When people refer to ‘building inspections’, they could be talking about one of a number of different things. If you’re talking about building a new house though, the term normally refers to the inspections that are carried out at various stages of the construction to make sure that everything’s being done right, and in accordance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the relevant Australian Standards.
Why are building inspections important?
Building a house is no small feat – there’s a lot that can go wrong if tiny things are overlooked at any stage of the construction (particularly early on). Over months or years, faults that may have been overlooked as insignificant during construction can wreak untold havoc on a house.
Even if your builder’s normally diligent and careful, there’s always a chance that something crucial is not quite right. For that reason, independent building inspections are a very important part of constructing a safe, and structurally sound house.
Who carries out building inspections?
Building inspections are carried out either by qualified building surveyors, or building inspectors acting on behalf of building surveyors. In NSW, they're referred to as the Principle Certifying Authority (PCA). Building surveyors and building inspectors are experts on both the Building Code of Australia - which covers the technical side of building a house - and the different interpretations and building regulations in your state or territory.
Depending on which state you’re in, building surveyors may be required to be accredited with the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS) and hold a current state-issued license.
It used to be that a lot of building surveyors worked in-house for local councils, but these days most operate as private consultants. Building surveyors and inspectors don’t work directly for builders (even though some may get most or all of their work from a single builder). Instead, building surveyors are employed as consultants, and are required to be independent to ensure that they can carry out their work without any conflict of interest.
The building surveyor’s responsibility is to you as the consumer, first and foremost – but while that’s the case, it’s also worth remembering that the building surveyor’s job is only to ensure that work is done in accordance with the relevant standards and regulations. It’s not up to the building surveyor or inspector to judge the quality of your builder’s workmanship above and beyond what’s required in the regulations and Standards. That's the job of an independent building inspector or consultant, if you choose to engage one (which is usually a good idea).
It's a little confusing, but:
- Building surveyors and their agents deal with regulatory issues, and they're the ones that issue permits and approvals
- Independent building consultants and inspectors advise on contractual issues and general quality of workmanship.
There’s a lot of responsibility placed on the shoulders of building surveyors to do their jobs well – they’re ultimately liable for the work they sign off on, so most will be very thorough and methodical. Building surveyors and inspectors acting on their behalf are typically required to carry professional indemnity insurance.
What are the different types of building inspections?
Below is a list of the types of building inspections that may be carried out when a new house is constructed:
- Footing inspection
- Slab inspection
- Framing inspection
- Lockup stage inspection
- Waterproofing inspection
- Final inspection
- Pre-handover / practical completion stage inspection
- Fixing stage inspection
Which building inspections are mandatory?
The inspections that will be required for your home are normally listed on your building permits or approvals and may vary slightly from the ones listed below, depending on what state you're building in. Generally speaking though, a building surveyor will legally be required to sign off on:
- Footings inspection – an inspection of the excavation work in preparation for your house’s footings
- Slab inspection / base stage inspection – an inspection of your home’s concrete slab
- Framing inspection – inspection of all of the framing work for your home
- Waterproofing inspection – currently only mandatory in Queensland and NSW
- Final inspection – a thorough top-to-bottom inspection of the completed house for compliance with regulatory issues
At each mandatory inspection stage, a building surveyor must approve the work that’s been done by the builder and issue a building permit or approval before work can continue. If anything’s wrong, it will need to be rectified to the satisfaction of the building surveyor or inspector before a permit or approval is issued.
Some builders will also commission building inspections at the other stages listed above (for example, at the lock up stage) to coincide with your progress payments. This is a pretty good way for the builder to assure you that everything’s going according to plan - and to demonstrate that they deserve to be paid!
Having a qualified set of eyes check over building work is always a sensible idea – and if the option’s there, it’s always better to opt for more building inspections where you can.
Who pays for building inspections?
Because they’re mandatory and planned as a part of the building process, the cost of necessary building inspections will usually be factored into the building contract – but you should always check your contract before you sign it (or agree to extra inspections) to make sure this is the case.
Building inspections vs. property inspections / pre-purchase inspections
Often when people refer to 'building inspections' in conversation, they’re talking about inspections of existing houses with a view to buy. People might commission a property inspection of an existing house (possibly one they’re looking to buy) to check for damage by termites, rodents or other infestations, for water or structural damage, general dilapidation, or just to get an idea of the general condition of the house.
‘Pre-purchase inspections’ are a great way to identify what kinds of issues might exist with a house before you commit to buying it. While a lot of building surveyors and building inspectors / consultants also do this kind of work, it’s typically not regulated in the same way as inspections for new houses.
Where can I find a building surveyor?
Your builder is likely to commission a local building surveyor as a matter of course, but if you need to arrange one independently you can either find one online through the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS), or contact your local council’s building services department for a recommendation.