The Inside Outside Guys: A Modest Proposal – Self-Inspecting Contractors

By Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein

DETROIT, June 30, 2022
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Years ago, we spoke with a contractor who had undertaken some work on a small commercial space for a client.

The work included replacing a 100-foot strip of sidewalk that ran alongside a large old tree near the parking lot. Tear out, compaction of grade, forming and placement should have taken about a day.

The local jurisdiction required a separate inspection once the old concrete was removed, then another once the new forms were in place to assure protection of the tree roots. These inspections extended the job completion more than a week, which nearly tripled the installed cost of the walkway.

At the completion of the work, the contractor was then required to post a bond good for seven years ensuring the tree would not be adversely affected by the work.

The irony here? The species of tree was classified as a “junk tree” in the jurisdiction and would not even be allowed there as a legal planting.

We all agree that good codes and code enforcement are important and needed tools in the building arena. Protecting health and safety concerns in the construction of buildings is necessary.

The re-emerging sidebar issue is one of time.

Delays caused by required permitting and inspections often impact the work and the cost of the work.

As an example, plan reviews are often required prior to issuing a permit to build. These reviews are frequently sub-contracted by a jurisdiction and can sometimes take months to complete. Some reviewers, finding a noncompliance issue in the plans submitted, will simply reject the entire plan and force a correction and re-submittal; effectively sending the contractor to the proverbial back of the line.

Keep in mind contractors are held captive by the weather, supply-chain issues and availability of labor and sub-contractors.

For the past few years, job start delays were most frequently the result of inability to obtain product.

From windows to shingles to cabinets, wait times ran from six weeks to many months. But manufacturers and distributors are starting to catch up with supplies of most product, and savvy contractors have hedged their bets by establishing new relationships with an extended network of suppliers.

The guys have heard three times in the past month a lament from our team partners regarding the extended wait for obtaining permits before even beginning work, much less the delays caused by waiting for required inspections.

A common example might sound like this; “We could start that job today and be completed in a week if we didn’t have to wait three weeks for a building permit.

We also hear a lot of anecdotes that follow the common theme of a roofing company we spoke with who relayed to us that the local enforcing jurisdiction on a recent job, knowing this company’s history and dedication to doing things right, allowed them to move ahead without delay caused by a required inspection.

A couple of things to keep in mind as we discuss this include the reality that extended schedules cost everyone a lot of money including the owner who hires the contractor. In the story above, the contractor passed all additional costs imposed by inspection requirements and delays directly to the owner.

We also know that enforcing jurisdictions are lacking trained and certified personnel, so they are short-staffed just like the contractors. The inspectors bear little responsibility for whether things are done correctly; it is still the contractor held accountable for the work even after inspection and approval.

Inspectors are supposed to look at code compliance, which is the minimum required standard of performance. They are not tasked with assessing qualitative issues or non-code issues.

Maybe it’s time to consider a type of certification program for properly licensed and insured contractors that have a successful history of doing things right in a jurisdiction.

We could set up criteria for the self-inspecting contractors that include payment of typical permit fees, a recent and successful past history of the type of work they specialize in, ongoing training, documentation of all work completed, random inspections and a performance bond.

The exemption would apply only to the type of work the contractor is a specialist in.

The idea is to allow good contractors to start and complete jobs on a shorter schedule while allowing inspectors and plan reviewers to focus their expertise on unique projects or contractors whose work they are not familiar with.

Requirements at job completion might include submittal of visual documentation of specific phases of the work so the jurisdiction has a record to refer to and an on-site final inspection.

It’s a fairly modest proposal, but one that would benefit inspectors, property owners and contractors alike.

And it follows on the concept that started the show. Only hire professionals you can trust; like those you’ll find at Insideoutsideguys.com.

For housing advice and more, listen to the Inside Outside Guys every Saturday and Sunday on News/Talk 760, WJR-AM, from 10 a.m. to noon or contact us at insideoutsideguys.com.

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