T he ASHI Board of Directors and several National Committees have been hard at work this year improving the dialog between ASHI, its Membership, and other related organizations. This was a goal I identified when I took office. Recent meetings in Washington D.C. solidified several important working relationships for home inspectors. One was with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). We have been asked to attend upcoming “Building Products Issues Committee” meetings in Washington to represent the voice of the ASHI inspectors. I believe working with the NAHB will be great for both organizations. It will enable us to assist each other and to improve housing construction. ASHI Members have a lot to share regarding long-term performance of building materials and methods.
Another goal is to improve relations with Municipal Code Official organizations. ASHI has maintained discussions with several building code authoring agencies and building officials. One roadblock we encounter is animosity from municipal code officials against home inspectors, and the reverse. It seems some home inspectors make an effort to create disrespect for municipal inspectors. I am sure the opposite also occurs. I have heard many times from both home inspectors and home owners, “Why didn’t the city catch that?” To understand why, let’s look at the job of a municipal inspector. I will not include plan checks performed by many municipalities on new construction and remodel drawings to pick up any obvious zoning or code abnormalities.
First, the municipal inspector may have 20 to 40 inspections a day. These inspections may be single trade, or combination (many discipline). Some may be return inspections as the result of a correction notice. The trend toward combination inspector in municipalities means that some inspectors who started out as specialists may have specific trade knowledge weak spots when becoming combination inspectors.
Municipal inspections are primarily to ensure public safety, therefore there is quite a bit of paperwork. These inspections are not designed as in-depth inspections, such as what a home inspector would provide. Our inspections take two to four hours. A municipal inspector might have 20 minutes at the jobsite. They do not concern themselves with cosmetic issues, and most will not walk roofs. Because city/county inspections are to protect the safety of the public, the inspectors generally fixate on significant components for general code and plan compliance. It is not a guaranty of complete code or plan compliance. They do not evaluate the quality or long-term performance potential of the construction. “To code” is a minimum standard. Most new homes today “meet code,” meaning if they were anything less, they would be not complying with minimum standard. That is what the law allows.
Clients who want in-depth inspections for compliance with the plans should hire a private inspector or construction consultant.
Municipal code inspectors sometimes complain that home inspectors call out “defects” based on a newer version of the code, rather than the code in effect at the time the building was constructed. Personally, I recommend many modifications as “upgrades” or “to increase safety” rather than imply it is required. I believe it’s not fair to expect an older home to have all the features of a modern home. However, we can certainly recommend improvements, based upon our professional judgment, for increased performance or safety.
Another complaint is home inspectors lack knowledge of the codes. When that is true, I believe the burden is on the home inspector to improve his or her skills. In recent years, states and local jurisdictions have begun to require the municipal inspectors to hold certifications in the current building codes. Would it really be asking that much for home inspectors to have at least the ICC One-&Two-Family Dwelling Inspector Certification? After all, building codes are the basic vocabulary of inspection. Home inspectors need not cite the code, though they should understand the reasoning behind the codes.
We should educate each other and our clients as to the difference between private home inspectors and public inspectors. The more we understand each other, the more we can work together to achieve public safety and an atmosphere of professional respect.
Take care, talk next month.