What Does a Building Inspector Do vs. a Home Inspector?

When embarking on the new adventure of building or buying your own home, it will be worth your while to call upon the expertise of various professionals. The obvious ones like plumber or electrician are a given, but others might seem like a hassle, even redundant, to involve in the process. Rest assured, they serve important roles, and in many cases, they stand between you and some hefty expenses or fines. Today we are talking about building and home inspectors, which you have probably heard of before. Although it may seem like it, these are two different jobs and not terms used interchangeably. They may perform similar duties, but they carry considerably different levels of authority and qualification. Let’s get a more in-depth look at the involvement of hiring each one and their part in your homeownership. 

What does a building inspector do? 

The specific job of a building inspector is to enforce a city or township’s building code. These are rules and regulations put in place to ensure safe building conditions. In almost every state, building inspectors are required to have some sort of licensure or certification and in many cases are actually government employees. This is especially true in smaller towns or rural areas where a building inspector is also the main official responsible for the area’s fire prevention and safety and must sign off on all construction projects to ensure they meet fire codes. 

What do building inspectors look for?

Typically, new home builders and owners work with a general building inspector who looks for code violations related to safety. This can be making sure water sources are the correct minimum distance away from electrical hubs, that any gas power sources are properly ventilated and use the right connectors, or that the home’s structural integrity is in no way compromised through the use of subpar materials or other construction shortcuts. In some cases, building inspectors focus only on fire prevention and have the power to issue fines or citations to ensure that any hazardous conditions are fixed promptly.  

Do home inspectors check for code violations?

Due to the fact that many states do not require home inspectors to have any kind of certification or formal training, they are not qualified to check for code violations and almost none of them issue fines or citations unless dually certified as building inspectors. A buying party usually hires Home inspectors before purchasing a home to see if conditions are up to standard — not code — so that price negotiations can occur. They do a visual-only walk-through to determine if various components work such as lights and water turning on, no visual signs of mold or termites, no obvious damage, etc. Determining a code violation requires a more hands-on inspection process. Still, a highly trained and experienced home inspector may possess knowledge of codes to inform homeowners of potential dangers in the structure. 

When does a building inspection happen?

Official building inspections take place at various construction milestones. If you are beginning a new project, either from the ground up or adding on to your home, you need to apply for building permits with your local municipality building department where an inspector signs off on your initial plans. Once construction has begun, an inspector visits the location to ensure regulations are being met and may notify you at this time of any infractions so you can make changes. In more severe cases, citations and fines may be issued to prevent further construction and cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. 

If you add to your home, inspections work much the same way but are sometimes arranged through your hired builder or renovator if they include that in their service. For example, many pool installers handle permit filing and inspections since they are familiar with the process. Regardless of being your property, you may end up being the one finally responsible for paying any fees if safety codes are violated, so do your research. 

How do you become a building inspector?

All building inspectors require a high school diploma. At least five years of experience in a related field such as construction, electrical work, or fire safety is highly recommended to be considered for this position. In many cases, you apply to become a building inspector armed with these minimum qualifications with a state or local government entity and they put you through their preferred education and certification process. 

What is a building inspector’s salary?

The median income for building inspectors as of 2021 is around $29 per hour and averages a comfortable $61,640 salary per year. The current outlook for this position has a slight projected decline. However, thousands of positions are still expected to be available as professionals exit the field through retirement or by assuming other positions. 

Do I need a building inspector certification?

The short answer is yes. You must obtain some form of licensure or certification to work as a building inspector. Technically, a handful of states do not explicitly require a building inspector to hold a license, but you will be hard-pressed to find any kind of work in this field without one. 

One internationally recognized accreditation organization is the International Code Council, which offers education and testing to help building inspectors become qualified. Each state has its own set of codes and regulations that an inspector needs to know to perform on the job. This is why the building inspector position is often available through the local or state government responsible for enforcing these codes in their community and carrying out citations and fines for violations.

Home inspectors vs. building inspectors

When you get down to the details, home inspectors’ and building inspectors’ roles are quite different. To start, home inspectors have no involvement with homes that are not yet built or are being built. They are only brought on in the final stages of buying a home, wherein very few cases are there any unfinished construction. On the other hand, building inspectors are part of the approval process at many stages and can stand between a homeowner and their finished project. 

This speaks to the authority levels of each position as well. Home inspectors are trusted to make professional recommendations about the quality of a home. While they can point out safety hazards and inform the homeowner or potential buyer, they are not qualified to issue citations. Home inspectors cannot prevent an individual from buying or selling a home. However, some may feel compelled to inform their local municipality of suspected hazards so an authorized entity can decide. Meanwhile, building inspectors are required to find and report any safety violations and enforce fines on the individuals responsible. based on the findings of a building inspector. For example, if a contractor has a history of incurring citations and fines, they risk losing their ability to obtain building permits. 

Another factor that sets these two apart is the necessity of each. Home inspections are voluntary and are not legally required at any stage in the home buying process — they are just highly recommended since the findings save buyers thousands of dollars in unforeseen repairs. Buyers use these reports to lower the selling price or ask for issues to be addressed as a condition of the sale. 

Home inspectors also exclusively inspect homes. They are not authorized to utilize their services for other kinds of structures such as office buildings or storefronts. When it comes to building inspections, they are required by law at multiple points in the construction process, apply to any and all structures, and extend to the surrounding elements like road placement and juxtaposition to power supplies. Failing to apply for the proper permits or ignoring any citations can result in increased fines, loss of a professional license to build or perform a trade, and even the condemnation of a home. 

One simplified way to differentiate between Home inspectors and Building inspectors in your mind is that Home inspectors work for you and Building inspectors work for the government. A buyer hires a home inspector and pays them to help you determine if any home areas are not up to standard so that you can negotiate the sale price. If a seller hires a home inspector, they are being paid to inform them of possible price drops and tell them what they can do to repair these issues at the least cost to maintain their home’s highest selling point. A building inspector has a strict set of rules to follow and will not compromise any safety standards for the benefit of anyone’s wallet. Even independent inspectors are agents of the local government and go through the process of reporting violations so repercussions can be enforced.