About 45 percent of inspectors worked for local governments,
primarily municipal or county building departments.
Many home inspectors are self-employed.
Opportunities should be best for experienced construction
supervisors and craftworkers who have some college education,
engineering or architectural training, or certification as construction
inspectors or plan examiners.
Home inspection has become a standard practice in the home-purchasing
process, creating more opportunities for home inspectors.
Nature of the Work
Construction and building inspectors examine buildings, highways
and streets, sewer and water systems, dams, bridges, and other
structures to ensure that their construction, alteration, or repair
complies with building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations,
and contract specifications. Building codes and standards are
the primary means by which building construction is regulated
in the United States for the health and safety of the general
public. National model building codes are published by the International
Code Council (ICC), although many localities have additional ordinances
and codes that modify or add to the National model codes. To monitor
compliance with regulations, inspectors make an initial inspection
during the first phase of construction and follow up with further
inspections throughout the construction project. However, no inspection
is ever exactly the same. In areas where certain types of severe
weather or natural disasters—such as earthquakes or hurricanes—are
more common, inspectors monitor compliance with additional safety
regulations designed to protect structures and occupants during
There are many types of inspectors. Building inspectors
inspect the structural quality and general safety of buildings.
Some specialize in such areas as structural steel or reinforced-concrete
structures. Before construction begins, plan examiners
determine whether the plans for the building or other structure
comply with building code regulations and whether they are suited
to the engineering and environmental demands of the building site.
To inspect the condition of the soil and the positioning and depth
of the footings, inspectors visit the worksite before the foundation
is poured. Later, they return to the site to inspect the foundation
after it has been completed. The size and type of structure, as
well as the rate at which it proceeds toward completion, determine
the number of other site visits they must make. Upon completion
of the project, they make a final, comprehensive inspection.
In addition to structural characteristics, a primary concern
of building inspectors is fire safety. They inspect structures’
fire sprinklers, alarms, smoke control systems, fire exits. Inspectors
assess the type of construction, contents of the building, adequacy
of fire protection equipment, and risks posed by adjoining buildings.
Electrical inspectors examine the installation of electrical
systems and equipment to ensure that they function properly and
comply with electrical codes and standards. They visit worksites
to inspect new and existing sound and security systems, wiring,
lighting, motors, and generating equipment. They also inspect
the installation of the electrical wiring for heating and air-conditioning
systems, appliances, and other components.
Elevator inspectors examine lifting and conveying devices
such as elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks, lifts and hoists,
inclined railways, ski lifts, and amusement rides.
Home inspectors conduct inspections of newly built or
previously owned homes, condominiums, town homes, manufactured
homes, residential-unit living (apartments), and at times commercial
buildings. Home inspection has become a standard practice in the
home-purchasing process. Typically, home inspectors are hired
by prospective home buyers to inspect and report on the condition
of a home’s systems, components, and structure. Although they
look for and report violations of building codes, they do not
have the power to enforce compliance with the codes. Typically,
are hired either immediately prior to a purchase offer on a home
or as a contingency to a sales contract. In addition to examining
structural quality, home inspectors inspect all home systems and
features, including roofing as well as the exterior, site, attached
garage or carport, foundation, interior, plumbing, electrical,
and heating and cooling systems. Some home inspections are done
for homeowners who want an evaluation of their home’s condition
or as a way to diagnose problems.
Mechanical inspectors inspect the installation of the
mechanical components of commercial kitchen appliances, heating
and air-conditioning equipment, gasoline and butane tanks, gas
and oil piping, and gas-fired and oil-fired appliances. Some specialize
in boilers or ventilating equipment as well.
Plumbing inspectors examine plumbing systems, including
private disposal systems, water supply and distribution systems,
plumbing fixtures and traps, and drain, waste, and vent lines.
Public works inspectors ensure that Federal, State, and
local government construction of water and sewer systems, highways,
streets, bridges, and dams conforms to detailed contract specifications.
They inspect excavation and fill operations, the placement of
forms for concrete, concrete mixing and pouring, asphalt paving,
and grading operations. They record the work and materials used
so that contract payments can be calculated. Public works inspectors
may specialize in highways, structural steel, reinforced concrete,
or ditches. Others specialize in dredging operations required
for bridges and dams or for harbors.
The owner of a building or structure under construction employs
specification inspectors to ensure that work is done according
to design specifications. Specification inspectors represent the
owner’s interests, not those of the general public. Insurance
companies and financial institutions also may use the services
of specification inspectors.
Details concerning construction projects, building and occupancy
permits, and other documentation generally are stored on computers
so that they can easily be retrieved, kept accurate, and be updated.
For example, inspectors may use laptop computers to record their
findings while inspecting a site. Most inspectors use computers
to help them monitor the status of construction inspection activities
and keep track of permits issued, and some can access all construction
and building codes from their computers on the jobsite, decreasing
the need for paper binders. However, many inspectors continue
to use a paper checklist to detail their findings.
Although inspections are primarily visual, inspectors may use
tape measures, survey instruments, metering devices, and equipment
such as concrete strength measurers. They keep a log of their
work, take photographs, and file reports. Many inspectors also
use laptops or other portable electronic devices onsite to facilitate
the accuracy of their written reports, as well as e-mail and fax
machines to send out the results. If necessary, they act on their
findings. For example, government and construction inspectors
notify the construction contractor, superintendent, or supervisor
when they discover a violation of a code or ordinance or something
that does not comply with the contract specifications or approved
plans. If the problem is not corrected within a reasonable or
otherwise specified period, government inspectors have authority
to issue a “stop-work” order.
Many inspectors also investigate construction or alterations
being done without proper permits. Inspectors who are employees
of municipalities enforce laws pertaining to the proper design,
construction, and use of buildings. They direct violators of permit
laws to obtain permits and to submit to inspection.
Construction and building inspectors usually work alone. However,
several may be assigned to large, complex projects, particularly
because inspectors tend to specialize in different areas of construction.
Although they spend considerable time inspecting construction
worksites, inspectors also spend time in a field office reviewing
blueprints, answering letters or telephone calls, writing reports,
and scheduling inspections.
Many construction sites are dirty and may be cluttered with tools,
materials, or debris. Inspectors may have to climb ladders or
many flights of stairs or crawl around in tight spaces. Although
their work generally is not considered hazardous, inspectors,
like other construction workers, wear hardhats and adhere to other
safety requirements while at a construction site.
Inspectors normally work regular hours. However, they may work
additional hours during periods when a lot of construction is
taking place. Also, if an accident occurs at a construction site,
inspectors must respond immediately and may work additional hours
to complete their report. Nongovernment inspectors—especially
those who are self-employed—may have a varied work schedule, at
times working evenings and weekends.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Although requirements vary considerably, depending upon where
one is employed, construction and building inspectors should have
a thorough knowledge of construction materials and practices in
either a general area, such as structural or heavy construction,
or a specialized area, such as electrical or plumbing systems,
reinforced concrete, or structural steel. Home inspectors combine
a knowledge of multiple specialties, so many of them have a combination
of certifications, as well as previous experience in various construction
trades. For example, many inspectors previously worked as carpenters,
electricians, plumbers, or pipefitters.
Because inspectors must possess the right mix of technical knowledge,
experience, and education, employers prefer applicants who have
both formal training and experience. Most employers require at
least a high school diploma or the equivalent, even for workers
with considerable experience. More often, employers look for persons
who have studied engineering or architecture or who have a degree
from a community or junior college with courses in building inspection,
home inspection, construction technology, drafting, and mathematics.
Many community colleges offer certificate or associate’s degree
programs in building inspection technology. Courses in blueprint
reading, algebra, geometry, and English also are useful. A growing
number of construction and building inspectors are entering the
occupation with a college degree, which often can substitute for
Construction and building inspectors must be in good physical
condition in order to walk and climb about construction and building
sites. They also must have a driver’s license, so that they can
get to scheduled appointments.
The level of training requirements varies by type of inspector
and State. In general, construction and building inspectors receive
much of their training on the job, although they must learn building
codes and standards on their own. Working with an experienced
inspector, they learn about inspection techniques; codes, ordinances,
and regulations; contract specifications; and recordkeeping and
reporting duties. Supervised onsite inspections also may be a
part of the training. Other requirements can include various courses
and assigned reading. Some courses and instructional material
are available online as well as through formal venues. An engineering
or architectural degree often is required for advancement to supervisory
Most States and local jurisdictions require some type of certification
for employment. Even if not required, certification can enhance
an inspector’s opportunities for employment and advancement to
more responsible positions. To become certified, inspectors with
substantial experience and education must pass examinations on
code requirements, construction techniques and materials, standards
of practice, and codes of ethics. The International Code Council
(ICC) offers multiple voluntary certifications, as do other professional
associations. Many categories of certification are awarded for
inspectors and plan examiners in a variety of specialties, including
the Certified Building Official (CBO) certification, for code
compliance, and the Residential Building Inspector (RBI) certification,
for home inspectors. In a few cases, there are no education or
experience prerequisites, and certification consists of passing
an examination in a designated field either at a regional location
or online. In addition, Federal, State, and many local governments
may require inspectors to pass a civil service exam. Being a member
of a nationally recognized inspection association enhances employment
opportunities and may be required by some employers.
Because they advise builders and the general public on building
codes, construction practices, and technical developments, construction
and building inspectors must keep abreast of changes in these
areas. Continuing education is imperative and is required by many
States and certifying organizations. Numerous employers provide
formal training to broaden inspectors’ knowledge of construction
materials, practices, and techniques. Inspectors who work for
small agencies or firms that do not conduct their own training
programs can expand their knowledge and upgrade their skills by
attending State-sponsored training programs, by taking college
or correspondence courses, or by attending seminars and conferences
sponsored by various related organizations, such as the ICC.
Construction and building inspectors held about 94,000 jobs in
2004. Local governments—primarily municipal or county building
departments—employed 45 percent. Employment of local government
inspectors is concentrated in cities and in suburban areas undergoing
rapid growth. Local governments employ large inspection staffs,
including many plan examiners or inspectors who specialize in
structural steel, reinforced concrete, and boiler, electrical,
and elevator inspection.
Another 25 percent of construction and building inspectors worked
for architectural and engineering services firms, conducting inspections
for a fee or on a contract basis. Many of these were home inspectors
working on behalf of potential real estate purchasers. Most of
the remaining inspectors were employed in other service-providing
industries or by State governments. About 1 in 10 construction
and building inspectors was self-employed. Since many home inspectors
are self-employed, it is likely that most self-employed construction
and building inspectors were home inspectors.
Job opportunities in construction and building inspection should
be best for those highly experienced supervisors and construction
craft workers who have some college education, engineering or
architectural training, or certification as inspectors or plan
examiners. Thorough knowledge of construction practices and skills
in areas such as reading and evaluating blueprints and plans is
Employment of construction and building inspectors is expected
to grow faster than average for most occupations through 2014.
Concern for public safety and a desire for improvement in the
quality of construction should continue to stimulate demand for
construction and building inspectors in government as well as
in firms specializing in architectural, engineering, and related
services. Inspectors are involved in all phases of construction,
including maintenance and repair work, and are therefore less
likely to lose their jobs when new construction slows during recessions.
In addition to openings stemming from the expected employment
growth, some job openings will arise from the need to replace
inspectors who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor
The routine practice of obtaining home inspections is a relatively
recent development, causing employment of home inspectors to increase
rapidly. Although employment of home inspectors is expected to
continue to increase, the attention given to this specialty, combined
with the desire of some construction workers to move into less
strenuous and potentially higher paying work, may result in competition
in some areas. In addition, increasing State regulations are starting
to limit entry into the specialty only to those who have a given
level of previous experience and are certified.
Median annual earnings of construction and building inspectors
were $43,670 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$34,620 and $54,970. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,760,
and the highest 10 percent earned more than $67,380. Median annual
earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of construction
and building inspectors in May 2004 were:
Architectural, engineering, and related
Building inspectors, including plan examiners, generally earn
the highest salaries. Salaries in large metropolitan areas are
substantially higher than those in small jurisdictions.
Because construction and building inspectors are familiar with
construction principles, the most closely related occupations
are construction occupations, especially carpenters, plumbers,
and electricians. Construction and building inspectors also combine
knowledge of construction principles and law with an ability to
coordinate data, diagnose problems, and communicate with people.
Workers in other occupations using a similar combination of skills
include architects, except landscape and naval; appraisers and
assessors of real estate; construction managers; civil engineers;
cost estimators; engineering technicians; and surveyors, cartographers,
photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians. For more information
on these careers see the Careers
Sources of Additional Information
Information about certification and a career as a construction
or building inspector is available from:
International Code Council, 5203 Leesburg Pike, Suite 600,
Falls Church, VA 22041. Internet: http://www.iccsafe.org/
For more information about construction inspectors, contact:
Association of Construction Inspectors, 1224 North Nokomis
N.E., Alexandria, MN 56308. Internet: http://www.iami.org/aci
For more information about training and requirements for electrical
International Association of Electrical Inspectors, 901 Waterfall
Way, Suite 602, Richardson, TX 75080-7702. Internet: http://www.iaei.org/
For information about becoming a home inspector, contact any
of the following organizations:
American Society of Home Inspectors, 932 Lee St., Suite 101,
Des Plaines, IL 60016. Internet: http://www.ashi.org/