It's Not What I Want At All !
By Jeff Remas, Advanced Code Group
How many times have we heard the phrase "What do you want?" after a failed inspection? In my case, too many. My response is always the same, "It's not what I want, it's what the code requires." One of my top, extremely knowledgeable inspectors is a little more vocal and responds "You wouldn't want to build to what I want so we'll stick with the minimum standards." Whether a lack of code knowledge by the contractor or ignorance of the code official, not much is more frustrating than dealing with this situation.
Yeah, I know that I have written about this before, but, it is certainly one of my pet peeves. Our business is about communication and enforcement by being consistent. It's not just about who is right. There is a lot more to it than that. There are a few things that bother me about the question"What do you want?" and other variations of it. Let's explore this more with why we hear it so often.
First there is the lack of knowledge of the contractor. That is in my opinion, first and foremost. Many contractors learn the code by failing inspections rather than taking the time to become educated. Some don't own code books, never looked at one and/or never attended one code class to help elevate them in their chosen profession. Instead, they learned by what they watched others do and by failing inspections. I teach code classes to other inspectors for required CEUs. Always lacking in numbers in the class are contractors. Some of these issues are regional specific, especially in states such as Pennsylvania that lack any statewide licensing requirements. Only a few municipalities actually have any sort of licensing requirements and recent state law prohibit them from doing so. Either way, lack of basic code knowledge by contractors is certainly an issue.
The next issue that I see is almost identical to the contractors except this time I am talking about inspectors. Yes, inspectors. Many live in areas where they are simply appointed but have no actual tested knowledge of the codes they are there to enforce. In some instances, they can be the Mayor's sister's, uncle's friend who helped someone put a deck on one year and is now a political construction expert. The biggest problem we have is inconsistency between code officials due to the ignorance or laziness. As code officials and inspectors, we have all heard this statement too: "I don't understand how this fails because I just did it in (insert city here) and they passed it!" My company struggles with this last situation on a regular basis due to the poor enforcement that surrounds us. This sends the wrong signal to the contractors and frustrates them too. I can understand that but I have an opinion on that too that I bring to the contractor's attention.
Before anyone feels there is too strong of a tone here, let me say this. None of us, myself included are perfect and we all make mistakes whether a contractor, architect, engineer or inspector. We all learn from our mistakes or at least we should. Our company is very open minded and will always listen to what other say and if that does not work, we usually get taken to the appeals board and state our case there. With that being said, the problem still exists and needs to be reduced sooner than later. When a frustrated contractor complains about inconsistent code enforcement we listen intently and try to get to the bottom of the situation. When you think about it, poor code enforcement in one town is causing problems in another where they understand the codes and enforce it properly. That can certainly confuse a contractor. I, however, offer you my opinion on this. I am talking about areas of the country where the codes are uniform and consistent but the enforcement is not.
Here are the facts which happen to be my opinion. Number 1, the contractor should know the minimum code standards, period. If the code official is weak or ignorant and the contractor does not know the codes and always passes inspection then they think they are doing things right. Ignorance is bliss! Then they go to work in another town and start failing. Whose fault is that? It is the contractor's fault for not knowing their job. It is also the fault of the inspector in the other town. I won't get into the contractors who know where there is weak enforcement and take advantage of it. That is for another day. The bottom line is that both inspectors and contractors need to understand their jobs and always strive to work harder on communication.