Thanks to a an increased public awareness of the need for building safety following either a man-made or natural catastrophe, municipalities are enacting more stringent building code requirements.
Enacting tighter rules is one thing, approving them on paper is another. And making sure they occur on the project is the third. To solve this issue, municipalities that have adopted the International Building Code (IBC) now have a new tool to make sure that what they want actually happens.
In the past, special inspections were often delegated to the project owner's representative or the registered design professional in charge of the project. Sometimes the contractor was held accountable for the inspection.
But in today's marketplace, zoning and building officials want to provide oversight for the activities. According to the International Code Council (ICC), this increase in special inspections is driven by several factors, most notably concerns for legal liability, insistence on competent design and completion of work as specified and approved, and by more involvement of local government.
Using certified individuals or accredited organizations is increasing. And in those jurisdictions that adopt the IBC, special inspection is not a discretionary activity. IBC Section 1704 states the conditions under which special inspection must be utilized, as well as listing provisions for the building official to waive special inspection for minor work.
Special inspectors have specialized skills to observe critical building or structural features, as detailed in IBC Section 1704 for compliance to plans and specifications approved by the building official. Local building officials establish the competence requirements for special inspectors. Although the IBC lacks specific qualification requirements, this does not lessen the importance of diligence in the critical process of approving special inspectors.
The ICC has developed certification and accreditation programs to identify competent people and organizations that perform special inspections. ICC Professional Development Services certification programs require people seeking certification as special inspectors to have demonstrated a level of competence. A person can become certified through ICC by participating in seminars and classes, and passing written examinations.
For the masonry industry, the ICC has recently established the Structural Masonry Special Inspector certification program. There are currently 300 such professionals listed with the ICC Certification Registry. Most of the masonry special inspectors are on the West Coast—California, Washington, and Oregon—areas noted for using heavily reinforced masonry. To keep the ICC certificates current, people must renew these every two to three years through retesting or professional development activities.
IBC Tables 1704.5.1 and 1704.5.3 show detailed information for Level 1 and Level 2 special inspections for masonry construction and whether continuous or period inspection is required. Structural masonry special inspectors have specific areas of inspection that are outlined in Section 1704.5.
Inspectors verify the following: the quality of site-prepared mortar; the construction of mortar joints and the locations of reinforcement and connectors; the size and location of structural elements; the type, size, and location of anchors, including details of anchorage of masonry to structural members, frames, or other construction; the specified size, grade, and type of reinforcement; the proper welding of reinforcing bars; the protection of masonry during cold or hot weather; ensuring that grout space is clean and proportioning site-prepared grout; that grout placement is in compliance with codes and construction documents; preparation of any grout and mortar specimens and/or prisms; and complying with required inspection provisions.