What is a Special Inspector in Construction & Renovation?

What is a Special Inspector and How to Manage the Special Inspector on Your Construction Project

In most cities and towns, the use of a Special Inspector is a method implemented to ensure that compliance to the specifications and contract documents is accurately followed. The use of a Special Inspector for this purpose, ensures that the engineering competence is in-place, to perform the proper and professional inspections of the work. In many cases, due to the complexity of construction projects, the individual building departments do not have the specific expertise to properly address the inspection requirements. The hiring of a Special Inspector by the owner, or developer of the project, allows the building department the reassurance that proper engineering skill is being used to inspect the construction, and that the contract documents are being strictly followed.

In most instances, the use of a Special Inspector is required to inspect and evaluate all of the structural work that is performed. Normally, any situation such as reinforced concrete, precast concrete, structural steel or light metal framing, that is determined as structural, will fall under the jurisdiction of the Special Inspector. In many cities and towns, the competency level of the mechanical and electrical inspectors, to ensure that the codes are properly followed, is adequate. However, the structural work becomes a different issue, especially in lieu of some of the latest structural failures on construction projects. However, with this being said, there are also instances that a specialty operation, or specialty equipment is being installed that will require the services of a Special Inspector, specifically qualified to inspect this type of specialty. In other instances, especially if there is an environmental issue or requirement that is specified, a Special Inspector that is educated and trained in environmental construction and technique will be required.

If a specialty discipline is specific to the project, and the city or town does not feel competent to provide the proper inspection, then a Special Inspector will be required. The need for a Special Inspector is a determination that is made on each specific project, depending on the level of engineering required to competently inspect the work. The use of a Special Inspector is becoming more common as building departments become overwhelmed with multiple, sophisticated construction projects.

In some cases, such as working in New York City, the use of a third party inspector is also common place, due to the amount of construction projects occurring at the same time. Larger cities will require the use of third party inspectors, Special Inspectors, to adequately cover all of the responsibilities for inspections, on several major projects. It would be impossible for a large city building departments, to adequately provide the number of inspectors, as well as ensure the competency level of the inspectors themselves. By involving a third party, as well as Specialty Inspectors to perform the onsite inspections, the ability to properly inspect the construction work is ensured.

The owner or architect on the project is normally the entity that will hire the Special Inspector. Conflicts of interest must be properly and formally avoided, if the responsibility should fall on the general contractor. It is difficult to ensure both the proper level of integrity, as well as the fundamental image of a proper inspection, if the entity being inspected is paying for the inspection. This is the reason that most projects will have a Special Inspector, or third party inspector, hired and financed by the owner’s side of the project, namely themselves, or the architect.

General contractors must be very cognizant of the importance of the Special Inspector, as well as the necessity to adequately comply with all of the individual field reports, as well as concerns throughout the project, that the Special Inspector may have.

Following is the proper procedure for managing a Special Inspector on your construction project.

1.) Educate yourself regarding the responsibilities of the Special Inspector. In most cases their responsibilities will be all the structural inspections. In some instances, if there are individual specialty aspects of the project, the Special Inspector may be responsible to inspect these aspects of the project also. The important aspect of this research and education is your ability to understand what activities on the project require a Special Inspection, and to properly schedule these inspections as they need to occur in the construction schedule.

2.) Invite the Special Inspector to the project and introduce yourself as the general contractor. Ensure that the relationship starts off with the proper respect and interest in satisfying the Special Inspector. The initial impressions formed between the onsite superintendent and the Special Inspector are vital to the future success of the relationship. It is absolutely paramount that the attitude of the on- site superintendent be totally agreeable to the wishes and observations of the Special Inspector. Never should the Special Inspector feel inadequate or not necessary to the success of the project. Always give the Special Inspector the time and respect on the project. You will need them on your side when the project has been completed, and the final documentation becomes necessary.

3.) Review the specifications and the drawings to become familiar with the specific details required by the specifications as well as the drawings. Review the responsibilities of the Special Inspector to ensure that they are properly called and scheduled to the project, as required by the specifications. It is recommended that the Special Inspector be given several days of notice, when they are required on the site. It is always much better to be overly concerned and respectful of the Special Inspectors time and visits to your construction site.

4.) If an appointment is made with the Special Inspector, be cognizant of their time and always be present on the site. Do not reduce the importance of the visit to a foreman or another individual on the project. It is the superintendent and project managers responsibility to properly address the Special Inspectors schedule and requirements.

5.) If you are allowed, follow the Special Inspector in the field and make note of their concerns and observations. Be courteous and respectful, even if the circumstances appear to demand the opposite. It is mandatory that the general contractor is totally respectful to the Special Inspector due to the need for approved inspection results, as the project moves forward. I realize that I have reiterated the importance of respect and consideration for the Special Inspector’s time over and over again. It is that important, and if properly handled, will solve any issues or problems at the end of the project, when the need for a positive and helpful reaction is required from the Special Inspector.

6.) Request a copy of all field reports. In many cases, the office of the Special Inspector will take the field notes and reports, and summarize them in a overall office report. This should also be submitted and reviewed, however all of the individual field reports, as well as the summary office reports, must be accurately evaluated and all issues addressed.

7.) Each issue that the Special Inspector identifies, should be evaluated and addressed at the time it occurs. DO NOT PROCRASTNATE with the correction or repair of the issue of concern. This is important. There is a tendency for field supervision to procrastinate and not address issues as they occur. The problem with this technique is that, in many instances, the opportunity for correcting the issue closes, and the repairs become major items of work. For example the lack of seismic clips on masonry walls, if not addressed in a timely manner, will be covered up as the construction advances, making any corrections much more difficult. Correction of the concerns immediately, will make the entire process of satisfying the Special Inspector, that much easier.

7.) Take photos of the issues, both before and after the correction has been made. This is also very important, due to the fact that in many instances, there must be proof of the correction of issues. Photos, especially digital photos, are perfect for proving the correction of issues and the compliance with the Special Inspector’s requirements. There will never be a time when too many photos have been taken. A photo before, showing the problem, and then another after, showing the solution. What better method of formally addressing all of the Special Inspector’s concerns?

8.) Full disclosure. It is necessary, in most Cities and towns, for full disclosure of all of the Special Inspection reports, as well as the correction of any issues or observations. In most cases, a formal report acknowledging the corrections, is required to be documented and issued to the Building Department prior to a Certificate of Occupancy. This is the KEY reason why the Special Inspector must be considered the most important inspector on the project. The Special Inspector, when satisfied that all issues and conditions have been properly addressed, will sign off on the project, and both the certificate of occupancy will be issued and the general contractor can submit for final payment.

The importance of properly managing the Special Inspector on the project cannot be over stressed. A systematic management of reports, corrections and re-inspections is necessary to ensure that the final result will be the proper signoff and approval of the entire project. The Special Inspector is a principal factor in the overall success of the project, and a professional management approach is required to satisfy all inspection issues and corrections.

A HAPPY SPECIAL INSPECTOR IS A HAPPY CLIENT / Satisfaction of both parties will allow a certificate of occupancy to be issued, and final payment made. The ultimate goal of any general contractor!

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