Building inspectors and contractors share the same target: to complete a build safely and efficiently so that they can satisfy the homeowner. While there has historically been a disconnect between the two parties, there’s a set of guidelines that should ensure you and your building inspector are on the same page.
Learn the Code
As a contractor, purchase and learn the ICC code manuals. Knowing the code will help you pass inspection, and given the available resources, it’s easier now than ever before. Often, municipalities will provide classes to supplement online courses to help contractors understand the codes and their updates better.
Discuss the Modification or Alternative Option
Sections “R104.10 Modifications” and “R104.11 Alternative Materials, Design and Methods of Construction and Equipment” are two sections of the IRC manual that focus solely on the exemptions to the rules or allowances.
As a contractor, you should take the time to call the inspector and discuss the alternatives ahead of an inspection.
As a contractor, you should take the time to call the inspector and discuss the alternatives ahead of an inspection. Doing so will give due time for both parties to consider and explore the benefits, merits, and consequences of moving forward with an alternative.
Unfortunately, some inspectors are not used to considering the intent of the code. Hence, they rarely have room for deviances from it, even if a section was included for a specific case. Therefore, it’s important to clear it in advance. Just the fact of asking for permission in advance will give you better chances of it being granted as opposed to introducing the request to your inspector on the day.
Ask the Question
Lynn Underwood, Head Building Official, the City of Norfolk VA, states that a contractor should “truly recognize the building inspector is the subject matter expert. If a contractor doesn't understand, ask the inspector to explain.” The days have passed when building inspectors were reluctant to engage, and they’re now trained to communicate better with contractors.
By asking respectful questions, contractors can also prove that they’re genuinely trying to understand the code and comply with it. Building inspectors do take a contractor’s willingness into account.
Schedule Inspections at the Right Time
Inspections should be arranged once the contractor is ready for them to move forward uninterrupted. Inspectors usually have busy schedules and can have back to back appointments at multiple sites. You will without a doubt alienate an inspector if underprepared.
Inspections should be arranged once the contractor is ready for them to move forward uninterrupted.
Building inspectors are often stationed within seriously understaffed departments—44 percent of building inspectors in the U.S. are employed by county or municipal governments. As a result, they value efficiency highly. Be sure to have the necessary documentation ready in case it’s needed and share your business correspondence details to demonstrate your commitment to the process.
Join a Trade Association
Joining a trade association will give contractors a voice in their industry as well as a platform for sharing the relevant information and experiences. Furthermore, there have been instances of imposing changes after like-minded industry members joined forces.
Another benefit of joining a trade association is the chance to introduce yourself to building inspectors—most of whom are happy to attend and present the requirements for passing inspection. Some ICC chapters also offer various discounts on courses and training as well as the space to lobby or request certain code alterations.
Veering away from the historical tension between building inspector and contractor would not only benefit the speed at which you can safely complete your project but also strengthen the relationship for the industry.
Some simple self-education on codes, courtesy and communication, preparation and punctuality, and genuine curiosity will go a long way in ensuring you pass your building inspection and extend your network. Joining a trade association, on the other hand, will improve your understanding of the industry and buoy interactions with building inspectors in a neutral, relaxed environment.