The inspection process is not for the faint of heart. No matter how good your contractor is, or how well you manage your own DIY project, your inspector is likely to insist on corrections. That’s their job, and frankly, there is almost always some detail to fix.
No one likes to be corrected. I won’t lie to you; some of the modifications imposed on us over the years have seemed silly, wasteful and downright maddening. I can recall being forced to make major staircase revisions due to a 1/16-inch discrepancy in riser height. Sometimes in the construction business, we wish it were a game of inches.
But in this game the rules are black and white, and in your inspector’s eyes, rarely open to interpretation. The rules maintain building standards and sometimes save lives. Today we’ll be examining typical building inspections required over the course of a project, and I’ll provide advice on how to pass the tests with flying colors, even if the rules themselves lack shades of gray.
Your inspector = your friend. The fact is, inspectors are there for your sake and the sake of future inhabitants. If you work with a general contractor, the inspector protects you by ensuring that the construction meets minimum standards and safety requirements.
If you execute the work yourself, it’s important to have someone experienced inspecting the details. Your inspector is a great resource, with a wealth of knowledge based on education and experience, and can be someone who, like a friend, is willing to share his or her vast expertise.
Number of inspections. Some small projects will require just one or two inspections. Changing out a water heater, for instance, would typically require just one quick inspection to confirm clearances and the safety of the installation. Other examples that would probably require just one inspection include furnace change-outs, air conditioning replacements, electrical panel work and some plumbing modifications.
In the following sections, we’ll review the variety of inspections that might be required for your project.
Who schedules inspections? You or your contractor will be responsible for calling and scheduling the required inspections. The plan checker will typically instruct you on the initial inspection requirements, and subsequently the inspector can communicate the next requirements. You need to be sure to clearly communicate the entire scope of your project to receive sound instruction.
Jurisdictions provide clear guidelines regarding how to go about scheduling your inspection. In many jurisdictions the inspections are now requested through automated phone or online systems.
Concrete inspections. Pier and grade beams and slabs require an inspection before the concrete is poured. The timing on this, and most of the inspections, can be determined to a great extent by common sense. Unless your inspector has X-ray vision, like Superman, it’s impossible to inspect pier depths and required structural rebar after pouring concrete.
Other concrete setups that might require inspection before pouring include footings, stem walls and retaining walls.
Utility piping inspections. Before covering trenches for underground water service, sewer laterals or electrical service, your inspector will want to look at the installations while the work is still exposed.
Your inspector will check to confirm that minimum trench depths and clearances are maintained for each of the different utility types.
Floor inspections. Joists and all underfloor plumbing, ductwork and insulation need to be inspected prior to installation of the floor sheathing material.
The inspector will look closely at joists to confirm that the material and layout match the approved structural plan details, and confirm all are properly secured, with the required hardware installed.
Exterior walls and roofs. Roof sheathing, exterior shear (plywood) and lathing inspections are all required before the installation of the roof material or exterior wall covering.
Again, inspectors will confirm that your work has been properly secured (nailed or screwed), inspecting the coverage and confirming installation of the required hardware.
Interior walls and ceilings. Before walls are insulated, a rough frame inspection is required for new framing. Your inspector will also inspect rough electrical, plumbing, mechanical, gas, interior shear and hold-down installations.
Inspectors can be extremely helpful if you’re doing your own work and have questions. If you are receptive to their advice, there is a good chance your inspector will spend extra time with you, explaining how to properly proceed with various steps of your project.
Insulation. Before installing your drywall, you will need to have the insulation inspected to confirm that it carries sufficient R-value and is installed properly.
In California, for example, R-values for ceiling, wall and underfloor insulation types are specified in energy calculations issued by energy consultants, to confirm that a home conforms to regional energy-efficiency standards.
Before the final inspection. Your inspector may need to inspect installations for drywall and ductwork, and do gas tests and shower pan tests, prior to scheduling the final inspection.
These are typically the last inspections required before that long-awaited day when your inspector pulls into your newly completed driveway and prepares to execute the final inspection.
Final inspection. Hopefully at this point, you or your contractor has created a nice rapport with your inspector, discussing revisions and details along the way. At the final inspection, your inspector will consider a wide variety of details, verifying the safety and conformity of your project.
We will specifically review many of the common final inspection requirements in next week’s final installment of this series. Whether the final inspection day runs smoothly or results in awful surprises is greatly dependent on your effective communication with the inspector throughout the process. Establishing plain old effective communication can be nearly as vital to a successful permit sign-off as the thoroughness and competence of the party or parties responsible for the work.
Other inspections. Other inspections that may be required on your home project include separate gas meter and electrical meter inspections, as new meters often cannot be installed until the final inspection for the home has been successfully completed.
Pools are usually inspected under a permit that’s separate from the one for the residential structure. The process can run concurrently with yet be separate the home inspection process. Pool inspections are often completed at pre-gunite, pre-deck and pre-plaster stages. Inspectors will check for installation of door alarms at all home exits not fenced separately from the pool by a barrier meeting minimum pool enclosure standards, including self-closing hinges at gates and height requirements.
Two tips. The first tip is, hire a reputable contractor who is familiar with requirements in your jurisdiction and with your remodel type. You don’t want to be the first client to hire a small-remodel contractor for a large new-home project.
Over time, good contractors develop relationships with inspectors built on trust and experience, and this goes a long way toward ensuring a successful approval for each of the sign-offs required on your project.
Alternatively, if you are doing your own work, you need to begin building that relationship right away. Between the two of you, there is going to be one expert, and not to be dismissive, but you’re not it.
This is not to say you don’t have the knowledge or ability, but rather you don’t have the track record. You need to establish with the inspector that you will be seeking his or her input, and will be conscientiously working to fulfill the inspector’s requirements.
Everyone wants to be respected. I suggest treating your inspector as if he or she were your mentor. You might just discover that your inspector will act like a good one.
It’s Good To know!
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- What to Look for in a Contractor’s Contract
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