How to Become an Inspector

This page is a work in progress. The information below is updated as it becomes available. Check regularly for new education and training opportunities.

What do you do when 80% of your workforce is going to retire in the next 15 years?

The Missouri Association of Building Officials and Inspectors (MABOI) is developing training programs and a communications network to train replacements, create a pool of skilled labor candidates for jurisdictions, and produce a communication tool to link the jurisdictions with the skilled labor.

A Career in Demand

In the next 15 years, 80% of the Building and Code Enforcement staff across the country will retire and create a large void for skilled employees.  A career in public service as an inspector or plans examiner can be very rewarding and offer many benefits over other positions.

Below is a list of benefits often provided in the St. Louis Metro region:

  • Regular work – 40 hours a week sometimes with compensatory time and overtime
  • Vacation or Personal Time Off (PTO) – Often 2-3 weeks for a new employee
  • National holidays off
  • Health insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Vision insurance
  • 457 Retirement Plan (similar to a 401K but for government employees)
  • Pension plan (some offer defined benefit)
  • Work vehicles and clothing allowance

The following graphic provides related information on a national scale:

Getting Started

While MABOI does not have a formal classroom and training program, there are many resources available for you to begin your journey to becoming an ICC Certified Inspector. If you have landed here, chances are you have already spoken to your local Inspector, Plan Reviewer, or Building Official on how to get started down this career path. Many of us that currently occupy these positions started with a construction, maintenance, or engineering type of background and were provided some type of opportunity to become employed within a city/county. We started as building maintenance workers, code enforcement officers, parks or street laborers, and even inspectors depending on experience and knowledge.

Those opportunities are still available but the certification, testing, and expectation of abilities and skills have changed significantly. In the past, many were provided the opportunity without any certifications or inspection experience, testing was simpler, there were far fewer certification categories, and the required number of certifications to satisfy your employer was less. Today, the pool of candidates that want to enter this career path has become saturated with the basic similar job-related experiences–usually–construction or maintenance. In order to stand out from the crowd, the best thing you can do is to become certified in one or more categories. The following information will try to outline the basic categories of which you should focus. While each municipality is different, almost all will require a minimum of a Property Maintenance and Housing or Residential Building Inspector certification.

The testing and certification agency for code professionals is the International Code Council, ICC. All of your testing and certification will be done through them. The information below will try to point you in the direction that will be most beneficial for newcomers to the industry. There are several paths to become trained and certified, these are the basics. We encourage you to look around the ICC website for newly added courses and information.

 

Property Maintenance and Housing Inspector – 64

A Property Maintenance and Housing Inspector is responsible for enforcing the minimum maintenance standards and condition of all properties, buildings, and structures in the local jurisdiction, ensuring the structures are safe, sanitary and fit for occupation and use. This includes enforcement of minimum maintenance standards for basic utilities, facilities, equipment, light, ventilation, heating, sanitation, and fire safety. The condemnation of buildings and structures unfit for human occupancy and use and the demolition of such existing structures are also part of the enforcement responsibilities.

This is the most basic certification category. It covers the basics of property maintenance, legal aspects, and new building code requirements. Most municipalities require this certification for their Code Enforcement staff or Housing and Occupancy Inspectors. Some municipalities do not employ this type of staff and could limit your employment possibilities so keep that in mind. If your goal is to be employed in that capacity or to get your foot in the door and advance from there, this is the certification for you. This certification and exam require several codebooks in order for you to take your exam:

A limiting factor to this certification is the availability of study materials, currently, there is only one option, the online study guide. Search for the keywords “Property Maintenance” at the ICC Learning center and select this study course:

2015 IPMC Online Study Guide – For Property Maintenance and Housing Special Inspectors – 64

Note that this course only covers the IPMC codebook. You will have to read and study Legal aspects on your own. The IRC has many options for study and will be covered in the section below. Once you feel you are ready to take the exam you can register at the link below. Testing will be covered in another section below.

 

R5 Residential Combination Inspector B1, E1, M1, P1

The Residential Combination Inspector certification is a combination of residential certifications encompassing the four basic disciplines of building, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing. This combination certification is what nearly all municipalities will require for you to be employed in the capacity of a Residential Inspector. The following certifications are what will be required to receive your Residential Combination Inspector certification:

  • Residential Building Inspector – B1

A Residential Building Inspector will be responsible for performing inspections of structures to determine compliance with the various Building Codes and Standards adopted by his / her jurisdiction. At this level of certification, the Inspector shall be able to inspect one-and-two family dwellings, townhomes not more than three stories in height, and accessory structures.

  • Residential Electrical Inspector – E1

The Residential Electrical Inspector is responsible for performing inspections of the installation or alteration of electrical systems indoors and outdoors including services, conductors, equipment, components, fixtures, appliances, devices, and electrical appurtenances for one‐ and two‐family dwellings limited to 120/240 volts, single phase, up to 400 amperes.

  • Residential Mechanical Inspector – M1

The Residential Mechanical Inspector is responsible for performing inspections of the installation, maintenance, alteration of mechanical systems that are installed and utilized to provide control of environmental conditions and related process for one-and-two family dwellings not more than three stories. The residential mechanical inspector is also responsible for verifying the installation of fuel gas distribution piping and equipment, fuel-gas-fired appliances and fuel gas-fired appliance wiring.

  • Residential Plumbing Inspector – P1

The Residential Plumbing Inspector is responsible for verifying that the installation of the entire plumbing system is compliant with the codes and standards adopted by their jurisdiction. The Inspector’s duties include but are not limited to the following: verifying the installation and testing of piping systems, protection of piping systems and building components, the minimum required fixtures, approved materials, approved fixtures, flow rates, pressures, volume and temperature, and protection of the potable water supply and distribution system. Other duties include verifying that all materials, joints, connections, and appliances are of the approved type. Fuel gas piping combustion air and required venting are also included.

All of the above certifications will be tested on the 2015 or latest International Residential Code. The availability of study materials, classes, and online practice exams are vast as this category is the most widely employed. The industry employs tens of thousands of Residential Inspectors across the country whos skill and knowledge are utilized to inspect basic subdivision improvements such as sheds, pools and basement finishes all the way to a several hundred unit single or multi-family or townhome community developments. As you begin looking for options for training you will most certainly become overwhelmed with the options available to you. There are printed study books, online books, online courses, local college classes, and even the monthly educational opportunities that MABOI provides.

What is key is finding out what works best for you, your schedule and your learning type. While we can not guess what that is, at the basic level you can not go wrong with the printed version of the 2015 International Residential Code Study Companion. The Companion’s 18 study sessions provide practical learning assignments and contain specific learning objectives, applicable code text and commentary, and a list of questions summarizing key points for study. A 35-question quiz is provided at the end of each study session enabling users to test their knowledge of the material. Thousands of inspectors have earned their certifications with this book alone. Others find flashcards to be very helpful, the 2015 IRC Flashcards contains more than 220 cards prepared and reviewed by code experts. There are also many other options available at the International Code Council Learning Center covered below.

Additional information for testing can be found here

Near the bottom under Catalog Search, enter for TYPE: National Certification Category/Trade: Residential Inspector

Expand the results and you will have the option to click Outline. The outline will give you a summary of where the questions will be taken from on the exam giving you a more targeted area of study to focus on.

Here are several other options from the learning center that may be of benefit to your certification journey. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter. You will get regular updates on training and job opportunities in the metro area.

Tips and tricks to preparing for testing and certification

The 2015 IRC is over 1000 pages of code, memorizing everything is impossible, don’t try. Memorization will come with time and experience while on the job. While your new employer will want you proficient in the codes, your focus right now is to understand the concepts of the code, but most of all HOW TO FIND THE ANSWERS! Let me say that again, you are LEARNING TO FIND THE ANSWERS!  You are preparing for an open book test, yes, your codebook is not only allowed, it is mandatory when testing.

There are thousands of measurements, hundreds and hundreds of tables with footnotes, exceptions to exceptions, the list goes on and on. When a question is asked, your task is to find the answer, not only now but for the rest of your career. When a contractor, homeowner, architect or engineer asks you a code question, you want to get it right and fast so this practice of quickly finding answers will continue. Familiarizing yourself with the chapters, the layout, and the index is all key to passing your exam. The residential exams are 60 questions with a 120-minute time limit, that gives you 2 minutes to find each question on the exam! While that doesn’t sound like a lot of time, you will find that just knowing 20 questions from memory, your time now goes to about 3 minutes per question, that’s plenty of time so don’t be nervous. All of the exams are multiple choice so you have a 25% chance right from the beginning.

Tips to remember while testing:

  • Read the question then read it again, an if/or/and will completely change the question, don’t miss an answer because you hurriedly read the question
  • The answers are multiple choice, read them all before you start searching for an answer, eliminate answers you know aren’t correct and increase your odds of getting it right
  • Unless you are positive about an answer I suggest looking it up. If you are pretty sure you know it, chances are you also know where to find it, look it up quickly to verify
  • Go to the index first and always unless you are relatively sure where to find the answer
  • When looking in the index look for the keyword from the question, if the question was what is the minimum size vent stack, you should look for stack in the index
  • The index will point you to the code section to start scanning, remember the answers you read earlier, that is what you are looking for
  • When you find an answer, DO NOT STOP READING! Finish the sentence and sometimes even the section. Many times you will see what you think is the answer only to continue reading to find an exception to the rule
  • When testing you are allowed to mark questions and come back to them later. If you can not find the answer within 2 minutes, make an educated guess, mark it and move on. You have to answer all of the questions if you want to have any chance of passing, don’t let that one question hold you up
  • Many times you will have another question that allows you to find an answer to a previous question. If you have marked it for review, now is the time to go back and mark the correct answer while you have it
  • Once you have completed your exam, you will have your remaining time to go back and review your marked questions. Use the same strategy before, if you cant find it relatively quickly you will need to skip it and move on. You want to check all of your marked questions if at all possible

Registering and taking the exams

The links below are to register and pay for your exams. You will want to select the code year that you will be testing out of, as of this writing choose 2015. The second option is where you will take your exam, PRONTO or Pearson VUE. PRONTO is the ICC’s new online testing center. With this option, you can take the test from anywhere so long as your computer meets the minimum requirements and you have a webcam and microphone, most relatively new laptops will work. You can check if your system is compatible, information for testing, and other requirements at the PRONTO web portal.

The other testing option, Pearson VUE, is a national testing center that you must visit their location to test. There are a few locations in the metro area that will be close enough for you to drive to but you generally will have to schedule weeks in advance. These testing centers are very stringent as far as testing rules are concerned, which is not necessarily bad. The advantage of Pearson VUE, is you are provided a computer, a quiet place to test, and for some, the fact that you must prepare yourself for the day helps ready you for your examination. You will have to make the choice that suits your needs.

Additional information for testing can be found here

Test day

Today is the day that you become certified. All of the time and effort of your studies will come together, just remember the tips and tricks we covered, remain calm, and do it. Once the first exam is out of the way you will be much more comfortable with the entire process and that will make it all the easier. While we tried to make testing seem easy in this article, do not take it for granted. The exams are still very tough, they will try to trick you, steer you down the wrong path, fool you with wordplay, and above all, there are hundreds of pages to cover. Again, the tips and tricks will help you immensely during testing, learn them well and you will be successful.

If you still have questions or need further advice I would seek out your local Building Official. They have taken dozens of exams and have had years of experience. You can also check our current Board of Directors link under the About tab at the upper left of all pages. We are all members of the Board of Directors as volunteers with a mission for our industry to succeed and would be happy to speak with you further.

 

All links in this article

Books:

2015 IRC Flashcards

International Code Council Learning Center 

Additional information for testing

Training:

PRONTO web portal

Testing:

 

ICC Assessment Center

Additional information for High Schools or Trade Schools

High School Technical Training Program Toolkit