<![CDATA[ELEVATED INSPECTIONS - BLOG]]>Sat, 01 Jun 2024 03:42:24 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[the perfect home]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2023 17:10:27 GMThttp://inspectlij.com/blog/the-perfect-homeThere are homes that are perfect for you.  There are structures that fit the use perfectly.  No home or structure is perfectly built.  Not One. 
There are homes that are perfect for you.  There are structures that fit the use perfectly.  No home or structure is perfectly built.  Not One.  No structure is perfect because they are hand built by humans and each one has unique properties.
Compare a house to the shiny car you drive.  While the car may be close to perfectly built- many are not and we call those ‘Lemons’.  The differences between how the car is made and how a structure is built are significant.  Most widgets we buy at a store are mass manufactured.  Their production lines produce perfect replica’s one after another until the tool breaks down or there is human error.  Many manufacturers go to great lengths to reduce the amount of human interaction in the manufacturing process as that is where a good proportion of the mistakes are derived.
Not only are the components of the home made by manufacturer’s listed above with the same human issues- those components are then field assembled by humans, on a unique site, by a unique manager with a unique owner that has unique requests.  I hope you see the challenge here…  Mix in code requirements with a pinch of untrained labor (see “Paying Our Labor Force” blog)- and it may seem it’s a small miracle that any homes are built!
My larger point is, not only is it darn near a miracle that structures are able to be built and remain standing, the idea of constructing the perfect structure is a fool’s errand.  People with expectations of a perfectly built home or structure need to lower their expectations.  The perfectly built structure does not exist in the real world.  Some are closer than others- yes, but none is perfect.  Taking the codes as an example, no home would be able to be 100% verified that it was built to code.  Truly an impossible task.  Take one aspect of the construction codes- nailing patterns and requirements.  Verifying the correct amount of nails were used in the connections of a home would take an inordinate amount of time and yield little value to the person paying for that verification.  The codes provide designed minimums in hopes that through the construction process enough safety is built into the end-product that the structure stands the test of time.
The construction process is layered by design with many professionals reviewing/overseeing aspects of construction with much overlap to ensure proper field conditions.  The construction process relies on many people overseeing each aspect of assembly of the structure in an attempt to achieve the structure’s highest potential.  Using an average home as an example.  This may vary depending on where you live but here in northern Illinois- this is a common list of professionals that will be involved with building a home in one manner or another:
Architect: conceptual designer of the structure, systems and components.  Generally, this includes site, structure, electrical, plumbing and mechanical overviews. (Designs the home out of thin air)
Contractor: designer of how the actual structure, systems and components come together in the field, coordinator of subcontractors, homeowner liaison (Converts the conceptual design into reality)
Subcontractor: designer of the subsystem (structure, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, etc), installer of the subsystem and its components
Supplier: provides materials, generally understand the specification and compatibility of the materials supplied.  Most often trade specific suppliers.
Manufacturers: make or mill (lumber) and refine the materials utilized for construction and provided to the supplier.
Building Inspector: Generalist overseer of the above listed aspects of construction.
Homeowner: Has an effect on each of the above.
Each of the above is normally made up of multiple people.  With 7 participants listed above, each group will often have more than 1 person involved.  In this scenario, there are at least 14 people overseeing the assembly of the structure.  In the field, the contractor, subcontractor, and inspector are the primary overseers of the field work.  Often you can include the homeowner in those ranks as well.  There are many eyes working to ensure the assembly of this structure meets the myriad of codes, methods and manufacturer’s requirements for each product related to the heath and safety of the structure.
<![CDATA[labor force costs]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2023 17:07:09 GMThttp://inspectlij.com/blog/labor-force-costsThe other day I was performing a Final Inspection for one of our builders in town and I asked the Project Superintendent simply, “How do you do it?”
This Project Superintendent is name Romano, and he has about 15 years more experience than I have in construction- he has been in the field the entire time.  I look at the veteran operating in some level of Zen mastery and wonder how he does it.  Romano has ubiquitous blue tape attached to his shirt in varying lengths, going in various directions; caulk on his hands, shirt, pants; orange fire foam globbed in spots on him and his shirt- he rips off a small piece of blue tape from his shirt and plucks it down on the brand new wood floor.  The floor has at least 1 piece of blue tape within every single 3’x 3’ section of the entire floor.  The walls are smattered with blue tape as well.  He is conducting the symphony of workers and interacting with me- the professional judge & jury of his work.
As an inspector, I clearly am less adapted to his level of multi-tasking and amazed that he isn’t sitting in the middle of the floor curled up in a ball.  The flooring installers are clearly incompetent, the painters have drips in the paint, on the hardwood floor, in the carpet.  The electrician forgot at least 2 fixtures that Romano had to cap to pass inspection.  The windows are open this hot day because we aren’t sure who forgot to wire the air conditioner- is that the electrician’s responsibility or the HVAC contractor- in either case, they both decided not to make that final connection.
“Romano, how do you do it?”
He looked at me and said “If I don’t do it, it will never get done.”  To me his job amounted to a professional babysitter for well paid contractors that have no clue or bandwidth to perform their responsibilities.
I couldn’t help but ask if he had paid them yet- it was none of my business but I really wanted to know how the inner-workings of a contractor this size.
“Of course, but they do not understand what it means to be done.  They are paid, but many of them are unable to do the job without direction from me- if I don’t catch them when they are here and provide direction, it won’t get done.  Then I have to call to arrange for the contractor to come back on site, or I just do it myself when time matters.  The only solution I see is we need to pay our subcontractors more so they can hire qualified people.  Unfortunately, those decisions are above my pay grade.” 
It was a topic we both agreed on.  Our conversation evolved from there.  As long as we continue to pay trades people essentially the same rate they were getting paid in the early 1990’s, what do you expect? 
The problem is this: the guy swinging the hammer (sweating the copper, taping the duct…) can’t earn enough working for someone else as an apprentice.  In search of a bigger payday, they strike out on their own and become their own contracting business- no boss taking a cut of your take home pay.  This budding entrepreneur ends up short on trade skills since he could not afford to learn while working and training under somebody else.
The consumer drives the problem by wanting more for less.  One builder could build a 3000 square foot house for $300 per square foot and another builder could build that same house for $150 per square foot.  Much of the price variation is in the quality of the work.  A layperson may not fully understand what I mean by ‘quality’ until there is a problem which needs fixing.  An experienced tradesman can foresee problems and construct with those pitfalls in mind.  During construction is the correct time to take the opportunity to set the building up for easier maintenance and prevent problems.  Some of this goes unseen & therefor unappreciated.
Within the definition of experienced installer falls experience with different construction methods which comes in to play as well.  Something as simple as utilizing conduit to run electrical as compared to routing electrical power in NM (romex).  Conduit takes more training to install efficiently; NM does the same job in perfect conditions.  Conducting an electrical repair or rerouting something in the future is much easier with conduit as compared to NM.  NM is much more susceptible to damage than wires in protected tubing. Conduit may cost slightly more than NM but the trained labor force can install conduit nearly as quickly as a person installing NM.  One is a better end-product than the other even though they both do the same job.  The plumbing trades have these similar tradeoffs between products as well (CPVC as compared to copper piping for water supply).  One takes more training to install properly and the resulting installation is considered superior.  There are simple, tangible tradeoffs similar as to the ones described above and then there is the less tangible experience.  A properly trained employee that was shown how to install fidgets correctly at the beginning of his tenure will have learned more about fidgets after 5 years working with fidgets than a worker that installed them for 5 years but was never train on the proper installation method.  We all see these same comparisons in the work we do daily, understand that same truth caries through in construction as well.
One solution is to bring vocational studies back to high schools and pay these graduates a respectable living wage.  These classes will help give this trained workforce the basic skills and knowledge to work for a contractor right out of school.  The contractor would be able to afford to pay his workers better as his workers will be better prepared with the skills needed to get the job done correctly the first time.
Unions offer training along with better wages and benefits for the workers- this is another path for a worker to develop the proper trade skills.
Many local community colleges offer coursework related to construction trades.
No matter the path, buildings should cost more than they do to construct.  The production-built homes rely heavily on the field manager cherry-picking the right crews to construct them and the ability for the field manager being able to manage around a less than ideally trained crew.  One way to improve the workforce is to incentivize well trained workers.  This is physically hard work, they should get paid well to do it.  Our best path to improved construction quality is better pay for workers.
<![CDATA[rvi, a new technology]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2023 17:05:35 GMThttp://inspectlij.com/blog/rvi-a-new-technologyUnfortunately, I remember a life that existed prior to email being widely used and before the internet existed in the form it exists today. 
I remember looking forward to getting those free introductory America Online (AOL) CD’s in the snail-mail.  In exchange for creating a new AOL account (which meant it generated a new email@aol.com email address) you would be given a few hours of free internet access.  The thrill of unplugging the phone cord from the phone and plugging the cord into the modem on the back of the computer- those were the good ol’ days!  Remote Video Inspections (RVI’s) right now are kind of like that- they exist, but we are only at the infancy of RVI usage.  It is an under-utilized technology. 
When I started my first business venture as a traditional real estate home inspector in 1999, inspection reports were traditionally completed in multi-part forms (carbon copies) with the client receiving a copy and us keeping a copy.  While most everyone was aware of email in 1999, it remained (for some people) only something used at work- not personally.  Right around 2000, I made the switch emailing reports using this new portable document format called PDF’s by Adobe.  I remember having email templates with a paragraph dedicated to explaining how to open the report, it included a link to the FREE software that would open the inspection report- cutting edge stuff!  I feel like the adoption of RVI is in a very similar spot- we have the technology readily available to perform RVI’s, not many people are.
We all have mobile phones/devices.  Internet coverage in this area of Illinois is essentially 100%.  Yet we continue to drive to each location an inspection is needed.  That time costs the municipality money either in salary or to a 3rd party firm.  The contractor should be on-site already, why not make a video call and inspect in a different manner?  I think we all forget the inspection is intended to be a visual in nature.  The contractor has the responsibility and liability on the actual installation.  The inspectors are another set of eyes.
With our collective ability to utilize existing, widely adopted technology, we all should be racing to perform as many remote video inspections as we responsibly can.  Inspection counts per inspector will increase when compared to driving to each project site.
I understand the argument about wanting to be on site.  I agree generally that inspecting in person is easier for the inspector.  Not every inspection will qualify for an RVI, but many will.  I would not offer an RVI for a large home’s complex roof structure to a new or experienced inspector, but I would certainly entertain it for a basement prepour or deck inspection.  As technology progresses, cameras and displays will improve- maybe that roof will be better seen via an RVI than in person- who knows, things change.
RVI’s are safer too.  Less people on the jobsite inherently means less opportunity for injury or spread of disease.  Obviously Covid-19 has pushed most of us to change how routine tasks are performed.  I think some of those changes offer advantages that should remain and become standard operation.  Remote video inspection is one of them. 
Remote video inspections are slowly becoming common enough that people in the industry know the lingo- remote video inspection or RVI.  As people start to see the advantages of this technology, RVI’s will grow in use.  Municipal RVI expects to be a leader in that wave of adoption.
<![CDATA[field AND Remote Video Inspections (virtual)]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2023 17:02:55 GMThttp://inspectlij.com/blog/field-and-remote-video-inspections-virtualI think some inspectors may argue that a field inspection is superior to a Remote Video Inspection.  I would argue they are different inspection types with each having its own benefits over the other.
From a pure technical aspect of inspecting, the field inspection is easier for the inspector to see things.  An RVI Inspector needs a different level of experience.  Over video, the inspector must think about what he isn’t seeing and ask to see it. I will concede (for the moment), not every inspection can be done using RVI technology.  Some inspections may still require a field inspection.  Looking at a stick-framed roof structure is challenging enough in the field- let alone trying to do this through the lens of a video camera.  That said, if a reinspection item is to pad down a ridge for full rafter bearing- that can be done via an RVI.  I think most truss roof framing inspections could be conquered via RVI.
During an RVI, the inspector is much better resourced and able to answer questions or address uncertainties.  During field inspections, there are often times I would need to follow up with the contractor as I am unclear on how a code may apply to this specific situation.  This keeps the contractor in a holding pattern waiting for direction. With an RVI, I have that information at my fingertips and we move forward saving the project time.
For insurance reasons, the less people on a job site, the better.  It is that simple.  RVI’s have a significant upper hand in this measure.  Many experienced field personnel take walking around a jobsite for granted, but I am constantly aware of my surroundings.  Performing a rough inspection when the siding contractor is air-nailing siding outside can be unnerving.  One less person inside equals less risk when that nail perfectly hits a gap in the sheathing and flies across the room.
Time & Timing- a win for RVI.  Simply said, when the contractor needs an inspection, calling for an inspection on demand often saves them a trip back to the site tomorrow.  Why not have the inspection when you are already there?  Often, contractors complete 95% of the job leaving 5% for when they return the next day and are waiting for the inspector.  Then the inspector shows up and inevitably, the contractor is only 98% complete, necessitating a reinspection. Finish the job, call for inspection, have the RVI and [pour concrete, install insulation, hang drywall] as planned with certainty!  The contractor and homeowner benefit from a project on schedule!
The RVI will tend to cost less than a traditional field inspection.  The RVI takes less time than a traditional field inspection.  There is no travel for the inspector, the inspector is at a desk ready to go!
In comparing the similarities and differences between traditional field inspections and RVIs, they are apples and oranges- but each completes the same task- just with different timing, risk benefits and pricing profiles.
<![CDATA[Home & Municipal InspectionS: Differences & Similarities]]>Wed, 21 Jun 2023 15:59:47 GMThttp://inspectlij.com/blog/home-municipal-inspections-differences-similaritiesHome Inspections and Municipal Inspections share much of the same construction knowledge, but in practice, they are different.
The principle difference between the two inspection types this:  The traditional home inspection (performed during a real estate transaction) provides the findings of the visual condition of the existing structure’s components based on stated standards of practice; the municipal inspection contends with construction components at time of construction where the judgement standards are codes.  

Looking at an electric panel of a 50-year-old house as a home inspector and figuring out the condition is much different than looking at a brand-new electrical panel for code compliance.  The panel in most new homes are similar (municipal inspections), but the panel in homes of varying ages will differ significantly in materials and methods (home inspections).  The quality of the people performing work in the panel over 50 years is unknown, but mostly known in new construction. 

Following the example above, the home inspector may direct the client to speak with an electrician about concerns identified or recommend repairs when confident in the findings; the municipal inspector is the person passing judgement on the new work completed.  The scope of possibilities on how things were done “back-in-the-day" should be left to the professional who has been trained in that trade, while how things should be done today, is a much easier a question to resolve. 

Commercial municipal inspections are partially condition based, but the plan review is where the rubber hits the road for municipal commercial permits.  An important part of the inspection is the plan review process.  This is where a review is performed deciding how the space is planned to be used, figuring out fire separation requirements, verifying the quantity of occupants allowed and occupant egress paths out of the structure.  Once this is worked through prior to permit issuance, field verification is intuitive.  This review process with a condition evaluation makes up the municipal commercial inspection. There are businesses that perform commercial private real estate transaction inspections, but most commercial evaluations during a real estate transaction are completed by architects and engineers that oversee a multi-specialty inspection process.  Specialty contractors are hired to evaluate each major building component and derive a report of the condition of these parts which is then aggregated by the professional heading up the inspection. 

The home inspection industry follows Standards of Practice that are derived by independent organizations and/or prescribed by state laws.  The Municipal Industry is driven by codes.  International Code Council (ICC) has derived a series of building codes that are widely used.  National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) has derived electrical codes and a number of other standards.  The commercial side of condition evaluations are driven by American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM International) or InterNACHI’s ComSOP.  Each of these are each very different and look to identify different things.  This is a significant part of the distinct difference between the types of inspections that inspectors are performing.

Experience is the key to being successful in either industry.  The home inspector gains knowledge based how many defective and acceptable conditions they have identified given a component of the structure.  The municipal inspector must understand the codes and understand not only how they apply in theory during the plan review process, but how they apply in practice in the field. 

The similarity for both these types of inspections is construction knowledge.  The differences are how that knowledge is applied on the job.  It is clear they are two definitively different types of inspector. 
About the author: 
Brian Fragassi performed traditional real estate home inspections for 10 years in Illinois & Wisconsin before transitioning to municipal inspections in 2009 in Illinois.