What should building inspectors be using as their reference point?

Should the building inspector for your project be comparing the construction they see on site to the building code requirements or to the construction plans which were reviewed and approved before construction begins?

In Wisconsin, the commercial building inspections as described in SPS 361 include the state approved plans, the conditional approval letter, AND the state building code.  In the International Building Code administration chapter (not adopted in Wisconsin), the building code is NOT listed as part of the inspection criteria, instead referring only to the approved plans and the approval documents.

This seemingly small difference between inspecting to the approval documents PLUS the code vs. the approval documents alone, has a potentially HUGE difference to the impact of inspections and the cost of building code compliance for building owners, builders, and the design professionals involved in the projects.

I recently recommended a change to SPS 361 that would improve the current situation by bringing Wisconsin’s building inspection scope in line with the International Building Code’s intent for the administration of the Commercial Building Code to each project.

If the building inspector is going to be given plan review and building code interpretation authority for the project, they should be required to do that work and provide their input before construction begins.  Under the current system, the building plan reviewer’s “conditional approval” is really not an approval at all, but more like a letter documenting an “no obvious reason for denial… at least for now”.

With this situation on the ground in the state’s construction industry, why would builders, owners, and design professionals even be required to wait for such a department “approval”?  The approval seems to be a non-binding decision by DSPS which offers no peace of mind nor risk-mitigation to the building owner and project stakeholders.  It leaves open the real possibility the project may face costly changes to the project after the building inspector shows up with a different code interpretation or finding.  In my experience designing hundreds of buildings in the state over the past 18 years, this doesn’t happen a majority of the time, or even commonly, but it has happened a few times to me, and when it does happen, the impact has always been significant, inconvenient, costly, and regrettable.

Check out my recommended change to the state administrative language and consider sharing this information with your state legislators, especially now while other changes to the DSPS administrative code are also being considered:

Recommended change to Wisconsin SPS 361