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Construction and building inspectors examine the construction, alteration, or repair of buildings, highways and streets, sewer and water systems, dams, bridges, and other structures to ensure compliance with building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations, and contract specifications. Inspectors generally specialize in one particular type of construction work or construction trade, such as electrical work or plumbing. They make an initial inspection during the first phase of construction, and follow-up inspections throughout the construction project to monitor compliance with regulations. In areas where severe natural disasters-such as earthquakes or hurricanes-are more common, inspectors monitor compliance with additional safety regulations.
Building inspectors inspect the structural quality and general safety of buildings. Some specialize-for example, in structural steel or reinforced concrete structures. Before construction begins, plan examiners determine whether the plans for the building or other structure comply with building code regulations and are suited to the engineering and environmental demands of the building site. Inspectors visit the work site before the foundation is poured to inspect the soil condition and positioning and depth of the footings. Later they return to the site to inspect the foundation after it has been completed. The size and type of structure and the rate of completion determine the number of other site visits they must make. Upon completion of the entire project, they make a final comprehensive inspection.
A primary concern of building inspectors is fire safety. They inspect structure's fire sprinklers, alarms, and smoke control systems, as well as fire doors and exits. In addition, inspectors may calculate fire insurance rates by assessing the type of construction, building contents, adequacy of fire protection equipment, and risks posed by adjoining buildings.
Electrical inspectors inspect the installation of electrical systems and equipment to ensure that they function properly and comply with electrical codes and standards. They visit work sites to inspect new and existing wiring, lighting, sound and security systems, motors, and generating equipment. They also inspect the installation of the electrical wiring for heating and air-conditioning systems, appliances, and other components.
Elevator inspectors examine lifting and conveying devices such as elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, lifts and hoists, inclined railways, ski lifts, and amusement rides.
Mechanical inspectors inspect the installation of the mechanical components of commercial kitchen appliances, heating and air-conditioning equipment, gasoline and butane tanks, gas and oil piping, and gas-fired and oil-fired appliances. Some specialize in inspecting boilers or ventilating equipment as well.
Plumbing inspectors examine plumbing systems, including private disposal systems, water supply and distribution systems, plumbing fixtures and traps, and drain, waste, and vent lines.
Public works inspectors ensure that Federal, State, and local government construction of water and sewer systems, highways, streets, bridges, and dams conforms to detailed contract specifications. They inspect excavation and fill operations, the placement of forms for concrete, concrete mixing and pouring, asphalt paving, and grading operations. They record the work and materials used so that contract payments can be calculated. Public works inspectors may specialize in highways, structural steel, reinforced concrete, or ditches. Others specialize in dredging operations required for bridges and dams or for harbors.
Home inspectors conduct inspections of newly built homes to check that they meet all regulatory requirements. Home inspectors are also increasingly hired by prospective home buyers to inspect and report on the condition of a home's major systems, components, and structure. Typically, home inspectors are hired either immediately prior to a purchase offer on a home or as a contingency to a sales contract.
Construction and building inspectors increasingly use computers to help them monitor the status of construction inspection activities and keep track of permits issued. Details about construction projects, building and occupancy permits, and other documentation are now generally stored on computers so that they can easily be retrieved and kept accurate and up to date.
Although inspections are primarily visual, inspectors often use tape measures, survey instruments, metering devices, and test equipment such as concrete strength measurers. They keep a daily log of their work, take photographs, file reports, and, if necessary, act on their findings. For example, construction inspectors notify the construction contractor, superintendent, or supervisor when they discover a code or ordinance violation or something that does not comply with the contract specifications or approved plans. If the problem is not corrected within a reasonable or specified period of time, government inspectors have authority to issue a "stop-work" order.
Many inspectors also investigate construction or alterations being done without proper permits. Violators of permit laws are directed to obtain permits and submit to inspection.
Construction and building inspectors usually work alone. However, several may be assigned to large, complex projects, particularly because inspectors specialize in different areas of construction. Though they spend considerable time inspecting construction work sites, inspectors may spend much of their time in a field office reviewing blueprints, answering letters or telephone calls, writing reports, and scheduling inspections.
Inspection sites are dirty and may be cluttered with tools, materials, or debris. Inspectors may have to climb ladders or many flights of stairs, or may have to crawl around in tight spaces. Although their work is not considered hazardous, inspectors usually wear "hard hats" for safety.
Inspectors normally work regular hours. However, if an accident occurs at a construction site, inspectors must respond immediately and may work additional hours to complete their report.
Construction and building inspectors held about 64,000 jobs in 1994. Over 50 percent worked for local governments, primarily municipal or county building departments. Employment of local government inspectors is concentrated in cities and in suburban areas undergoing rapid growth. Local governments employ large inspection staffs, including many plan examiners or inspectors who specialize in structural steel, reinforced concrete, boiler, electrical, and elevator inspection.
About 18 percent of all construction and building inspectors worked for engineering and architectural services firms, conducting inspections for a fee or on a contract basis. Most of the remaining inspectors were employed by the Federal and State governments. Many construction inspectors employed by the Federal Government work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the General Services Administration. Other Federal employers include the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Interior.
Individuals who want to become construction and building inspectors should have a thorough knowledge of construction materials and practices in either a general area, like structural or heavy construction, or in a specialized area, such as electrical or plumbing systems, reinforced concrete, or structural steel. Construction or building inspectors need several years of experience as a manager, supervisor, or craft worker before becoming inspectors. Many inspectors have previously worked as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, or pipefitters.
Employers prefer to hire inspectors who have formal training as well as experience. Employers look for persons who have studied engineering or architecture, or who have a degree from a community or junior college, with courses in construction technology, blueprint reading, mathematics, and building inspection. Courses in drafting, algebra, geometry, and English are also useful. Most employers require inspectors to have a high school diploma or equivalent even when they qualify on the basis of experience.
Certification can enhance an inspector's opportunities for employment and advancement to more responsible positions. Most States and cities actually require some type of certification for employment. To become certified, inspectors with substantial experience and education must pass stringent examinations on code requirements, construction techniques, and materials. Many categories of certification are awarded for inspectors and plan examiners in a variety of disciplines, including the designation "CBO," Certified Building Official. (Organizations that administer certification programs are listed below in the section on Sources of Additional Information.)
Construction and building inspectors must be in good physical condition in order to walk and climb about construction sites. They also must have a driver's license. In addition, Federal, State, and many local governments may require that inspectors pass a civil service examination.
Construction and building inspectors usually receive most of their training on the job. At first, working with an experienced inspector, they learn about inspection techniques; codes, ordinances, and regulations; contract specifications; and record keeping and reporting duties. They usually begin by inspecting less complex types of construction, such as residential buildings, and then progress to more difficult assignments. An engineering or architectural degree is often required for advancement to supervisory positions.
Because they advise builders and the general public on building codes, construction practices, and technical developments, construction and building inspectors must keep abreast of changes in these areas. Many employers provide formal training programs to broaden inspectors' knowledge of construction materials, practices, and techniques. Inspectors who work for small agencies or firms that do not conduct training programs can expand their knowledge and upgrade their skills by attending State- sponsored training programs, by taking college or correspondence courses, or by attending seminars sponsored by the organizations that certify inspectors.
Employment of construction and building inspectors is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Growing concern for public safety and improvements in the quality of construction should continue to stimulate demand for construction and building inspectors. Despite the expected employment growth, most job openings will arise from the need to replace inspectors who transfer to other occupations or who leave the labor force. Replacement needs are relatively high because construction and building inspectors tend to be older, more experienced workers who have spent years working in other occupations.
Opportunities to become a construction and building inspector should be bet for highly experienced supervisors and craft workers who have some college education, some engineering or architectural training, or who are certified as inspectors or plan examiners. Thorough knowledge of construction practices and skills in areas such as reading and evaluating blueprints and plans are essential. Governments-particularly Federal and State-should continue to contract out inspection work to engineering, architectural and management services firms as their budgets remain tight. However, the volume of real estate transactions will increase as the population grows, and greater emphasis on home inspections should result in rapid growth in employment of home inspectors. Inspectors are involved in all phases of construction, including maintenance and repair work, and are therefore less likely to lose jobs during recessionary periods when new construction slows.
The median annual salary of construction and building inspectors was $32,300 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,200 and $43,800. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,400 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $57,500 a year. Generally, building inspectors, including plan examiners, earn the highest salaries. Salaries in large metropolitan areas are substantially higher than those in small local jurisdictions.
Construction and building inspectors combine a knowledge of construction principles and law with an ability to coordinate data, diagnose problems, and communicate with people. Workers in other occupations using a similar combination of skills include drafters, estimators, industrial engineering technicians, surveyors, architects, and construction contractors and managers.
Information about a career and certification as a construction or building inspector is available from the following model code organizations:
International Conference of Building Officials, 5360 Workman Mill Rd., Whittier, CA 90601-2298.
Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc., 4051 West Flossmoor Rd., Country Club Hills, IL 60478.
Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc., 900 Montclair Rd., Birmingham, AL 35213.
Information about a career as a home inspector is available from:
American Society of Home Inspectors, Inc., 85 West Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights, IL 60005.
For information about a career as a State or local government construction or building inspector, contact your State or local employment service.
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