Education and Training: High school plus training
Salary: Median—$43,670 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Building inspectors check to see that certain standards of safety and structural quality are being met in buildings. One of their major concerns is fire safety. They check fire sprinklers, fire exits, and alarm systems to see if they are in good condition. About half of all building inspectors work for local governments.
Some inspectors specialize. Electrical inspectors check the safe functioning of electrical systems. They inspect wiring, lighting, and generating systems. Elevator inspectors examine escalators, elevators, hoists, and amusement rides. Plumbing inspectors examine water supply lines and drainage systems. Public works inspectors ensure that highways, bridges, and dams comply with building codes.
When builders or land development companies want to build structures on land, they must apply to the city for a building permit. Once the city has issued the permit, an inspector, or group of inspectors, is assigned to oversee construction of the building. Usually the inspectors visit the site as each phase of construction is completed.
Before construction begins, inspectors look at the plans for the building and decide whether they meet local zoning regulations. They check that the building is an appropriate height and that the type of building is suitable to the area. They also decide whether the plans meet the engineering and environmental demands of the building site.
The inspectors check the building's foundation to make sure it is properly constructed for the type and condition of soil. They see that it is placed correctly in the ground. The site is also checked for proper drainage. As construction continues, the electrical and plumbing systems are inspected. Inspectors examine every aspect of the construction, including roofing, framing, installation of the stairways and chimneys, and the use of structural steel and reinforced concrete.
Inspectors notify the supervisor if any part of the building code is being broken.
Inspectors have to find problems quickly to avoid unnecessary costs and delays. In cases where the supervisor deliberately fails to conform to building regulations, inspectors can issue orders to stop construction. In older structures, inspectors check to see that buildings are being maintained safely. They may condemn a building, declaring it unsafe for occupancy. This situation can occur after a major fire, for example.
A person who wants to remodel a building must apply for a building permit. The local government sends out a building inspector, who will conduct regular inspections to make sure local safety standards are being met.
A growing number of building inspectors are hired by private individuals to inspect properties they intend to buy. They want to know if a building is structurally sound, if its electrical and heating systems are in good working order, and if it meets the requirements of local building codes. Such inspections have become a requirement for some mortgage companies before they will lend money to a buyer. Inspectors who are hired privately do not have authority to enforce compliance with local codes and regulations.
Education and Training Requirements
A prospective building inspector must have a high school diploma. In most places an apprenticeship and several years of experience in one of the construction trades are also required for the job. College courses in engineering or architecture are often required as well. These courses include construction technology, blueprint reading, mathematics, stress analysis, physics, and building inspection. Many specialized inspectors have experience as electricians or plumbers.
Building inspectors get most of their training on the job. By working with an experienced inspector, they learn about inspection techniques, codes, ordinances, regulations, record keeping, and reporting duties. They must be able to communicate their ideas clearly and accurately. Federal, state, and local governments require that inspectors pass a civil service examination. At least three years of experience in a construction trade is required before taking these examinations.
Getting the Job
After applicants pass civil service examinations, they should check the government job listings available at many public libraries and state employment offices. Classified ads in local newspapers or job banks on the Internet also carry information about jobs for building inspectors.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
In public agencies, advancement depends on passing the civil service examinations for higher positions. A building inspector can become a construction inspector, which requires additional knowledge and involves greater responsibility. Inspectors are assigned to large construction projects as resident inspectors. They work with the architects, engineers, and contractors to make sure the project conforms to building codes. They also assist in enforcing the plans, specifications, and technical requirements.
While the number of jobs for building inspectors varies with the amount of construction taking place in an area, the total number of jobs for inspectors is expected to grow faster than the average for all jobs through 2014. Unlike some construction workers, inspectors do not usually experience layoffs, as maintenance and renovation work continues to require regular inspection. Also, employment of inspectors by private individuals and companies to evaluate real estate will keep many employed. Many job openings will also result when workers retire or leave the field.
Building inspectors must travel daily from site to site, checking on construction. They generally work forty hours per week on a steady, year-round schedule. Usually automobiles are furnished by their employers, or mileage is paid if they use their own cars. Most construction sites are dirty and strewn with construction debris. Inspectors must be able to walk through construction sites in all stages of completion and be prepared to climb ladders, ride on platform hoists, and work many stories above the ground. They usually wear hardhats and other protective gear. Because much of their work is done outdoors, they are subject to inclement weather. Inspectors often record their findings on laptop computers, which they take with them to construction sites. They also spend time in the office reviewing blueprints and preparing reports.
Where to Go for More Information
International Code Council
5203 Leesburg Pike, Ste. 600
Falls Church, VA 22041-3401
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries for building inspectors can vary widely depending on where they work and the kind of inspection they do. The median income in 2004 was $43,670 a year. Benefits vary from area to area, but inspectors who work for the government usually receive paid holidays and vacations along with health and life insurance and retirement plans. Inspectors who work for private companies may receive the same kinds of benefits or make their own arrangements.