Professional Role: The Residential Building Inspector

Elizabeth Tomlinson  |  4/10/2009 11:45:34 PM

What does a residential building inspector do, generally?

Before discussing what this professional does, the correct terminology for the profession must be explained. Although the terms "building official" and "building inspector" are often used interchangeably, they are in fact two different things. In Louisiana, a building official is someone appointed by the jurisdiction to be head of their building permit department. A certified building official (CBO) is someone who is certified by the International Code Council (ICC), has a basic knowledge of all codes, and by Louisiana statutes is not limited to practicing in one discipline.

There are four disciplines in residential inspection: building inspection, electrical inspection, mechanical inspection, and plumbing inspection. Most people think a "building inspector" does all four types of inspection, but a building inspector is certified in only one of the four disciplines - building.

Exemptions to the above are Master Code Professionals (MCP), a certification classification in the ICC program, and Louisiana licensed architects and engineers. These three professionals can also conduct inspections in all four disciplines, but must be registered with the Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council (LSUCCC).

For the purposes of this article, we will use the CBO designation. The CBO is an inspector usually, though not always, employed by the local government to examine residential projects under construction to ensure they are being built according to those building codes adopted by the state and/or local municipality. It is their job to make sure the health, safety, and welfare of the public is protected through ensuring adherence to the code in residential construction.

Residential inspectors are sometimes third party providers as opposed to being employees of the local jurisdiction. These third party providers are sometimes contracted through the local government. The homeowner or contractor can also hire a third party provider for inspections; this provider must follow all administrative procedures set forth by the local jurisdiction.

For what specific tasks would you seek the services of someone in this profession?

lnspections are made throughout the progress of a residential construction project. Set inspections include foundation, plumbing rough-in (before fill), submission of certificate of elevation, framing, electrical rough-in, plumbing rough-in, heating and air conditioning rough-in and the final inspections which include the final inspections of previously inspected systems at their rough-in stage, lot grading for drainage, attic ventilation, and overall completion of work. All inspections must be passed before a certificate of occupancy can be issued.

If an inspection is not passed, work must stop until that inspection has passed. At that point, the work can continue to the next stage.

It is the responsibility of the contractor to contact the CBO and arrange inspections at the appropriate intervals. This applies not just to the building contractor, but also the plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning contractors. The homeowner generally does not call for these inspections unless he or she is the building contractor.

What licenses and certifications are available in this profession and what requirements are needed to obtain these?

To perform residential inspections in Louisiana, the inspector must have a certificate of registration or a provisional certificate of registration if under the supervision of a code enforcement officer who is certified by the International Code Council (ICC). If not a CBO, MPC, or Louisiana licensed architect or engineer, the inspector must hold a certificate of registration in the specific discipline they are allowed under Louisiana law to inspect, such as Certified Electrical Inspector for electrical inspections. Specialty certificates in different fields are also available as well as a Master Code Professional (MCP) certification. The highest level of certification in the ICC is Master Code Professional.

Requirements for certificates of registration, regardless of specialty, involve the successful passage of the appropriate ICC-approved exam(s) for the discipline in which you are applying. These exams test technical code knowledge according to the 2006 International Residential Code. CBO applicants are also required to take a legal and management section. Starting January 1, 2010, the tests will be based on the 2009 International Residential Code.

How can the consumer verify that the professional has the license he/she purports to have?

The Louisiana State Uniform Construction Code Council keeps a record of all certificates of registration of building codes enforcement officers. They may be reached at http://www.dps.louisiana.gov/lsuccc or by phone at (225) 922-0817. This record will be available online in early 2009.

What license is required in Louisiana to do what type of work?

To perform residential inspections in Louisiana, the inspector must have an LSUCCC issued certificate of registration or provisional certificate of registration. Those holding a provisional certificate may practice only if under the supervision of a code enforcement officer who is certified by the International Code Council (ICC). A Louisiana license in architecture or engineering is also acceptable. Remember, inspectors holding specialty classifications can only inspect in the discipline in which they are certified.

In Louisiana, the adoption of ICC certification was enacted in January of 2007. Inspectors and building officials who were already employed by a local government prior to ICC certification were given a six month provisional period by Louisiana law to become ICC certified. The ICC recommended that the provisional period be three years and so these inspectors and building officials now have a 30 month extension on the original six month period. This equals the three years suggested by the ICC. Inspectors working for or as third party providers have no provisional period and cannot practice until they have achieved ICC certification. By July of 2010 it is expected that all inspectors and building officials will be ICC certified.

The LSUCCC does not require continuing education units (CEUs) for certificate renewal. However, to renew your LSUCCC certificate you must be current with the ICC and the ICC does require continuing education units. Anyone holding a provisional certificate is also required to obtain continuing education in his or her specific field. Additionally, licensed Louisiana architects and engineers conducting inspections must complete a specified number of CEUs in construction code enforcement. CEU requirements vary according to the certificate held.

What is the typical pay basis for this profession and what is the typical cost?

CBO and other certified inspectors are paid by the jurisdiction in which they work or by their third party provider employer. There are fees levied by the jurisdictions for inspections, but each handles the fee charges in their own way. For instance, an inspection may be charged by square footage or per inspection. Some charge for re-inspections if an inspection must be performed again due to failure the first time. Check with your local jurisdiction to determine how inspection fees area charged.

How do you become a CBO?

Most inspectors recommend that an applicant begin with applying to take the residential building inspector exam. The majority of applicants have a background in the construction field before attempting one of the exams. First-hand knowledge of the codes and code application is invaluable, though technically not necessary, in becoming a certified inspector.

In addition, some courses are taught through local community college programs or training can be obtained through the ICC or some third party providers. You can also obtain the exam outline and recommended resources through the ICC and study from these. There is no specific requirement of experience or education in order to take most Code Council examinations.

To qualify to become a CBO, you must take two ICC certification exams; the CBO Legal and Management Module and the CBO Technology Module. A CBO candidate who has already attained ICC Combination Inspector or Combination Plans Examiner status is not required to take the CBO Technology Module. An ICC Combination Inspector is required to complete two inspector level exams (both residential and commercial) for each of the four disciplines. An ICC Combination Plans Examiner is required to complete each plans examiner level exam for each of the four disciplines.

How does a residential inspector who is licensed or certified for providing service in another state get authorization to provide services in Louisiana?

This is a situation that most likely will only arise in a third party provider situation. As stated earlier, all residential inspections conducted in Louisiana must be done by an ICC certified inspector (or Louisiana licensed architect or engineer). The ICC certified inspector must register with the LSUCCC and provide proof of the LSUCCC required level of insurance.

Audio Clip: How can I avoid issues with my building inspector?

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