Construction and building inspectors ensure that construction meets local and national building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations, and contract specifications.
Construction and building inspectors typically do the following:
- Review plans to ensure they meet building codes, local ordinances, and zoning regulations
- Approve building plans that are satisfactory
- Monitor construction sites periodically to ensure overall compliance
- Use survey instruments, metering devices, and test equipment to perform inspections
- Inspect plumbing, electrical, and other systems to ensure that they meet code
- Verify alignment, level, and elevation of structures to ensure building compliance
- Issue violation notices and stop-work orders until building is compliant
- Keep daily logs, including photographs taken during inspection
- Provide written feedback related to the findings
Construction and building inspectors examine buildings, highways and streets, sewer and water systems, dams, bridges, and other structures. They also inspect electrical; heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR); and plumbing systems. Although no two inspections are alike, inspectors perform an initial check during the first phase of construction and follow-up inspections throughout the construction project. When the project is finished, they do a final, comprehensive inspection and provide written or oral feedback related to their findings.
The following are examples of types of construction and building inspectors:
Building inspectors check the structural quality and general safety of buildings. Some specialize further in structural steel or reinforced-concrete structures, for example.
Coating inspectors examine the exterior paint and coating on bridges, pipelines, and large holding tanks. Inspectors perform checks at various stages of the painting process to ensure proper coating.
Electrical inspectors examine the installed electrical systems to ensure they function properly and comply with electrical codes and standards. The inspectors visit worksites to inspect new and existing sound and security systems, wiring, lighting, motors, and generating equipment. They also inspect the installed electrical wiring for HVACR systems and appliances.
Elevator inspectors examine lifting and conveying devices, such as elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, lifts and hoists, inclined railways, ski lifts, and amusement rides. The inspections include both the mechanical and electrical control systems.
Home inspectors typically inspect newly built or previously owned homes, condominiums, townhomes, and other dwellings. Prospective home buyers often hire home inspectors to check and report on a home’s structure and overall condition. Sometimes, homeowners hire a home inspector to evaluate their home’s condition before placing it on the market.
In addition to examining structural quality, home inspectors examine all home systems and features, including roofing, exterior walls, attached garage or carport, foundation, interior, plumbing, electrical, and HVACR systems. They look for and report violations of building codes, but home inspectors do not have the power to enforce compliance with the codes.
Mechanical inspectors examine the installation of HVACR systems and equipment to ensure that they are installed and function properly. They also may inspect commercial kitchen equipment, gas-fired appliances, and boilers. Mechanical inspectors should not be confused with quality control inspectors who inspect goods at manufacturing plants.
Plan examiners determine whether the plans for a building or other structure comply with building codes. They also determine whether the structure is suited to the engineering and environmental demands of the building site.
Plumbing inspectors examine the installation of systems that ensure the safety and health of the drinking water system, piping for industrial uses, and the sanitary disposal of waste.
Public works inspectors ensure that the construction of federal, state, and local government water and sewer systems, highways, streets, bridges, and dams conform to detailed contract specifications. Workers inspect excavation and fill operations, the placement of forms for concrete, concrete mixing and pouring, asphalt paving, and grading operations. Public works inspectors may specialize in highways, structural steel, reinforced concrete, or ditches. Others may specialize in dredging operations required for bridges and dams or for harbors.
Specification inspectors ensure that construction work is performed according to design specifications. Specification inspectors represent the owner’s interests, not those of the general public. Insurance companies and financial institutions also may use their services.
Some building inspectors are concerned with fire prevention safety. Fire inspectors and investigators ensure that buildings meet fire codes.
Construction and building inspectors held about 102,300 jobs in 2012. About 47 percent were employed in government, with most working in local government. An additional 26 percent were employed in the architectural, engineering, and related services industry. About 11 percent were self-employed.
Although construction and building inspectors spend most of their time inspecting worksites, they also spend time in a field office reviewing blueprints, writing reports, and scheduling inspections.
Some inspectors may have to climb ladders or crawl in tight spaces to complete their inspections.
Inspectors typically work alone. However, several inspectors may work as a team on large, complex projects, particularly because inspectors usually specialize in different areas of construction.
Most inspectors work full time during regular business hours. However, some may work additional hours during periods of heavy construction activity. Also, if an accident occurs at a construction site, inspectors must respond immediately and may work additional hours to complete their report. Nongovernment inspectors—especially those who are self-employed—may have to work evenings and weekends. This is particularly true of home inspectors, who typically inspect homes during the day and write reports in the evening.
Most employers require inspectors to have at least a high school diploma and considerable knowledge of construction trades. Construction and building inspectors typically learn on the job. Many states and local jurisdictions require some type of license or certification.
Most employers require workers to have at least a high school diploma, even for workers who have considerable related work experience.
Employers also seek candidates who have studied engineering or architecture or who have a certificate or an associate’s degree that includes courses in building inspection, home inspection, construction technology, and drafting. Many community colleges offer programs in building inspection technology. Courses in blueprint reading, algebra, geometry, shop, and writing also are useful. Some courses in business management are helpful for those who plan to run their own inspecting business.
A growing number of construction and building inspectors are entering the occupation with a bachelor’s degree, which often can substitute for related work experience.
Training requirements vary by type of inspector, state, and local jurisdictions. In general, construction and building inspectors receive much of their training on the job, although they must learn building codes and standards on their own. Working with an experienced inspector, they learn about inspection techniques; codes, ordinances, and regulations; contract specifications; and recordkeeping and reporting duties. Supervised onsite inspections also may be a part of the training.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Because inspectors must possess the right mix of technical knowledge, work experience, and education, employers prefer applicants who have both training and experience in a construction trade. For example, many inspectors have experience working as carpenters, electricians, or plumbers. Specifically, many home inspectors combine knowledge of multiple specialties, so many of them enter the occupation having a combination of certifications and previous experience in various construction trades.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Many states and local jurisdictions require some type of license or certification. Typical requirements for licensure or certification include a certain amount of experience in the field; minimum education, such as a high school diploma; and passing a state-approved exam.
Some states have individual licensing programs for construction and building inspectors. Others may require certification by associations such as the International Code Council, International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, International Association of Electrical Inspectors, and National Fire Protection Association.
Similarly, most states require home inspectors to follow defined trade practices or obtain a state-issued license or certification. Currently, 35 states have policies regulating the conduct of home inspectors; a few states are considering adding licensure or certification requirements for home inspectors.
Home inspector license or certification requirements vary by state but may include the following:
- Minimum level of education
- Experience with inspections
- Maintain liability insurance
- Pass an exam
The exam is often based on the American Society of Home Inspectors and National Association of Home Inspectors exams. Most inspectors must renew their license every few years and take continuing education courses.
Inspectors must have a valid driver’s license because they must travel to inspection sites.
Communication skills. Home inspectors must have good communication skills in order to explain any problems they find and to help people understand what is needed to fix the problems.
Craft experience. Although not required, having experience in a related construction occupation provides inspectors with the necessary background that may help them to become certified to work in the field.
Detail oriented. Inspectors must thoroughly examine many different construction activities, often at the same time. Therefore, inspectors must pay close attention to detail so as to not overlook any items that need to be checked.
Mechanical knowledge. Inspectors use a variety of testing equipment as they check complex systems. In addition to using such equipment, they must also have detailed knowledge of how the systems operate.
Physical stamina. Inspectors are constantly on their feet and often must crawl through attics and other tight spaces. As a result, they should be somewhat physically fit.
The median annual wage for construction and building inspectors was $53,450 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $83,760.
Most inspectors work full time during regular business hours. However, some may work additional hours during periods of heavy construction activity. Also, if an accident occurs at a construction site, inspectors must respond immediately and may work additional hours to complete their report. Nongovernment inspectors—especially those who are self-employed—may have to work evenings and weekends. This is particularly true of home inspectors who typically inspect homes during the day and write reports in the evening.
About 11 percent of construction and building inspectors were self-employed in 2012, which is similar to other construction occupations.
Employment of construction and building inspectors is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Concern for public safety and a desire to improve the quality of construction should continue to increase demand for inspectors. Employment growth is expected to be strongest in government and in firms specializing in architectural, engineering, and related services.
Although employment of home inspectors should continue to grow, some states are increasingly limiting entry into the field to those with related work experience or to those who are certified. Increasingly, state and local budget constraints are forcing many jurisdictions to only hire those who have certification in multiple specialties.
Certified construction and building inspectors who can perform a variety of inspections should have the best job opportunities. Inspectors with construction-related work experience or training in engineering, architecture, construction technology, or related fields will likely also have better job prospects. In addition, inspectors with thorough knowledge of construction practices and skills, such as reading and evaluating blueprints and plans, should have better job opportunities.
Larger jurisdictions usually hire specialized inspectors with knowledge in a particular area of construction, such as electrical or plumbing. Conversely, for budgetary reasons, smaller jurisdictions typically prefer to hire combination inspectors with broad knowledge of multiple disciplines.
It was once the case that inspectors were less affected by the ups and downs of construction activity. However, significant staff cuts initiated during the recent construction downturn should result in strong competition for available jobs over the coming decade. Those who are self-employed, such as home inspectors, are more likely to be affected by economic downturns or fluctuations in the real estate market.
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