Dealing with home building inspections is an integral part of Owner Builder's job. To manage it successfully, you'll need to understand the "system" and have/develop the proper attitude.
Home building inspections are the tool that communities use to insure that homes built in their jurisdictions comply with the minimum standards they have adopted for home building. These standards are incorporated into a set of documents called the "Uniform Building Code."
To understand where the inspectors are coming from, you need to understand a little bit about the Building Codes they are enforcing.
Uniform Building Codes were developed for your protection and for the protection of the community. They seek to insure that buildings provide light, ventilation, structural integrity, adequate circulation, and reasonable safety from the hazards of fire. The more specialized electrical and plumbing codes spell out standards that provide for the safe and convenient delivery of water and electricity and for the removal of wastes.
The National Electric Code and the Uniform Plumbing Code are pretty much standard nationwide. There are several building codes in use, including The Standard Code (Southern Building Code Congress International - SBCCI), BOCA National Building Code (Building Officials and Code Administrators), the CABO One and Two Family Dwelling Code (Council of American Building Officials), and the Uniform Building Code (International Council of Building Officials - ICBO) more.
In 2003, more than 190 years of combined building and fire safety code development and30 years of anticipation for one organization to produce codes for use across the country and around the globe became a reality when BOCA, ICBO and SBCCI consolidated to become the International Code Council.
You can check with your local building official to see which, if any, of the codes are enforced in your area. In addition, you should ask for a copy of all local supplements to the standard codes which have been adopted. Local conditions often require special additions to or variations from the general code (example).
It is not necessary for you to be totally familiar with the codes. Historically, codes have been written in a somewhat confusing manner. Even professional builders who deat with home building inspectons every day sometimes have trouble interpreting the uniform building codes with confidence.
It won’t hurt for you to have a copy around for general reference. If you enjoy your home building experience and decide to carry it further (as in to become a professional home builder) you'll have to be proficient in the code(s) to become licensed in many jurisdictions.
But for now, just be aware that the interpretation of the building code in your area is up to the local building official.
HOME BUILDING INSPECTION DEPARTMENT
Whether or not you will have municipal inspections of your construction will depend on the local statues. If the local jurisdiction (city or county) has so decided, a uniform building code has been adopted, building permits are issued, and inspections are carried out to enforce the code.
There is a wide spectrum of how well any or all of these jobs are carried out, if in fact they are carried out at all. A jurisdiction may adopt a code but not do any inspections. It may hire a "building official” who's only task is to collect fees for issuing building permits.
Even when there are home building inspections, there is a wide latitude as to the quality of the inspections. Much has to do with the training and work load of the inspector. In some areas there is only one inspector who does everything - building, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing inspections. In other areas, you may find a specialist in each area.
Good inspectors can help insure that your house will be well constructed. They will hold the subcontractors accountable. The subs know what it will take to pass inspection, and they will generally perform to this standard.
It is possible that you will find some inspectors that are not up to par. Unfortunately a few occasionally let the power of their position go to their heads, and they can make your life miserable. The best advice in dealing with this type is to grin and bear it. Do whatever you have to to get it approved - even if it seems ridiculous. You'll soon be past this irritation and can look back and laugh. It'll probably make a good "war story” for you to tell.
There is also an unfortunate history (tradition?) of dishonesty and greed, especially in the last century in the big cities - inspectors expecting or even demanding a payment to pass your work. Do not bow to this extortion. Report this person to his superiors at once. If the superiors are involved, go higher. As a citizen, you owe it to yourself and to the community to rid the system of this sort of corruption.
Calling For home building Inspections
Check with your building official to see what inspections are required, when they are required, and who should call for them. It’s a good idea to call the day before you want an inspection. Generally an inspection is made the following day after you call. However, don’t expect to schedule the inspection for a particular time. Inspectors have to schedule their work so that they can make the best use of their time.
They’ll plan their itinerary depending on where there are home building inspections to be made that day. You may be the first one or the last one. There’s no way to tell. So don’t be angry if the inspector doesn’t show up when you expect him to. Don’t schedule your drywall hangers to arrive at 10:00 am because you have called for a framing inspection and you think it will be done the next morning.
Be Ready For The Home Building Inspection
If you have scheduled a home building inspection and find that the work is not completed as expected, call and cancel the inspection. Most inspectors are radio dispatched. He will appreciate not having a wasted trip which will only have to be repeated tomorrow.
If you are on the site when an inspector arrives, just be available. He’s a professional. Get out of the way and let him do his job. Don’t be overly friendly. That won’t get your job passed any more easily. It may even backfire. And by all means, don’t be belligerent or antagonistic!
If you happened to get red tagged (turned down because of a deficiency), don’t panic. It’s not the end of the world. It happens every day. You just have something that needs to be corrected.
Talk with your sub first. Chances are he’ll know just what to do. If not, and you can’t figure it out, call the inspector and get an explanation. He’ll be glad to explain what he expects to see.
Then make the changes and call him back. Make sure it’s fixed before you reinspect. This shows the inspector that you are serious about doing things correctly. Attitude counts!
PRIVATE HOME BUILDILNG INSPECTIONS
If you do not have home buildilng inspections in your area, or you do not feel like they are adequate, you can hire a private inspector to do the job. This is a great idea if you are owner building, it's your first time, and you're doing your own construction management.
Look in the Yellow Pages or call the Home Builders Association, the Association of Realtors, or the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Take a look here for a lead on other qualified residential inspectors.This may be money well spent, especially if you are still feeling inadequate about catching what needs to be caught.
BANK HOME BUILDING INSPECTIONS
In addition to municipal inspectors and if you are not building "out-of-pocket," you will probably have a bank inspector check the work before the bank issues a "draw" (a slug of cash from the construction loan commitment so you can pay some subs and suppliers).
He is not looking for code violations, but primarily for verification that work has been completed on that portion of the home for which you are seeking a construction draw. He will also check to see that the home is being built according to the plans and specs.
He doesn’t want to set up a loan for a four bedroom 3,000 square foot home, only to find that you are out there building a two bedroom bungalow. Requesting a draw is usually all you’ll have to do to trigger this inspection.
FHA, VA, AND FMHA HOME BUILDING INSPECTIONS
If you are building under any of these programs, you will have home building inspections by their inspectors in addition to the municipal inspections. Generally they come at the same point in construction as the municipal inspections.
These are fee inspections for which you will be billed. When you set up your loan under one of these programs, you will be advised as to the inspection schedule required and who to call.
These inspectors will be checking to see that your home is built in accordance with the plans and specifications they have approved and in accordance with the Minimum Property Standards published by HUD.
That's about it for inspections. We could write pages and pages of anecdotes and endless minutia. But why beat a dead horse. You've got all you need. Remember, home building is about 40% planning, 30% knowledge, and 30% common sense. Actually I just made those numbers up. But they can't be that far off!