Seeking Balance – Insight into the Building Official’s Seesaw Role

Posted on November 15, 2017

By Claire Bouchard, SAFEBuilt, Director of Marketing
I have a confession to make – I am not a Building Official, but I get to talk about them all day long at SAFEbuilt! I have a lot in common with Building Officials – we both like safe homes, safe commercial buildings, and we both know what it’s like to balance on a seesaw. I’ve learned from my colleagues that just like a seesaw, Building Officials need to balance the significance of private sector investment in their community AND ensure safe buildings.

The municipal government’s responsibility for building safety is not to be taken lightly. National real estate stats show that on average, home properties turn over every seven years. When a new house is being built, the plans examiner, then the building inspector, are not only inspecting for the current homeowner but for future generations – most homes built today, to ICC® (International Code Council) standards, have at least a 50-year lifespan. Building safety belongs to local government – the codes are here to ensure personal safety for everyone inside buildings for generations – families, guests, customers – and the public has an inherent expectation that they are safe in buildings. They don’t know the building codes – as far as they are concerned, it’s been inspected and is deemed safe.
On the other end of the seesaw holds business owners and developer’s interests, as well as the local government’s economic development goals. Balancing the needs and interest of the building community and administering the minimum standards of the building code requires delicate yet steady leadership by the Building Official. The Building Official must remain neutral and lead their team of professionals who review blue prints and inspect projects with integrity, professionalism, and consistency. Building Officials who have a solid reliable process in place will reduce poor customer service complaints both within the Building Department and in the field, and strike the sweet spot of the mystical seesaw.
What does a solid, reliable process look like? It comes down to having a strong leader in the Building Official role. This person will ensure their staff is well trained and their building code certifications are renewed on schedule; they will have well informed permit techs at the public facing front desks armed with clear, comprehensive building process handouts and online information; and they will instill the highest standards for plans review and building inspections – across the trades. When everyone in the Building Department is on the same page, the public faces little to no surprises when they are submitting paperwork or receiving a building inspection. Building Departments who process building permits and inspections fast and efficiently increase the likelihood of steady construction, and the benefits that come along with that – faster sales tax and property tax collections.

So, where does that leave the Building Department and its Building Official? – on top of a seesaw, and sometimes, between a rock and hard place. The new or seasoned Building Official must balance special interests from the private sector, and consistently enforce building codes in the field. If everyone is doing their jobs correctly, being a Building Official is really one of the most rewarding careers around.
DYK? SAFEbuilt helps building industry officials nail their ICC® certification exams with ongoing building code trainings. SAFEbuilt Academy is for anyone in the building industry who needs to know how to build or enforce ICC® building codes. We offer live webinars and in person events that are chockful of real life examples and specific code nuances. Register for our December 4-7, 2017 Brookfield, WI (Milwaukee area) trainings. Courses include: 2015 International Building Code® update, 2015 International Mechanical Code® update, and the 2015 International Permit Tech®. Hope to see you there! More info and registration at, or 770.837.2764.
SAFEbuilt partners with jurisdictions across the country, helping them create thriving, vibrant communities. For 25 years, our building inspectors have worked on projects of all sizes – from tiny homes, to sporting venues, to commercial high rises. Contact us for more information and other building inspections tips!

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