Special inspections were first mandated in the North Carolina Building Code in 2012/IBC 2009. These requirements were listed, along with others, as any building that is considered “essential facility.” The listed projects would require an outside inspection, in addition to the county or local jurisdiction inspections.
Table 1604.5 in Risk Category II references down to Risk Category IV that lists specifically “Fire, rescue, ambulance, police stations, and emergency vehicle garages.” The main goal of these inspections is to continue the group effort on quality and craftsmanship, but also to extend the degree of checks for the owner as a project is being built. Inspection items include pre-engineered building components, concrete, masonry, soils, sprayed fire-resistant materials, and any special cases as determined by the building official, architect, or engineer of record. These hired special inspections are to be documented throughout the project.
Roles and Responsibilities
The most important concept to understand with the role of special Inspections is that the inspection agency must be hired and paid by the owner. At this time of contract, the chosen Design-Build general contractor has eliminated themselves from any partiality and removed the potential conflict of interest as problems arise. There are many state registered firms that are qualified to perform these required inspections. A great source of information can also be received from neighboring stations that recently built, or by sending out an RFQ (Request for Qualification) for your station to consider multiple agencies based off their credentials and references.
Special inspection contracts are typically paid on an hourly rate since the inspector has minimal control of the speed of the project and the continual need of their service. The special inspection agency is not hired to control the quality of work put in place by the contractor; this responsibility still lies on the owner, however, hiring a reputable Design-Build general contractor will ensure your construction experience will be as flawless as possible.
Inspections and Their Findings
These inspections are primarily involved with the building structure, but also may address fire protection, electrical systems and mechanical systems. Along with these inspections and the others listed earlier, daily detailed reports shall be given to the owner for their records. Some jurisdictions (i.e. County Inspections) also like to keep record of these inspections, in addition to their records taken on site. It is common practice for the general contractor, Architect of Record (AOR), and Engineer of Record (EOR) to obtain copies of the reports as well.
It is routine that the Special Inspector is called out to perform in a few major project events:
- Proof rolling and preparation of the subgrade soils. One of the first and arguably the most important, is the time the inspector is on site because without an approved and stable base, there is a greater chance of structure failure.
- Concrete pouring of any type — including foundations and slabs. The main objective during these trips is to observe the placing methods used by the contractor, and to obtain cylinders for testing to ensure proper strength in the concrete material. The test cylinders are taken to a testing lab facility where vertical pressure is applied, which is the test protocol for concrete strength.
- Masonry grout testing. Like the testing done for concrete, masonry grout testing is performed every four feet to eight feet in vertical height, depending on your Structural Engineer’s requirements. These testing cylinders are obtained at the time the grout is placed in the CMU and tested after the appropriate time has passed to check performance of the material.
- Pre-engineered building and structural components. During the process of the pre-engineered building erection, the special inspector will make periodic trips to site to access the progress and review any abnormal issues with the building components. With the completion of the erection, the owner should be confident their building structure including bolt connections, screw patterns and welded connections are properly completed.
Special inspections are part of our construction industry today and is now engrained in the construction of any EMS, fire or rescue station, therefore every fire chief, building committee, and station project authority needs to take into consideration these additional funds needed for their project. So now that we all have accepted the fact these additional inspections are required, the magic question is, “What do these inspections cost?” Of course, there are many objectives to consider when answering that question. For example; size of your project; location of your project, and the inspection agency you hire to perform the work. In reference to my experience, Special Inspections cost approximately $1.50 per square foot of your building size. If this line item is listed within your project total, along with your direct Design-Build proposal and indirect furnishings cost, you will be ready to start your project on the right foot with the proper allocation of funds.