Building inspectors are hired by the city or county and are responsible for ensuring that residential and commercial buildings conform with building codes. If you are building your own log home, you will interact with building inspectors at several stages along the way. They also check workmanship and verify that plans are being followed.
Before you begin building, you must get approval from your local district for your building plan. This is referred to as “pulling a permit”. You take in a set of your building plans and blueprints and the inspector will look them over and either approve them as they’re drawn, or suggest changes that need to be made to comply with the building code.
Some counties are very relaxed and accept rough sketches, knowing that they will be monitoring the project all along the way. Other areas require detailed, professionally drawn plans from an architect and engineer. If you’re acting as your own general contractor, the permit will be your responsibility.
Here's an example of a residential inspection flowchart:
Once you have your building permit, you are cleared to go ahead and start building. You must display your permit prominently on the job site, and make it accessible for the inspectors so they can sign off the various sections.
I often use a mailbox that can be closed against the weather to protect the permit. It also clearly signals to the inspector where to find the permit for adding his signature. If they have determined that something on the job site is not correct or in violation of the building code, they will generally note it and allow you to correct the problem. If it is a serious violation, they may shut down the entire site until it’s been remedied.
At certain stages you must stop work until the building inspector checks your cabin and approves the work up to that point. Some of the common stages are:
The last stage is known as the final inspection and once this is passed you will be issued your Certificate of Occupancy. You are not allowed to move in and live in your log home or sell it until you’ve received your CO.
Many log home builders have negative stories about their working relationship with the building department. County inspectors have an important job to do and the best approach is to listen carefully and follow their instructions. Staying on their good side can save time and leads to a good working relationship.
While you may have the same knowledge and experience as a hired general contractor, you probably don’t have the same track record with the building inspectors that they do. Try treating the local inspector as your mentor and you may discover that they will act like one, answering your questions freely and offering advice along the way as well.
You or your contractor are responsible for calling and arranging the required inspections. Check with your local building department to see if they have guidelines to follow and what lead-times they expect; they may even have an online system for inspection scheduling.
This kind of forward thinking separates successful builders from amateurs. By planning ahead and anticipating your progress you can schedule inspections, deliveries from cabin suppliers and subcontractors in advance so your job receives priority and there is no down-time on the job site.
You should be aware that a building inspector is not the same thing as a home inspector. Although their jobs may be very similar, a building inspector is verifying conformance with building codes and ensuring that workmanship complies with an approved building plan. Home inspectors, on the other hand, are privately hired individuals who are evaluating the condition or state of a dwelling for the purposes of a sale or establishing a value.
A home inspection is important when buying an existing log home, but home inspectors are not working for the city or county; they are working for whoever has employed them to determine the state or condition of an existing log home.
Building inspectors perform a public service by verifying that all log home and conventional construction adheres to established codes for livability and safety. Your cabin building experience will be greatly enhanced if you establish a good working relationship and utilize their expertise on your behalf.