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The Pitfalls of Multi-Discipline Inspectors

Discussion in 'Code Administration' started by jar546, Dec 2, 2018.

  1. jar546

    jar546 *****istrator

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    I am rather confident that I will rattle some cages but I honestly have to open up and be honest with my opinion on this, especially as a multi-discipline inspector with 17 certifications.

    First of all, I am going to clarify something. In my opinion, this does not apply to residential only and by residential I mean 1 & 2 family dwellings, townhouses and their associated structures. I am talking about commercial buildings and multi-tenant buildings or basically anything that is not residential as initially stated. I think there can be an improvement in the residential arena but most of that is easily handled by qualified, experienced, certified multi-discipline inspectors. On the other hand........

    Commercial and industrial building inspection and plan review is at a whole other level. Just look at not only the size of the IBC, IEBC, etc but the amount of referred to codes and standards. I have an entire new level of appreciation for those that have direct, long term experience in the field that they inspect in. There is just way, way, way too much to know and comprehend in all disciplines for one person to master or be extremely competent in. I honestly believe that we are asking too much of ourselves when it comes time to work where we are inspecting 3,4 or more disciplines.

    With that being said, some do go together such as plumbing and mechanical although mechanical can also be a very complicated stand alone discipline. I also believe that all disciplines should also have the energy code certification. An example of this is when an electrical inspector passes a final inspection on lighting that then gets failed for energy. It happens all the time. There should be a separate IECC Section 505 certification for electrical inspectors. Along those lines building inspectors and accessibility go hand in hand since they are both part of the framing inspection among other things.

    Much of commercial building spins off into accessibility, multiple other NFPAs, standards on steel, concrete, etc so the ability to master and grasp all of the requirements can be quite the challenge and made even worse when you are at a job and have other inspections too.

    It has been my personal experience that when you are a multi-discipline inspector you really don't get alloted the time you need to complete all inspections thoroughly and often get distracted, especially when you are concentrating on one discipline and see a violation in another. Even if you write it down to go back to it, the distraction has already taken place. I feel as though commercial building and electrical are the most complex of all codes due to the sheer amount of information and situations you encounter.

    Just look at what happens on this forum when someone asks a commercial code question. As expected, we often get multiple answers from multiple inspectors who interpret the code differently. These opinions make for some challenging situations in the real world. I don't believe the code has as many "gray" areas as is often stated but that it is often more complicated and we need to take the time to review definitions and go to other related areas of the code that may affect what we are looking at.

    Electrical, well that is just a whole other ballgame unto itself. Between high voltage transformers, switchgear, grounding and bonding, Class 1,2 3 wiring, communication wiring, conduit, amp ratings, motor controls, generators, emergency systems, etc, etc etc, there is always something to learn or relearn. As a residential electrical inspector my biggest concerns are remembering the new AFCI rules but as a commercial electrical inspector, the vastness of the field can be overwhelming. The variety of what you are exposed to changes on a daily basis and having the NEC nearby is a must.

    For me, with a strong electrical background I slowly felt myself getting watered down with commercial electrical as I was expected to handle so many other disciplines. When you have the luxury to concentrate on just one field, you are stronger in it and the world is a bit safer.

    So overall, some can do one or two disciplines competently but as soon as you get to 3 or more disciplines I think a lot is lost. It is just too difficult for anyone to be at the top of their game in any single discipline when they are expected to know multiple. You either know a little about a lot or you know a lot about a little.
     
  2. cda

    cda Sawhorse

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    Agree

    Luckily I do not have to do it
     
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  3. Keystone

    Keystone Sawhorse

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    Agreed!

    I believe people can be competent in multiple disciplines as evident by passing the associated testing however it is unlikely to be proficient in multiple disciplines, to many nuisances with products, installation, acceptance criteria, etc... Food for thought, let's look at the code books, starting from I Codes of 2003 then 06, 09, 12, 15 and now to 2018 for each discipline and realize how many additional pages have been placed within.

    Knowledge is power and by having multiple certifications you end up making yourself invaluable. I would personally enjoy focusing on two specific trades but I know it's not possible when it comes to the ever demanding world of expediency in a Third Party and the majority of municipalities in my area. Each person has to know his/her own limits and stay away from a discipline they do not grasp with or without passing a test, be responsible to yourself and your employer.
     
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  4. Sifu

    Sifu Gold Member

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    I agree. Not sure how you get to single trade experts though.. What can be done is to make it more acceptable for an inspector/plans examiner/building official to say "I don't know". I do it all the time, and sometimes it makes for an uncomfortable situation. But the fact is I don't know, and making a ruling would be irresponsible. Somehow, among some other shifts in the building codes world today, inspectors are expected to make snap decisions, on the spot. We have let the contractors (generic term) and politicians (VERY SPECIFIC TERM that I won't expand on) dictate the terms of our conclusions. As a plans examiner, I get to tell people I don't know, but I will try to find out, perform some research, ask an expert etc. People seem to get bent out of shape if an inspector says "hmmm, I have never seen that before. I can't pass that until I learn some more about it". The instant gratification mentality has become a part of our system.

    I also agree that there is far less grey area than most would have us believe, but unfortunately, as we deviate from the basic minimums, adding page after page of code for every potentiality under the sun, we increase that uncertainty.

    I just measured the combined thickness (soft cover, 2018) of the IBC, IRC, IFC, NEC, IFGC, IEBC, IPC, IMC and IECC. More than 9" thick! How can anyone be an expert in all of it? I know I am not, but through a process of continual improvement, I am learning WHERE in that 9" to look for answers. IMHO that is about the best that can be expected.
     
  5. fatboy

    fatboy Administrator

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    I and my staff are multi-discipline certified, it works well on residential, but I agree on Commercial, we stick to our primary discipline.
     
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  6. tmurray

    tmurray Sawhorse

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    We are lucky here in that both plumbing and electrical are handled by the province. We are only responsible for structural, general life safety, energy, accessibility, passive fire control, active fire control, environmental separations, and mechanical... oh I see it now...

    I came into this industry with some very good training on inspections by a reputable fire engineering firm. One of the things I took away from them was that I only inspect one item at a time. Recently, I was training a staff member on inspecting large buildings in a new school. We spent a day doing the final inspection. We walked through the building 6 times; sprinklers, fire alarm, standpipe, fire separations, general life safety, and accessibility. She thought that maybe she could inspect everything in a single pass, so I let her try in a certain area. she got about 3 rooms in before she realized she had forgotten to check something in another room and went back to the single discipline approach.

    I have become relatively good at blocking out violations in any other discipline than what I am actively inspecting.
     
  7. linnrg

    linnrg Sawhorse

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    I would bet that there are lots of jurisdictions out there that are only a staff of one - so multiple hats apply. Are we perfect - probably not. Are we good - I think so. We can be qualified if we invest enough in ourselves.

    I for one am glad that my career did not end up in a place where I repeated the same work over and over again.

    I have known persons who are completely competent in one discipline/trade who because of that are boring (and sometime incompetent in the other disciplines).

    Part of my role is being in the office dealing with all of the applicants and potential ones too. That sometimes takes more (multiple disciplinary) skill than checking the size of an EGC or GEC, or vent sizing or etc.... If you are a private inspector there is the required knowledge of "business challenges" that you better be qualified in and paying attention to just as you would for the inspection tasks.

    My question is how deep into the weeds is an inspector supposed to go? Do you go with the calculator of the measuring tape or the smile and a clipboard?
     
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  8. Sifu

    Sifu Gold Member

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    It is also worth considering this aspect: a single trade inspector, who is an expert in that trade may bring a bias to the job, and be inclined to over-look some aspect of the code that he believes he knows better. And that may be ok based on some specialized knowledge for a particular case, but how does that affect consistency from job to job, or inspector to inspector?

    I also think one of the reasons we have such an extensive code is because it is partially made to allow a checklist inspection. In other words, I don't need to know how a water heater works to know it needs T & P valve piping down to the floor, because the code tells me. It might help if you know how the water heater works up to a point, but it is not required in this case, and if an inspector knows everything about the water heater would they be inclined to say he will let it go without the piping since it wouldn't hurt anybody in this particular case? After all, "I've been doin' this for 30 years". Is that the best outcome?

    Full disclosure, I am AT BEST, a checklist electrical inspector. I can look at an installation and determine if the outlet spacing is correct, but go too far beyond that and I have no business being in there. I know my limitations and I stay within them. In a pinch, I will do some light residential electrical, and if I don't know something I simply say "sorry, I tried but this is above my head, you will need to wait for someone smarter than me".

    In a nutshell, I would like to have an expert in everything on staff, I think it would make a better, more educated inspection process. But if you have smart, qualified, humble people they can get it done in most cases without being an expert, and maybe even a little more true to the code, since they are using the code to inform their inspection, and not 30 years of "that's how I did it". I don't present myself as an expert in one trade or another, but I am pretty good at finding code, I think those two things can go hand in hand, but they don't necessarily have to.

    I worked with a master plumber once. He was invaluable. But, sometimes I would make a call and he would say, that's not the way it should be done. I would say "but here is the code section from the IPC", and he would say "I hate the IPC". Win some....lose some!
     
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  9. jar546

    jar546 *****istrator

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    I am not talking about an inspector who is an expert in the one discipline they work being overly bias and requiring things that they "know better," I am talking about a higher level of competency in a given field and of course I used electrical as an example. Checklists are nice and can be helpful, especially in residential or accessibility but checklists are never all inclusive. I'd love to see the checklist for a required emergency generator installation for a nursing home with critical care circuits that is a 3-phase, non-separately derived system with both manual override and automatic transfer switches that are now part of the service. I guess my point is that if we could concentrate on the discipline we have hands on, direct experience in, we could be better, more thorough inspectors.
     
  10. mtlogcabin

    mtlogcabin Sawhorse

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    I think a lot of what is expected by a multi-disciplined inspector depends on the jurisdiction and the types of projects they have. I don't have a problem sending any one of my inspectors to do footing and foundation wall and sheet rock inspections on our typical SFR because they are all trained in that area. However I will not send all of them to do the same inspections on commercial. We are a small jurisdiction so we have to be cross trained to be able to handle the work and yes I do have people with very specific knowledge in certain codes that we all rely and my guys know their limitations and will not inspect something they are not comfortable with.
     
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  11. Sifu

    Sifu Gold Member

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    By checklist I don't mean an actual checklist. I mean it is something that is easy to check and requires no in depth critical analysis in order to determine if it meets minimum code. Actual checklists are another conversation.......but I agree, if I could concentrate on the building stuff, and leave the other stuff to those other guys I would be a better building guy. I went out on an electrical today, but my attention kept getting sucked back into the building stuff, I had to keep reminding myself to concentrate on what I was there for. I wish it could be more focused, but it's not, at least here.
     
  12. linnrg

    linnrg Sawhorse

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    Going back and reading JAR546 original post I think all of the stuff is relevant to be discussed

    Do we get better when we have a high level of knowledge in a single discipline? - yes. I wish I had more knowledge (and the relevant certifications)all of the time. But as one person before said do we need to know every detail of the water Heater? No. Your generator example is a good one. That's getting into difficult territory for inspectors and probably for lots of electricians. Fire Pumps are another, not only are there electrical issues there are piping configurations (piping-mechanical) to consider too - oh and throw in an old DC setup.

    Are we better having multiple certifications and performing multiple inspection types? My view on this is a resounding yes. It gives you overall perspective especially to the interaction/conflict of the trades/design elements. Are you better off if you are inspecting electrical (or any other specific trade) and can note that the installation now may need an additional sprinkler head due to a caused obstruction? Can you do a rough plumbing inspection on commercial if you do not have at least a working knowledge of the ADA? For example the installation of toilet valve versus the clearance to grab bars are they in conflict at the rough in?

    So in a nutshell "multi discipline" is best. My opinion.

    Now if I could just type without making mistakes!!
     
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