What is a Building Official?

Mary McMahon

A building official is a government representative who oversees the safety and reliability of new construction and existing buildings. To work in this field, it may be necessary to have a college degree in construction engineering or related topics, or to have experience as a contractor. This work requires inspecting proposals for construction, monitoring job sites, and periodically evaluating buildings to see if they are still safe and operational. Building officials usually work for the building department.

Building officials make sure new construction is safe and up to code.
Building officials make sure new construction is safe and up to code.

One aspect of the work of a building official involves looking at applications for new construction. Building officials must confirm that the application reflects the zoning and evaluate the plans to see if they meet the building code. They also think about the impact of construction on the surrounding area and may request documentation like environmental impact reports for big projects. The official can request changes to the application before approving it and may work with developers on complex projects to create an acceptable plan.

Occupancy permits may be issued by building officials following a final inspection.
Occupancy permits may be issued by building officials following a final inspection.

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During construction, building officials can show up at any time for an inspection. They check for safe working conditions and also evaluate the job site for code violations. In cases where construction is proceeding without a license, the building official can issue a stop work order. The contractor must apply for a building permit and may need to make adjustments to the construction to bring it up to code. In rapidly growing areas, construction that is not permitted is often an ongoing problem.

Building officials also inspect finished buildings. They make sure all the required safety features are in place, check to see if the building matches the plans, and look for any potential issues. Building officials can do things like determining maximum occupancy. These government workers can also evaluate existing buildings, usually as part of an evaluation of an application to remodel or in response to a complaint. The building official has the power to condemn buildings, ordering people to correct a critical safety problem or destroy the building within a set period of time.

This work requires establishing a variety of community connections, as building officials interact with contractors, developers, and the general public. They need to be able to enforce the building code and related laws while also providing public outreach and education. The work can be highly varied and typically requires the ability to travel, as a building official may cover a large area in the course of her work.

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