Getting Along with Your Code Officials

Filed in Codes and Standards by on June 24, 2014 3 Comments

building codesAs the International Code Council’s (ICC) remote voting program, cdpAccess, begins to gather steam, NAHB is encouraging all members to get to know their code officials. Norfolk, Va., Building Official and ICC board member Lynn Underwood is our guest blogger today with a few helpful tips.

Home builders have a lot of stress day to day. You interact with a lot of difficult people. What if I could help you with your relationship with your building inspector?

Thirty years ago, I was a builder just like you. I suffered agonizing inspection visits and dreaded the results. Then after becoming an inspector, I learned how to better understand how each side works.

For starters, there are a few basic rules about inspections. You want your inspector to know that you take the process seriously.

  • Always walk the project before you call for the inspection and make sure it is ready.
  • Always have an address and the permit record visibly displayed.
  • Always have the approved plan available for the inspector.
  • Walk the project with the inspector.
  • Turn your cell phone on vibrate.

Realize that you both want the same thing: building safety. Then focus on how each of you approaches that goal. Usually, inspectors are looking for a brief list of high-impact code violations along each stage of construction. Ask them what’s important to them. Listen and take notes.

Second, when you are rejected, ask for the code section so that you can learn the requirements. Buy a code book and use it to look up all those errors. Ask questions. Make sure you understand exactly what the inspector is asking you to do. Use active listening; repeat what you think was said.

Third, be respectful. Remember, you’re not the only one with added stress. It is also much easier for the inspector to work with you when you’re not hostile.

Finally, agree to make the corrections. Request a mutually convenient time for a re-inspection. Make sure all the corrections are made before they arrive.

Over all other considerations, be polite and professional. If you think the inspector is wrong, never say that. Instead, ask questions about the requirement that was cited.

Most inspectors have some construction experience and might prejudice their code inspection with their penchant for construction quality. Gently probe the intent. Did the inspector say I must add that anchor? Or would he or she just like to see an extra one? Get clarity and a mutual understanding of expectations.

You’re on the same team here: You and the inspector are partners for better building.

Get more tips at nahb.org/codedevelopment. You can also contact Neil Burning for details.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Great comments Neil. I’d like to add a few additional suggestions based upon my 25 years of code enforcement experience and 14 years of construction experience.

    Most inspectors want to pass your inspection the first time. A failed inspection adds to the inspector’s workload just as it adds to yours so working as a team is essential. There are those inspectors that have a chip on their shoulder just as there are builders walking around with chips. No profession is immune from bad attitudes; however, the inspector works for the citizens in their jurisdiction and accordingly, should behave in a manner that the citizens would be proud of.

    In those rare occasions where you think an inspector is requiring things that are not in the code or going out of their way to make your life miserable, step back and reflect for a moment. Is it possible that perhaps you might be doing something to cause the inspector to act that way? If you can honestly say that the inspector has no justification for their behavior you have two choices. You can either put up with it or you can let their superiors know about it.

    As a manager of several inspectors, I appreciate hearing from builders when they think an inspector has “gone rogue.” It allows me to talk with the inspector and see if there’s anything I can do from a management perspective to assist or if perhaps there’s a personnel issue that I need to deal with. I counsel my inspectors about professional behavior, keeping opinions to themselves and being reasonable in their enforcement of the code.

    My inspectors understand their role as one of partnership with the builder, sometimes a mentor and sometimes a student. Very few inspectors are experts in all trades but instead most are generalists who appreciate learning the intricacies of construction. Work together. Learn from each other. Don’t be upset if your inspector can’t promise a particular time of day for your inspection. Most inspectors will make 12-20 stops a day so it’s often impossible to know in advance when they can arrive at your job.

  2. This is some really good information about building codes. I liked what you said about how it would be smart to plan for the inspector. That does seem like it would be smart because it could help speed up the process is. Also, it might be smart to know what the building codes are for your home and area.

  3. Millie Hue says:

    Thanks for pointing out that we must be list down anything that they find important and can be a violation. I will keep that in mind to ensure that the property we bought will be compliant. We hope to hire a trusted inspected because of that, and we will ensure that any repairs needed will be addressed before we open it to tenants.

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