The Evolution of Building Inspections

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Fifty years ago, before purchasing a home or building, most buyers relied on a trusted relative or friend to conduct a building inspection, with nothing more than a verbal heads up or no way in making the purchase. Also, real estate agents and sellers could hide known problems with the property from the potential buyer. Both of these situations often left a buyer with nothing short of a money pit.

Fortunately, the evolution of building inspections now provides new home buyers a team of trained inspection experts to evaluate their potential new homes. Today's educated building inspectors come with extensive knowledge of the specific components of a building, including the required codes and standards. Upon completing an inspection, the buyer can count on a detailed report with specific details describing material defects, along with plenty of photos for clarity. Also, new laws and regulations mandate that real estate agents and sellers disclose thoroughly, all known problems of the property.

Building Inspections Have Evolved

The evolving and improving field of building inspection, along with real estate regulations, enures that today's buyers can make more accurate and informed decisions on their building purchases than they could 50 years ago.

Building Inspection - 1960s

During the 1960s, only about five percent of buyers arranged for a professional building inspection before purchasing their new property. Often the buyer just relied on either their knowledge or a family member to evaluate a house for potential problems. Uncle Fred would jump on the floor, open and shut a few windows, and look under the sink for leaks. He would then declare, to his anxious relatives, that the house was either a great buy or an overpriced shack. Not only were formal building inspectors rare and nonexistent in many regions, but the lack of regulations also allowed sellers and real estate professionals to hide defects in the buildings. Too often, the buyers signed a contract with only the hope that their dream home didn't turn into a financial drain.

Buyers Begin Hiring Inspectors to Protect Their Investments

By the late 1960s, a new industry emerged - contractor's inspections - as property buyers began hiring general building contractors to perform pre-purchase inspections to ensure the quality of their purchase. At the same time, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) requirement that all FHA insured loans received heating electrical, plumbing, termite, and roofing certification before funding of the loan further, which further enhanced the need for inspectors.

Initially, the realtor would conduct the inefficient process of hiring an electrical contractor to inspect for electrical certification, a plumbing contractor for plumbing certification, etc. Fortunately, Milton Goldstein1 - the founder of building inspections - came along and recognized the potential need for a single professional who could provide certification for each system of a building with just one inspection, instead of a contractor specific to their specialty. In 1968, Goldstein successfully convinced the FHA to accept all five certificates from one trained professional building inspector for each house.

Mainly, because of this, the term contractor inspector evolved into building inspector as the industry professional capable of performing inspections on the overall condition of a building.

Building Inspections - the 1970s

In 1975, as the marketability of knowledge about buildings and building systems became apparent, building inspection industry professionals came together to discuss inspection methods and standards. These discussions lead to the first building inspection code of ethics and Standards of Practices. The group eventually evolved into the American Society of Building Inspectors (ASHI) and the California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA).

Formation of the ASHI

The formation of the American Society of Building Inspectors (ASHI) in 1976, by founder Ronald Passaro, provided the country with its first building inspection organization. Passaro, a builder, begin building inspections in the 1970s. At the time, he did not know any other inspectors. In 1973, with the help of his daughter, he located six other inspectors. Together they wrote one of the first books on a building inspection. By 1975, the group grew to over 100. Together, they collected data and defined the Standards of Practice (SOP) and Code of Ethics for building inspectors.

In 1976, ASHI issued its first SOP and Code of Ethics in 1976, with the education of building inspectors its top priority. ASHI provided access to professional knowledge, new technology and high-end equipment, and the latest advancements in electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, carpentry, roofing, and more. The training, education, and knowledge sharing that ASHI facilitated helped drive the industry forward.

Building Inspections - 1980s

The early years of building inspections often threatened real estate brokers and their agents. But, soon, realtors recognized that a professional building inspection was an excellent marketing tool. It could also shield them from potential litigation after the close of escrow.

The famous Easton v. Strassberger lawsuit further pushed the importance of building inspections to real estate professionals. In 1976, after purchasing a property for $170,000, the buyer, Easton, discovered that the property had soil issues and extensive damage due to a slide just before the sale. Easton sued the seller and the real estate agents for "fraudulent concealment and intentional and negligent misrepresentation."

In 1984, the courts held that the duties of a real estate broker must include "the affirmative duty to conduct a reasonably competent and diligent inspection of the residential property listed for sale and to disclose to prospective purchasers all facts materially affecting the value of the property that such investigation would reveal."

The case solidified the need for real estate brokers to consult with independent building inspection experts, not just for a more thorough inspection but to create an opportunity to pass on potential disclosure liability to another player during the sales transaction.

The state of California added further protection to the buyer with the CA Senate Bill 1406. The new law places the responsibility of sellers to inform buyers of any defects in the building, and it requires the agent to inspect the property. In response, real estate agents in California added a contract provision that the buyer must hire their building inspectors. California's legislation soon made its way to other states across the country.

In 1985, Texas passed the Professional Practice Act and became the first state to regulate building inspectors. Also, Texas would later become the first to license inspectors.

Soon afterward, the formation of the national building inspection associations and state-level associations and chapters helped provide the industry with a network of ethics and standards of practice.

Building Inspections - 2020

With the growth of the industry, building inspectors now specialize in everything from energy to landscaping. Furthermore, inspectors have access to new technologies that allow them to make more informed evaluations on the conditions of home or building. Finally, today's educated professional building inspectors strive to stay up to date on the latest methods of building inspections. For all these reasons and more, the building inspection industry continues to contribute towards improving the ethics and reliability of the real estate market for both the sellers and the buyers.

Specialization of Building Inspections

The evolution of building inspections has grown to include many specializations, including a certified building energy rater. An energy rater inspects and evaluates a building's energy features and prepares a building energy rating. They may also make recommendations for improvements that can save a building owner's energy and money.

Other specializations include new construction building inspectors, inspectors for mold, lead, pests, foundation, roofing, septic, asbestos, electrical, plumbing, and more.

New Technology for Building Inspection

Modern technology - thermal imaging - enhances the accuracy of the results of a building inspection.

In the past, building inspectors relied entirely on visual inspections. Today, thermal imaging allows inspectors to catch what the eye could not. Thermal imaging can identify insulation deficiencies in ceiling and walls, detect plumbing leaks, and find HVAC (heating/cooling) leaks in ductwork. The infrared camera and appropriate software can identify problems that previously required, water moisture meters, thermometers, or destructive inspection ripping things out to discover.

When mounted on a drone, the specialized and expensive equipment can fly around and over a building to check the walls and roofs. Thermal imaging saves time and improves safety by eliminating the use of ladders or climbing and walking on a roof.


As the profession developed, inspectors branched out, offering specialized services in addition to the typical “visual” inspection, like inspecting for lead paint, radon, mold, septic. The list has greatly expanded since the early days of building inspections.

Technology changes, The use of drones.

Clients also ask if a building inspector is needed when building a new building. The answer to that question is “yes,” and your clients should make sure a building inspection contingency is written into their offer.

A building inspector will perform several phase inspections during the building process and ensure that your client’s dream building has been thoroughly inspected. With a new-construction building, the International Association of Certified building Inspectors recommends that you have two or three inspections during the building process.

What type of inspections are needed during the building construction process?

Pre-Pour Inspection

During this phase, the inspector will physically and visually inspect the foundation and verify compliance with the engineered drawings, review the proper placement, support, sizing and spacing of graded rebar, and ensure that it’s supported using proper beam depth, width and placement. The vapor/moisture barrier placement will also be checked.

Framing Inspection

During the framing inspection, the inspector will physically and visually verify compliance with building standards or, if applicable, an engineered design. The inspector will ensure proper door and window egress placement, as well as confirm that framing members are properly attached, spaced, graded and aligned—and that joints aren’t stressed and are fastened with the proper materials. Additionally, the plumbing, electrical wiring and duct installations, along with the roof structure and roof surface, will be inspected.

Final Inspection

The final inspection is like a standard building inspection and will include all appliances, doors and windows, the exterior of the building, the roof and attic, plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems. This phase will prepare you for the final walk-through with your builder.

Why does someone need an inspection when building a new building?

These inspections assist in monitoring the building process by providing an unbiased, third-party evaluation of construction. Skilled building inspectors from a respected national brand like buildingTeam Inspection Service will inspect the important structural and mechanical components of the building before they’re covered in concrete and drywall. Occasionally, significant problems are uncovered that can save the buildingbuyer and builder thousands of dollars in costly repairs.

Common issues found in newly constructed buildings include:

  • Incorrect installation of the roof shingles, which may cause water penetration
  • The mechanical room or space being built too small so it cannot adequately fit all the appliances
  • The building not being correctly insulated, which may require the removal of finished walls and ceilings to add insulation
  • Improperly installed siding that needs to be replaced
  • Improperly installed electrical systems such as open grounds, missing switch plates and poorly installed wiring and electrical panels
  • Lack of crawl space ventilation, which can cause mold or moisture damage
  • Improper insulation around recessed lighting, which may cause air leaks and heat loss
  • Drainage and grading issues, which could cause water intrusion and future structural damage
  • Structural issues, such as a damaged roof truss system or an unusual floor frame configuration.

The Evolution of Building Inspections

To ensure construction meets building code standards the local building inspector has the task of on-site inspections at various stages of the build. With the updating of the building and energy codes there has been an evolution, or large change, to how walls and whole house and are to be constructed and approved. There is now more attention to thermal bridging, the installation of batt insulation, air barriers, air sealing and the overall performance of the building envelope to achieve an energy rating index, such as HERS, plus approval per the local codes.

In most States, buildings and multi-family buildings are required to have a certified Energy Rater involved in the initial design with energy modelling of the building and then follow-up with on-site inspections and testing, such as a blower door test and duct leakage testing. In some cases, this may also include inspecting the insulation installation, the air sealing and more.

There may be an overlap of duties between the Building Inspector and the Energy Rater, but as Energy Raters are considered the building science experts, their evaluations and reports could influence the approval of an occupancy permit.

The complexity of the new construction, with multiple materials and exacting installation techniques to achieve air sealing, moisture management and thermal efficiency has expanded the scope of inspections for the traditional building official involving much more building science. More of this task is now moving over to the Energy Rater for inspections and approvals.

As residential buildings move away from code minimum toward high-performance, Energy Raters have become the quality assurance go to agents for standards and efficiency.

Energy Raters love the simplicity and performance of ICF buildings to achieve HERS ratings well below the national average of HERS 55.

Here’s what the inspector will review, according to the American Society of building Inspectors’ (ASHI):

  • Heating system
  • Central air conditioning system (temperature permitting)
  • Interior plumbing and electrical systems
  • Roof
  • Attic, including visible insulation
  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Floors
  • Windows and doors
  • Foundation
  • Basement
  • Structural components

Clearly, the inspector isn’t going to tear your building apart to inspect piping and wiring. But the more they have access to, the better the final report will be.

The evolution of building and energy codes has raised the complexity of the building envelope and the inspections process. This has resulted in a good thing for consumers and the advancement of the construction industry, as homes and buildings are now inspected, tested and approved to a higher standard.