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What is a building inspector?

Building inspector and woman standing outside of a building
SasinT Gallery/Getty Images
Building inspector and woman standing outside of a building
SasinT Gallery/Getty Images

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Building your dream house is an exciting project, but it is also a potentially risky endeavor if you or the construction crew isn’t up on the latest rules and regulations. Constructing a home requires navigating a fair amount of red tape and making sure everything is done properly, following local and federal standards. Failing to do so would put you and your family at risk — and possibly other families and homes around you as well.

Enter the building inspector. These government employees review plans and visit sites to ensure all local and national building codes and regulations are being met. If the project does not meet the standards, the building inspector can shut down or delay your dream home, before it is even finished.

What is a building inspector?

A building inspector is a professional employed by a city or municipality to enforce all relevant safety standards for construction projects, both commercial and residential.

“A building inspector is a person who works for the local government whose job it is to enforce the international building code, and any specific local building and safety codes when building a new home or making any significant remodeling or upgrades to the property,” explains Mike Riso, Strategic Real Estate Advisor at Real Estate Bees.

In most cases, building inspectors have passed an examination or other form of certification issued by a local municipality to ensure they are qualified to examine construction sites and enforce ordinances.

What does a building inspector do?

Building inspectors visit the site of construction projects, including new homes and buildings or locations undergoing major renovations and upgrades. They inspect the premises to ensure that all work being done is up to code, enforcing specific local ordinances as well as state and federal regulations.

Their job involves looking into a variety of different areas, from mechanical to structural.

For a residence, the wiring and any electrical equipment, HVAC system, foundation, roof, siding, garage and plumbing will all get a going-over by the building inspector, or inspectors.

According to Riso, there are typically trade-specific inspectors who will come out to investigate each section of construction. “Each little section of the project usually requires a different building inspector because there are so many details to know and enforce trade-by-trade,” Riso explains. “The electric building inspector is a specialist on the electrical code,” and so forth.

The inspector may look at plans and blueprints before a project begins. Once work starts, they may visit on multiple occasions to check things like the floor and ceiling joists, the grade and spacing of roof timber, the thermal insulation of the rooms, fire- safety necessities and staircases. Or, they may check just at the end, after a home is done, assessing the condition of a home or business for occupancy and ensuring structures are not vulnerable to natural disaster (especially in fire- or flood-prone areas).

Building inspectors are key for ensuring a construction project is up to current safety standards. If it isn’t, they can bring the project to a stand-still. “The building inspector has the authority to declare you stop all work or re-do any work to conform to code before proceeding to the next step,” Riso says.

When would homeowners use a building inspector?

Homeowners may need to work with a building inspector if they are erecting a house, performing a significant remodel or renovation project on an existing one, or adding new structures or features to their property. Any home construction project that requires a permit will likely require a building inspector’s sign-off to make sure the project is up to code and safe.

“Building inspectors can be challenging to work with, especially if your contractor is not familiar with the local codes or does not get along well with others or taking direction from the outside authority,” Riso says. “Any work that requires a city or town permit also carries the building inspector with it and the fees are included in the permit.”

Building inspector vs home inspector

Though they sound very similar, especially when it comes to residences, don’t confuse a building inspector with a home inspector.

Both are professionals who assess a home’s condition. However, a building inspector is a government employee, given authority by the city to enforce its codes and ordinances, including the shut-down of projects that are not following the rules. “A home inspector on the other hand, is a private third party who may or may not be certified and performs a sweeping, yet general, visual inspection of a property and all the various systems of the house you might be looking to buy or sell,” says Riso.

Home inspectors will look over all aspects of a home, from the roof to the foundation to the electrical and plumbing systems. They will make recommendations based on the condition of each and can provide a warning to the homeowner, potential home buyer or whoever’s commissioned them if they notice anything that appears severely damaged or in need of replacing or repair. But the home inspector can’t enforce any laws or codes. They are more like a professional set of eyes who know what to look for to spot any potential issues on a property.

A building inspector’s visit and approval is required by local authorities. A home inspector’s visit is not, though it may be mandated by the buyer and seller’s purchase agreement. “Basically, anyone who is not themselves a general contractor, should always invest the dollars into a home inspection before buying a property they are not familiar with to help ensure there are no possible big-ticket repairs that might be lurking around the corner you yourself cannot see because you simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise,” says Riso.

Written by
AJ Dellinger
Contributing writer
AJ Dellinger is a contributing writer for Bankrate. AJ writes about auto loans and real estate.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor