A building inspection is an inspection performed by a building inspector, a person who is employed by either a city, township or county and is usually certified in one or more disciplines qualifying them to make professional judgment about whether a building meets building code requirements.
To ensure that maintenance problems are detected, systematic inspections of the building must be carried out. These should be conducted at regular planned intervals, using facility-specific and element-specific checklists. When preparing an inspection plan, consider the following:
- When should inspections take place? Typically there should be a general annual inspection of the entire building. These inspections should be used to validate the timing of planned cyclical maintenance activities, such as redecoration, and should also be used to identify defects that require immediate attention and cannot be left until their scheduled maintenance date. Other planned inspections may focus on specific elements and should take place at the intervals specified on the maintenance record sheets. For example, comprehensive inspection and testing of the electrical system might take place every 15 years. Finally, unscheduled emergency inspections should be carried out whenever the building users report a significant problem or failure.
- What should be inspected? As noted above, the annual inspection will be a general inspection. Element-specific inspections may be grouped together by interval and the inspection procedure should follow the items listed in the element record. Annex 2 gives an example of a checklist for the external envelope of a cold store.
- Who should carry out the inspection? Many inspections will be conducted by the facility or maintenance manager or his or her nominated staff. However, some inspections need to be carried out by a qualified specialist or technician. The 15-yearly electrical system inspection referred to above is one example – in a smaller building this would be carried out by a qualified electrician; in a larger building with complex systems, by an electrical engineer.
- When should elements be repaired? There is an old saying that “a stitch in time saves nine”. Cyclical repairs and redecorations, carried out at planned intervals, prevent degradation and extend service life and it is a false economy to extend these intervals. Similarly, emergency repairs should be carried out promptly in order to prevent further damage to the element itself and knock-on damage to other elements.
- When should elements and components be replaced? Some building elements – for example structural frames and masonry external walls – are expected to last the lifetime of the building. Repairs, such as redecoration, repointing or re-rendering may be needed at intervals of years or decades but, generally speaking, any fundamental failure of these elements will indicate the end of the building’s economic life. Other building elements and components that are designed with periodic replacement in mind should be replaced at the point where the disruption caused by failure and the cost of emergency repairs makes this the best option. For initial planning purposes, the material or component manufacturer’s estimate of service life can be used as a basis for budgeting. However, actual conditions of use, user behaviour and the quality of routine preventive maintenance will affect the replacement date. Good maintenance, careful users and a benign climate will lengthen service life; poor maintenance, careless users and harsh climatic conditions will all shorten it. Accordingly, the replacement date should be kept under review and reassessed at the time of each planned inspection. There may also be other reasons for replacement. For example, increases in energy costs might make it economically attractive to replace or over-clad a poorly insulated building envelope with a highly insulated product, even though the existing envelope is still in good condition.
Planned Service Inspections
Service inspections are different from planned periodic inspections. Typically they apply to mechanical equipment, are carried out by a qualified technician, and involve specific maintenance actions such as lubrication, replacement of consumable parts such as filters and other time-dependent actions recommended by the equipment manufacturer. Such inspections may take place several times a year.
It is essential that the quality and completeness of all significant maintenance work should be inspected and signed off. Generally this function should be carried out by a supervisor attached to the management team. However, in some circumstances a specialist contractor may certify work as complete and satisfactory by providing the client with a signed copy of a completion and/or test certificate. This applies particularly to the servicing of mechanical and electrical equipment and services, especially where the original equipment manufacturer publishes clearly defined service instructions. In countries with effective trade certification procedures, this form of self-certification is common practice; in the event of a dispute, the contractor’s certifying body can be brought in to adjudicate. In countries without such schemes, self-certification is more risky and the quality of self-certified work should be independently checked.