Feedback on Building Inspectors

A reader who successfully navigated the process of building his own house offers a more generous view of building inspectors in response to those expressed in an earlier article.

| November/December 1974

  • 030 building inspectors - laska_love - Fotolia
    The purpose of building inspectors is to protect the public by ensuring that buildings are safe.

  • 030 building inspectors - laska_love - Fotolia

I wish to take exception to a single sentence in Les Scher's chapter on "Building and Health Codes" (see "Meet Local Building Codes When You Build Your Own Home"), mainly for the attitude it expresses. The author states, in connection with the building inspector, "The most important part of his job is collecting the fees and that is his primary concern." While that may, unfortunately, be true in some cases, I look on inspectors as a resource and as potential friends ... who are nonetheless capable of giving me quite a bit of trouble and must be treated with respect.

Basically, electrical, building, heating and plumbing inspectors are there to protect the public. Their job is to ensure that a building is safe and that no part of it endangers anyone's life. If their work has been done correctly, you're assured that any house you buy will meet a certain standard in regard to the fundamentals.

If you're building your own home, the inspector will force you to do it right and make the structure safe. His supervision means that the finished product—while it may be an aesthetic nightmare—is at least habitable and, in the long run, capable of being sold to someone else—as it will be eventually, since houses typically outlast their builders and first owners. And, even if you don't give a hang about whoever may live there next, careful use of increasingly scarce timber to fabricate a home that will last a hundred years or more makes good ecological sense.

As for the inspector himself ... well, work with him, riot against him, get to know the guy if you can. Tell him what you're up to and let him see that you're concerned about doing the job right. Ask his advice. In my experience, inspectors tend to be older people, and the elderly are flattered by having their opinions sought.

I'm not suggesting hypocrisy (not everyone soaks up knowledge with the passing years) but many such officials have been around for a while and will likely tell you what you need to know or will gladly refer you to someone who can. Chances are the inspector deals mostly with building contractors—maybe he was once a contractor himself—and both he and they are often long-established members of the community. Need a 6 X 6 timber for a support beam? Ask Mr. Inspector where to procure one. He'll probably know which farmers sell wood on the side, if there's no sawmill or lumberyard in the area. Be courteous and gracious. Simple!

It's true that many inspectors tend to be conservative—some to extremes—and that can be a problem if you're into novel techniques of construction which differ from what is customary in the area. It's fine by me, though, since I'm not interested in new housing methods. I just want to be able to sell a place quickly and at a profit if and when I change jobs (and not all my job changes have been by my own choice).


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