Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about the requirement for “special inspections.” Can you give me some background information?
A: Special inspections have been in place for quite a few years now and up until recently had little impact on the contractor. The possible exception would be the contractor who works with exterior insulation and finishing systems. When it comes to special inspections, what started out to be small in concept has grown in scope. Recent code changes may have more of an impact.
In the past, inspections now required by the International Building Code were on more of a voluntary basis, as required by the owner or designer of record. This was changed, and the inspections now fall under the building official. According to a document published by the International Code Council in 2005, “Model Program for Special Inspection: Based on IBC Chapter 17,” there are many reasons for relegating oversight to the local building official. The following were offered: legal liability, insistence on competent performance, completion of work as specified and approved, and more involvement by local government.
The apparent intent of the IBC language is to remove the prior voluntary nature of these inspections. The mandatory language makes the inspections a requirement, only to be waived by the local building official if the work is deemed of a “minor nature or as warranted by conditions in the jurisdiction as approved by the building official (Section 1704.2).” Also written into the code is that the inspections will be administered by a third party that is recognized as an authority in the type of installation that is being observed. The special inspector is defined in Chapter 2 of the IBC as “a qualified person employed or retained by an approved agency and approved by the building official as having the competency necessary to inspect a particular type of construction requiring special inspection.”
There are four areas of the contractor’s scope of work that may fall under local special inspections. They are the design and installation of the following: load-bearing, cold-formed steel framing, fire-resistant penetrations and joints, exterior insulation and finish systems, and intumescent fire-resistive coatings.
An interesting exception for cold-formed steel framing first appeared in the 2015 IBC. In Section 1704.2 inspections are not required specific to cold-formed steel structures that are designed and constructed following the prescriptive methods described in AISI S230, Standard for Cold-Formed Steel Framing – Prescriptive Method for One- and Two-Family Dwellings. However, the code does require periodic special inspections for cold-formed steel, light-framed construction for the fastening, both mechanical (screws, bolts, etc.) or welding, of main windforce-resisting systems. The same is true for seismic force–resisting systems when used in Seismic Design Categories C, D, E or F. A periodic inspection is defined in the 2015 IBC Chapter 2 as “Special inspection by the special inspector who is intermittently present where the work to be inspected has been or is being performed.”
In the 2012 IBC, provisions were added for fire-resistant penetrations and joints. Reference in Section 1705.17 is made to require inspections on these types of assemblies when used in high-rise buildings or those buildings recognized in special risk categories. A high-rise building is one with an occupied floor that is 75 feet above the lowest level of fire service vehicle access, essentially grade level. The risk categories are based on those buildings that represent a substantial hazard to human life or are seen as essential facilities. The assemblies to be inspected include through penetration firestops, head-of-wall conditions and perimeter fire barriers.
Another area that may impact contractors include EIFS and water-resistive barrier applications. Special inspections are a requirement for all EIFS installations, but there are two significant exemptions. The first is where the installed system has a mechanism for water drainage and incorporates a water-resistive barrier. The second is when the EIFS is installed over concrete or masonry. However, under Section 1705.16.1, the water-resistive coating itself will have to be inspected.
The final provision of interest and one that is new is that mastic and intumescent fire-resistive coatings applied to structural systems must have special inspections. This falls under Section 1705.15, and the inspection will be done in accordance to AWCI Technical Manual 12-B, Standard Practice for the Testing and Inspection of Field Applied Thin Film Intumescent Fire-Resistive Materials.
Given the nature of model codes and the building code industry in general, it stands to reason that contractor experience with special inspections can and will vary from region to region. Special inspection can differ with local interpretation and which version of the International Building Code has been locally adopted. In the natural evolution of codes, there tends to be a lot of modifications made to emerging new code requirements. This is particularly true with IBC’s Chapter 17, “Special Inspections and Tests.” It is important that the contactor understand which version of the IBC has been adopted, what local amendments have been made, and be cognizant of any local interpretations that cover these inspections.
Robert Grupe is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.