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Germain 10-21-2009 11:44 PM

Newbie with a Building Inspector problem
First, this is the second house that we've remodeled and my husband does some carpentry.

We are remodeling a small house, built as a "workers cottage" in 1940 and then expanded upon. Its built with scavenged materials, sometimes funky but is well built and very sturdy. We bought it from the daughter of the original owner/ builder. It needed some electrical rewiring so we called in an electrician, and decided to start in the kitchen and laundry room. We removed the drywall to make it easier for the electricians, which revealed some rot along the floor where the icemaker had been leaking. We needed to remove a supporting wall that was not supporting anything for some time. We replaced it with a 6X10 beam held up by 6x6's. This will support an small finished attic used only for storage, with pull down stairs. The building inspector stopped by unexpectedly and said we need to replace all the 2X6's because a few of them have been built with beams that contained knots and bark as well as some that were pieced together and didn't span the room. They are spaced 14" apart. We agreed to sister the beams that were themselves sistered smaller beams that didn't span the room ( they now do), but we disagree with him that they all need to be replaced. They may look rough but they are sturdy. We only removed the drywall to aid the electricians anyway! How can we talk to this inspector. How can we better understand what the code actually is and what our rights are. There is no doubt that it is much stronger for the work we have done, how strong does it really need to be?

I should add that the inspector had bad history with the original owner and told me that he "believes someone is living there" even when we have insisted that the space is for storage. Any advice appreciated. We really don't want to sister every beam and think this will only add weight anyway.

user1007 10-22-2009 05:59 AM

You will need to get your hands on the building codes for your area to see what the minimum structural requirements are. Check to see if there are any grandfather clauses that might apply to you. The library may have copies or you can go and view them at the building department.

Building codes came into being largely because of the situation you describe. People would hack together structures with what was laying around and as long as it seemed to hold together it was assumed all was well. They may seem harsh and even overkill at times but safety, not making life miserable, really is the goal.

Now don't get me wrong. The inspection system is out of control and I think the guys must look over credit card receipts from building material purchases for addresses or something. Municipalities have figured out there is good money---almost better and easier than parking tickets---in forcing inspections of simple things. It is $25/outlet for someone to come out with a socket tester and a flashlight to check grounding pig tails where I was living last!

We all have horror stories about inspectors and they can be a strange lot but I have been able to tolerate and work with them. If you get one with an ego to go with it all you really need to stroke it. Most of them do know what they are doing (perhaps too unflinchingly) and your chances of prevailing in any sort of dispute are likely not to turn out in your favor. Any litigation or proceedings will probably cost you more than the requested repairs and disagreeing with an inspector about one thing is just going to invite added scrutiny and delays for everything else you are trying to do. You may also have insurance issues if you were to try to fudge around things once inspected.

The issues you raise also point to the need to get a thorough private inspection by someone who knows codes before you purchase anything and especially if it is vintage and its construction at all suspicious as was yours.

jogr 10-22-2009 12:04 PM

I see #2 lumber all the time that has knots and bark. If you really want to argue with him then ask him how he determined the grade of the existing lumber was not adequate (besides a subjective look) and if he has the necessary certifications required to grade lumber.

Explain that the existing lumber must have met all requirements at the time of construction and that you have no plans or desires to make modification to the existing structure. Ask him to show you the regulations that require existing legacy structures to be removed and replaced to meet current requirements.

But also consider that he is doing you a favor by pointing out things that could be repaired while things are opened up that will give you a more sound and reliable structure. In other words listen to what he has to say and don't fight it just because you can. His concerns may well make a lot of sense, consider them thoughtfully.

Allison1888 11-04-2009 10:46 AM

building inspector
You are in a bind here and I think your best approach is to bow down to the inspector, agree with his wealth of experience and then ask his advice on how to best solve the situation. Explain that would be very costly (even if you're doing it yourself...still time you have to take off of work, etc.) to do all the repairs and while you certainly thank him for taking such a detailed look at the house, is there a middle ground? Perhaps get an estimate from a contractor on what it would cost to do it that way (as you just can't take that much time away from work right now!!!) and see if the estimate puts it in a different light.

This is one reason why it's good to get to know the building inspector before you do things...go in there and ask questions, get on a first name basis. It really does help. Good luck!

brcon 11-08-2009 06:33 PM

It wouldn't be a bad idea to seek the advice of a licensed contractor; maybe a friend, someone in your church, etc. Local contractors know the codes and usually the extent of the inspector's authority. If you didn't have a permit yet, he had no authority to enter your house.

Beams cannot be in pieces, they most be one piece. However, sistering new beams to old is a perfectly good way to fix the problem. It's often difficult to remove old beams because the flooring may be nailed to them.

I would try to enlist the help of the inspector and not pick a fight with him.

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