated professionals with a reasonably good grasp of the codes they enforce. Most get no pleasure from rejecting work. Nearly all would rather see a job pass inspection the first time. When I was an inspector, it was a good day when I could approve every job on my dispatch list. I was truly disappointed when some job didn't pass final inspection.

I think most construction professionals understand, at least in the abstract, why we need codes and inspectors. But every builder know has a lot of irons in the fire and too little time to stay current on code requirements. A contractor's focus on the bottom line can put building safety on the back burner. Inspectors can, or should, help contractors strike a balance that benefits us all.

What You'll Find in this Manual

First, I'll make a confession. I'm a building official, not a contractor. And this manual was conceived as a how-to manual for building inspectors. There aren't many guides on how to become a building inspector. I co-authored one now sold by the ICC. But the more I considered the subject, the more I realized: what constitutes good guidance for building inspectors also makes great advice for builders.

Most of this book will describe what an inspector should look for and what should happen when it's found. Essentially, this manual is a set of questions for building inspectors. But if this manual is a set of questions for inspectors, isn't this manual also a set of answers for construction contractors? Wouldn't you like to have a peek at the inspector's guide before calling in the inspector? That's a little like a football coach breezing through the opposing team's playbook before the start of the game.

I hope you agree. Knowing in advance what the inspector wants to see offers an (almost) unfair advantage to any contractor. Use this guide to do your own snap inspection before the inspector shows up. Better yet, use this manual as a guide to what constitutes good construction practice and is almost certain to pass inspection the first time.

If you're an experienced construction contractor and already know what every inspector in the local building department wants to see, OK. Maybe you don't need the opposing team's playbook. Maybe you know the inspection process forward and backward. Maybe you pass every inspection the first time and don't need advice from anyone. If that's your category, you may want to return this manual for a refund. But I don't know many contractors who fit that description.

If your fingers are crossed every time an inspector walks on the job, this manual should be worth many times the cover price. I'm going to step you through the entire process item by item permit processing, plan review, zoning and site development, all the codes (IRC, IBC, IPC, IMC, etc.), the rules of etiquette I recommend for both contractors and inspectors, and, of course, all the major inspections: concrete, framing, plumbing, electrical, etc.

I'll cover a lot of topics you may not have considered but that are part of code-compliance: Who should meet the inspector on the jobsitc? How should a builder get electric power to an undeveloped site? Who should notify the power company to release a builder's request for temporary power? What inspections are required for each type of project? When an inspector fails a job, what happens next? What should happen if an inspector misses a code compliance issue on one inspection and catches the problem on a later inspection? What if the first inspector missed something and a different inspector catches it later? What's implied when a project passes final inspection?

    Guidance for Building Inspectors (Only)
  • how to build a good relationship with the design professional, the engineer, and the architect for the project you'll be inspecting

  • how to avoid the appearance of impropriety between you and those you'll be inspecting

  • the importance of courtesy (including being on time)

  • how to get along with your peers

  • meet your boss (your supervisor or the general public?)

    Guidance for Contractors (Only)
  • tips for developing good relations with the building inspector

  • what to do and what to avoid when your job doesn't pass inspection

  • what to do if you feel you're being treated unfairly (appeals)

  • where the inspector has latitude in code enforcement and where it doesn't pay to argue the point

  • dozens of tips to ensure you pass the next inspection

Most experienced contractors have faced situations like these. Nearly every building inspector sees similar issues in the first year or two on the job. Your success as either a builder or an inspector can depend on your response to situations like these. No book can provide a solution to every code compliance problem. But I'in going to deliver a lifetime of code-compliance savvy between the covers of this manual.

One caution: Sometimes ['m going to be addressing contractors almost exclusively. You building inspectors may want to breeze through those sections — especially if you come from a contracting or construction trades background. And I know many inspectors who worked in construction before hanging up their tools.

Sometimes I'll be addressing code inspectors almost exclusively. If you're a contractor with years of experience as a building inspector, you need no special permission to breeze through these sections. But I don't know many contractors who started as building inspectors. So
recommend that you contractors stick your head in the huddle when ['m calling plays for building inspectors. You're sure to learn something valuable. if nothing else, you'll develop a good understanding of what motivates inspectors, why they do what they do and the rules they have to play by. You probably won't believe it, but building inspectors have more rules to follow and limitations to observe than construction contractors. Knowing what a building inspector must do and can't do will give you a leg up when resolving nearly any code compliance issue. An appreciation of these "building inspector only" issues will help raise your standing to the "pro" level among building inspectors — almost as though you once worked as a building inspector.

The product of quality building inspections is human safety, comfort and well-being. Stay with me through the pages of this manual and you'll develop insights on why I feel building code enforcement is a noble profession.

Qualifications of a Good Building Inspector

Contractors: Don't skip this section. I'm going to explain when and why building inspectors should not demand compliance with every letter of the code.

To stay qualified, building inspectors have to keep up with code changes and the introduction of new building materials. Building inspectors need to know the construction trades and how work is done on construction sites. But maybe most important, inspectors need to understand the intent of the code. We'll come hack to that issue many times in this manual.

While the code prescribes how building must be done, code provisions are the minimum the least allowed under the law. If a builder wants to do more, like use heavier lumber or closer nail-spacing, that's fine. Nothing in the code restricts a builder from doing a better job than the minimum, and neither should an inspector. But, often, a builder wants to do something different that may or may not be better and may not comply with the letter of the code. This is where your experience and knowledge of building practice and plain old common sense come into play. Will what the builder wants to do meet the spirit (if not the letter) of the code?

An inexperienced inspector may feel safer saying "Here's how the code says you have to do it, so that's how you have to do it." But most provisions in the code include exceptions. There's almost always some way to do the job better than what the code requires without actually complying with the code. This is when your experience and judgment are required. Is this other way really as good? The intent of the code is to make the building sound. If the alternate method is sound construction, allow it.

By doing that, you encourage quality construction, initiative and creativity. You're showing respect for the contractor's skill and judgment. The next time you find an item that is clearly not done precisely to code, and it's truly not satisfactory, the contractor will be much more tolerant to your demand that work be redone. If you simply throw the code at a contractor, word for word, at every point, you can expect a battle at every turn. Instead of being on the contractor's team, you're creating an enemy. Lock horns with every contractor over every possible infraction and you'll hate showing up for work in the morning.

Here are some recommendations I've made to novice building inspectors in my office:

  • Earn cooperation by developing trust built on mutual respect.

  • Either explain code provisions simply and clearly or be willing to admit you don't know. In that case, you'll need to check on it and get back to the builder. Don't be afraid to say you don't know something. No one knows it all. Don't pretend otherwise.

  • Be fair, no matter how you feel about the builder. It's the work you're inspecting, not the contractor. But don't cut any contractor a special deal. Treat every job and every builder by the same standard. Nobody respects an official who plays favorites.

  • Stand firm when you know you're right. If you're indecisive, people will push you around. The pushiest, most argumentative contractor shouldn't get the most breaks. No one is above the law. Be prepared to stand your ground, no matter who is asking.

  • Be flexible and considerate. Always try to see the contractor's side of an issue. My advice: If you can let something go, assuming it's not a code or safety violation, do it. There'll be times when you want something fixed that's not actually a code violation, something that's simply poor building practice. You may have missed it the first time, so you're on shaky ground to demand it now. You're more effective as an inspector if the contractor is on your side during times like these. Every contractor should consider you as part of his or her construction team.

  • The best inspectors think fast on their feet. We're all better at figuring out how we should have handled a situation after it's over. But when you're on a jobsite and there's a problem, it's better to come up with the right response immediately.

  • Keep your temper, even when a contractor throws a tantrum. You're a government official. You're expected to be civilized and professional. If you have a short fuse, look for another line of work.

Most code inspectors enter the field with some construction experience. While you don't need it to apply the code, it sure helps. But no one knows all the ins and outs of every phase of construction. So don't feel you're not qualified if you're not a construction expert. As you study and work with the code and as you spend more time on jobsites, you'll develop more experience with each part of the construction process.

Ask questions. Contractors and tradesmen interpret that as a sign of respect. Learn all you can about the construction trades. Master the industry vocabulary. [fa builder asks you about a birdstnouth, a blank stare earns no respect. Ask tradesmen about their work. Much of what I know I picked up by being friendly, asking questions and listening carefully. Contractors appreciate your interest. Very few people have the right to come on a construction site and start asking questions. You have that right! Make the most of it.

Are You Ready for This Career Choice?

I feel some people aren't qualified by temperament to be building inspectors. If you're perceived as abrasive and hostile, you're going to be both ineffective and miserable in the job. Make an honest appraisal of your motivation and preparation for a career in code enforcement:

  • Are you prepared for the inevitable changes in lifestyle? For example, many construction contractors make more than most building inspectors. Are you comfortable with that? Are you prepared to work fixed hours?

  • Will your family support a new career choice?

  • Do you enjoy watching and participating in construction work?

  • Do you stop on the way to work to watch a house being built?

  • Do you enjoy looking at construction plans?

  • If you're not involved in construction, have you participated in any construction projects?

  • Do you enjoy working with construction tools and equipment? Did you do well in shop classes in school?

  • Can you anticipate at least some problems in a construction project before work begins?

  • Are you highly organized and efficient in your daily life?

  • Are you detail oriented comfortable following rules and procedures exactly?

  • Do you have a good memory?

  • Are you comfortable discussing an issue with others before reaching a decision?

  • Can you function effectively under stress?

  • Are you persuasive? Can you convince others to follow Your suggestions?

  • How do you deal with your own mistakes? With mistakes made by others? Do you fix the problem, or affix the blame?

  • How do you react to confrontations?

  • Are you confident about your success in this career?

  • Are you safety conscious?

  • Do you understand that a career in code compliance and enforcement requires a major personal commitment?

  • Do you know any building inspectors? Does their lifestyle appeal to you?

Now, let's look at the role you'll play if you get the job. You'll wear many hats as a code enforcement professional. Ideally, you'll be assigned responsibilities that match your background and level of knowledge. Most building inspectors wear two hats, one as the code police and a second as a teacher (or student). As a building safety expert, your decisions will normally be final. When wearing the enforcement hat, be careful about giving an opinion without careful thought. Avoid making commitments beyond your scope of authority. And since no building inspector knows everything about construction, you'll also be a student from time to time.

Know the Code

You'll never stop learning about the code because it's constantly changing. Every time someone dies or is injured in a building failure, whether from fire, wind or earthquake, there's a lesson to be learned. If a death or injury was avoidable, as a Building Official, you have the authority to propose changes to the code. Most of what you read in the ICC can be understood as an attempt to prevent repetition of mistakes made in an earlier time by others.

I recommend that you learn both what the code says and why it's that way. This book is loaded with the "why" of what's in the code the history of code development. I think this is interesting. Even if you don't agree, knowing the "why" will help you respond to questions from builders. If you don't know the reason for some provision in the code requirement, your only answer to an objection will be, "Because it says so." An answer like that usually ends in a debate on government meddling in business. If you're more interested in compliance than debating points, understand the reason for the rule as well as you understand the rule. Most builders, once they understand the reason, will find a way to comply, with little or no objection.

Most of Chapter 2 of this book is devoted to the history of code development. I consider this information an essential part of your preparation for both the interview and the job. Ever, code expert needs to know how the code came to be the whys and wherefores.

You'll encounter conflicts between different codes and even within the same code. Generally these inconsistencies will be a matter of interpretation. But when the contractor shows you a code section that seems to support his claim, and you've just shown him one that supports your position, you have a problem. In most all these cases, it comes down to intent. What was the goal of the code writers on this issue? You need to know. If the goal is still achieved by the contractor's interpretation, I recommend going along.

You'll also need to know about the more obscure parts of the code, like Special Inspection and Structural Observation. For example, some buildings will be subject to demolition if dangerous conditions are present. How do you know what to look for? What happens when the building code seems to conflict with industry standards? Which prevails?

Record Keeping

Another role for the building inspector: very careful record keeping. You'll be making decisions that affect public safety, including some life-or-death matters. Nearly every decision will affect a contractor's profit or loss on the job. Ever, dispute is a potential lawsuit. You need a written record of what you observed and what you decided. You're not going to remember what happened on a job several years ago. But if you're called into court, every judge will permit a witness to "refresh" his or her recollection by referring to notes made just after the event occurred. You don't want to be on the witness stand trying to remember what you found on a jobsite one morning two years ago and what you told the contractor. You visit dozens of jobs every week. Your memory isn't that good. And these records must be legible clear enough to be read and understood by someone else should that need arise. A judge isn't going to be impressed with your halting guesses at what you might have meant by the scribbles you put in a ledger some time back — and neither will your supervisor.

People Skills

Your inspection standards should, as nearly as possible, match the inspection standards of every other inspector in your office. The results of any inspection shouldn't depend on who was assigned to the job. Uniform code enforcement is important. Since you'll most likely be just one of a team of inspectors, it's important that you and the other inspectors apply the same standards and issue the same messages to contractors. You'll have many opportunities to coordinate and harmonize standards with other inspectors.

Just as every thumbprint is different, every inspector is different. Each of us probably has our own special "thing" that bugs us when it's done wrong. We look for it and we clamp down when we see it. Maybe you get especially upset when carpenters forget the expansion joints in roof sheathing you keep telling them and
they keep forgetting it and it so bugs you. The next inspector actually counts nails and will fail a job if a sheet is a nail short.

Pretty soon, the building community gets to know which inspector watches for expansion joints and which inspector will let expansion joints slide. Builders find a way to get the inspector they prefer. That's poor policy in any building department. All builders in your community should understand that inspectors in your office follow uniform standards. In the same vein, it's not fair to the builder if one inspector fails the job for lack of expansion joints and the second inspection is done by Mr. Nail Counter.

Learn the fine art of maintaining professional and yet personal relationships within the construction community. This requires walking a fine line. No matter how carefully you walk that line, there will be complaints about your inspections. You're in the code enforcement business. Those getting enforced can't be expected to like it. But avoid making adversaries out of the contractors you deal with. Keep in mind the expression, "Pick your battles." It's common among inspectors. Some confrontations simply aren't worth the effort and the bad feelings. Avoid nitpicking every little defect. Save your ammunition until something truly important needs to be fixed.

Occasionally you'll be asked to resolve a dispute between an owner and a builder. While this is a compliment — they believe in your expertise and trust your judgment and impartiality — it can also be a minefield. You don't know what was in the contract, you don't know what has already taken place, and you don't know contract law. In these cases, just state what you do know, which is what the code requires. If you know the code section, cite it by section number. If you have an opinion that goes beyond what's in the code or the reason for the rule, I recommend keeping that opinion to yourself. Resist the temptation to play Hammurabi.

Communication Skills

Suppose you're talking to a builder over the phone about a project. Try to visualize the work. Seeing it in person is, of course, far better. But most inspectors don't have the luxury of buzzing across town to have a look in person.
Sometimes the phone is your only option. Good communication skills come with practice and experience. But half of good communication involves listening carefully and asking the right questions. The contractor has a mental picture of what he or she is describing. You'll have a second picture. Ideally, those two mental pictures will coincide.

Occasionally you'll have a code question that can't be resolved — even after your explanation of the rule and the reason for the rule. If the builder still insists that you're off base, it's probably time to call in your supervisor, referred to as the "building official" in the code. I'll talk more about that in later chapters.

So, if you think you can handle all these things, and would enjoy being a code enforcement official, read on. If you've decided this is what you want to do, let's deal with getting you the job.

Getting the Job

Building inspectors, plans examiners, permit technicians and building officials are hired by public agencies such as a city, county, parish, state, or commonwealth. You get the job by demonstrating qualifications superior to other candidates. Hiring is, for the most part, similar to hiring in the private sector. One significant difference is that there are more rules.

Openings and Applications

Most openings must be advertised for a certain amount of time. Applications are usually screened by a Human Resources Department (HR) in the agency and then forwarded to the hiring authority.

To get past the initial screening, he sure your application is complete. If you meet the minimum qualifications for the position, you'll be certified and your name will be put on what's typically called the Cert List. The HR department head will usually ask the building official to help pick candidates to interview from this list. Generally, the list will be short enough that all candidates get an interview. But in larger municipalities, and when the competition is greater, only the best-qualified candidates will be grunted an interview.

The Interview

When you're called for an interview, listen to the instructions carefully. To prepare, get a copy of the code being enforced. Study any sections that aren't familiar to you. Take notes. Study guides offered by the ICC cover subjects likely to be discussed in a placement interview.

Many publications offer suggestions for job interviews. My suggestion is to simply be yourself. Don't try to over-impress. HR people read those books too. And they'll know when you're repeating something you've been coached to say. If you're given any instructions to prepare for the interview, follow them closely. The interview panel that wrote instructions for the interview is sure to favor applicants who follow those instructions. Your preparation and cooperadon assure the panel that you understand the importance of following instructions.

If you have the opportunity, try to get an early appointment. Interviewers are fresher in the morning. By afternoon, the panel will be tired of asking the same questions and hearing many of the some answers. Expect the questions to be similar for most applicants. This is a fair practice and gives each candidate the same opportunity to understand the nature of a question. Don't be surprised at how structured the interview is. For example, if you don't understand a question, the interviewer may only be permitted to repeat the question once, with no further explanation. If you don't get it, then that's part of the test. The interviewer wants to see if your understanding is on the same level as that of the other candidates. Study the glossary in the back of this book to brush up on construction terms.

Think carefully before you answer any question. Many questions will test your professional competence. For example, you'll probably be asked for a summary of your experience in construction. Have you supervised construction? Or did you just work as a carpenter?

Don't give in to the temptation to embellish on your experience. Construction is a trade. There's nothing subtle or theoretical about working on a jobsite. Either you worked as a foreman or you didn't. Don't exaggerate. You'll get caught right away. That's worse than admitting a lack of experience. But be thorough in describing your knowledge and your understanding of construction work. If you don't have practical experience in a particular area, talk about your general knowledge of construction. We've all helped neighbors or friends with a project that was above our skill level. and learned from it.

"If you have the opportunity, try to get an early appointment. Interviewers are fresher in the morning."

Give detailed answers. Leave no doubt about your knowledge and understanding of the code. If you're asked to identify five places in a house where ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are required. don't stop at five. Impress the panel with your thoroughness and knowledge. Offer other examples: Kitchen, bathrooms, laundry utility and bar, garages (unless on a dedicated circuit), outdoors at grade, crawl space, unfinished basement, boat houses and bar sinks. The interviewers don't expect a novice to know everything. But they will be impressed by a desire to learn. So show your interest.

Every interview will include an opportunity to describe qualifications. Use this time to describe why you want to become a building inspector. The interviewers probably are, or were, inspectors. Typically, they really like their jobs and are proud of the profession. Communicate how much you want to be part of that. Use anecdotes to explain your respect for building safety. Maybe your respect is based on your first building project when you received help from an inspector. You really appreciated that and want to return the favor by helping others. You could explain that you've worked in construction for several years and want a professional position. Expand on that by explaining that you want to give back to the community.

Code enforcement staff usually consists of a plans examiner- plans technicians, various inspectors, a permit technician and clerical staff. Each has unique duties and responsibilities in code enforcement. Each coordinates work with other staff members. Whether you're a builder or a building inspector, you need to understand each position and its relationship to other positions.


The building official is the ultimate authority in every building department office and is responsible for code enforcement. The building official delegates duties to the building department staff. In the remainder of this chapter, I'll describe the responsibilities of principal staff members. In later chapters I'll expand on these descriptions.

Plans Examiner

A plans examiner reviews construction drawings to be sure they comply with the code. A building official or inspector may consult with a plans examiner for building code advice. Most of what a plans examiner does is completed in the department office. Occasionally a plans examiner may have to visit a construction site or consult with the designer, engineer, architect, general contractor, developer, or builder.

Building Inspector

Inspectors perform inspections on the job-site, inspecting each stage of construction for compliance with building codes and approved plans. An inspector may also have to consult with the plans examiner or the building official. The plans examiner reviews only words and lines on paper. The inspector sees the finished product. The building official may call for an inspectors opinion to get a clear understanding of the job.

Permit Technician

A builder who walks up to the counter at the building department will be dealing with a permit technician. The permit technician is the "face" of the building department. At least initially, the public will judge the building department by the personality and manner of the permit technician. A permit technician's tasks include answering questions, either over the counter or over the phone, and making limited plan reviews. The permit technician will also:

  • process permit applications and proposed plans

  • maintain records and do research for other staff members

  • stock and maintain handouts and flyers on department policy

  • work with engineers, architects and builders in the application and review process

  • help resolve disputes and defuse angry customers

Hopefully (and usually), all of these staff positions work together and in hansom-, contributing to completion of projects that comply with the code and can be certified as safe. If one inspector misses a violation, another inspector will probably catch the error. But at least some minor code violations remain in virtually every completed project. The goal is to discriminate between significant code violations that impact safety and technical violations that pose no risk of harm.

The Organization of This Book

That completes the preliminaries. The next nine chapters will cover operation of the building department. If you're a builder, don't dismiss the value of this information. True, most of what you find here doesn't relate to passing inspections. (We'll get to that in Chapter 10.) But any builder who has to deal with a building department will benefit from knowing how that department works. If your relations with building department staff leave something to be desired, or if your requests seem to rate low priority, if your appeals fall on deaf ears, I recommend studying the next nine chapters.

Chapter 2 takes a look at code background and development.

Chapter 3 discusses the organization of a typical building department.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 cover details of different jobs in building code enforcement plans examiner, building inspector, and permit technician.

Chapter 7 has advice from experienced inspectors.

Chapter 8 describes characteristics of an effective code enforcement official.

Chapter 9 has some rules for inspectors to follow.

Chapter 10 explains why builders should consider inspectors part of the construction team.

Chapter 11 is my summary of the most common code violations.

Chapter 12 covers code organization, intent and scope.

Chapters 13 through 25 have detailed checklists for each of the major building code inspections. For example, during the footing inspection (Chapter 13), the depth and width of the concrete must be checked. But what about an electrical ground connection to the footing steel? Or what about the required lap in sections of reinforcement steel? During framing, what does it mean to verify the center spacing of rafters? What's the difference between structural blocking and fire blocking? Where does the code require each to be installed? During a plumbing inspection, can a sanitary tee be used on its back? What support is required for floor decking? What nailing pattern is required for roof sheathing or wall siding? How do you check for a proper polarity installation of outlets during a final inspection?

I'll answer all these questions and hundreds more. I'll offer tips on what to look for and cite the code section that applies. With that information you can look it up and read the whole paragraph. Whether you're a builder or a building inspector, you'll have the information needed to make a persuasive argument.

If you're a building inspector, the last 13 chapters will provide valuable information. You won't have to page through a 600-page volume of fine print looking for the proof you need. If you're a contractor, conduct your own inspection while work is still going forward. Don't go on doing work that won't, or can't, be approved. Make corrections before calling for inspection. Preventing just one small error will save many times the cost of this manual.

Finally

Throughout this manual I'm going to assume that you have the IRC open to the section I'm discussing. Time and again, I'll guide you to the code section or table that has what you need to know. But I'm not going to quote long code sections or reproduce entire tables from the code. That's not my purpose. There's no substitute for the IRC. I won't suggest otherwise. In addition to this manual, you need access to a copy of the IRC.

I'll admit also that no single reference book can make you an authority on the building code. For that, you'll need to stir in a few years of experience. But I'll insist that this manual will help you make exceptionally rapid progress along the path of your chosen career, whether that career is in code enforcement (as an inspector) or code compliance (as a contractor).

BUILDING CODE COMPLIANCE FOR CONTRACTORS & INSPECTORS

An answer book for both contractors and building inspectors, this manual explains what it takes to pass inspections under the 2009 International Residential Code. It includes a code checklist for every trade, covering some of the most common reasons why inspectors reject residential work - in footings, foundations, slabs, framing, sheathing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, energy conservation and final inspection.

Knowing in advance what the inspector wants to see gives contractors an (almost unfair) advantage. To pass inspection, just go down the checklists in this manual before the inspector arrives. Even better, use this manual as a guide to what constitutes good construction practice — and is almost certain to pass inspection.

This manual will be worth many times the cover price:

  • If your fingers are crossed every time an inspector walks on the job.

  • If failed inspections are an embarrassing waste of time and money.

  • If you want to build a reputation for professional-quality work.

  • If you need to improve relations with code-enforcement personnel.

The author steps you through the entire permit process, item by item — permit processing, plan review, zoning, site development, all the trades associated with construction, including: architectural, structural, energy efficiency, plumbing, mechanical and electrical aspects of the IRC. It also includes the unwritten rules recommended for both contractors and inspectors:

  • Tips for developing good relations with the building inspector.

  • What to do and what to avoid when your job doesn't pass inspection.

  • What to do if you feel you're being treated unfairly (appeals).

  • Where the inspector has latitude and when it doesn't pay to argue.

  • Dozens of tips to ensure you pass the next inspection.

  • Who to ask for at the building department when you need help.

But this is more than a guide to code-compliance. It's also a handbook for building inspectors and anyone interested in a code enforcement career. The author explains how to qualify yourself for a job at the local building department, how to sail through the examination and interview process, and what it takes to be an effective code enforcement official.

If your work requires getting permits and passing inspections, put this manual to work on your next job.

The Author:
Lynn Underwood is Chief Building Official for Norfolk, Virginia. He has been a code enforcement official for nearly 30 years, holds a dozen certifications, including plans examiner, building, plumbing, mechanical and electrical inspector, and has conducted thousands of on site inspections. There's a lifetime of code-compliance and enforcement savvy between the covers of this informative manual.