NEWMAN - When it comes to manuals for building inspectors, a local official wrote the book.
Mike Brinkman, Central Valley inspection services manager for CSG Consultants, the firm which provides building department services to Newman, Gustine and a number of other jurisdictions, wrote and published a comprehensive guide as part of his growing involvement in the industry.
Brinkman also recently became the first local appointee to the board of directors of California Building Officials (CALBO), an industry organization affiliated with the International Code Council.
The building industry downturn of more than a decade ago played a role in prompting Brinkman, who is the building official for both Newman and Gustine, to begin writing manuals for inspectors.
Many companies shed inspectors during that time, Brinkman explained, and when building picked back up again inspectors were in short supply.
His first written work was a binder that new inspectors used as a field guide.
“It started out as a checklist for inspectors. We had new inspectors, and it gets overwhelming with all the things that you have to look for at every inspection,” Brinkman told Mattos Newspapers.
His written guides evolved from there.
He published a 2014 residential training guide focused on California.
In 2017, Brinkman wrote “Residential Building Inspection: A Step by Step Guide” reflecting the international codes to replace the uniform building codes. That has sold about 1,000 copies, Brinkman said.
Other, more limited publications were prepared for training sessions and classes.
All have shared a common purpose of training inspectors and streamlining the process of an ever-changing industry.
Becoming a building inspector, Brinkman noted, requires no prior experience in the construction industry.
A high school diploma and completion of an International Code Council examination are the only prerequisites to becoming an inspector.
“It just takes time. You are so absorbed in it that it gets to be second nature,” Brinkman said of being a building inspector. “The new people get overwhelmed with all the information they need to know. They need to take small bites at a time....it sticks with you.”
Consistency within the profession is critical, he noted, which adds to the importance of a uniform training program.
“We see the same issues and we call the same things,” Brinkman pointed out.
Brinkman, a rural Gustine resident, got his start in the trade in 2004. He was working in commercial overhead doors at the time, and had the opportunity to join what was then Precision Inspection.
A new career was launched - although just a few years later the cycles of the industry became evident.
“During the downturn, I was the building inspector, permit technician, plans examiner and building official,” Brinkman recalled.
Now, he said, “I have a couple of inspectors and plan examiners who help me run Newman and the other jurisdictions.”
The arrangement CSG has with its client agencies is mutually beneficial, Brinkman remarked.
“We are city employees to help the public,” he explained. “It helps the city. They are not tasked to provide a staff, especially when building starts to ramp down and they are still paying wages. With us, we take our people and spread them out to different jurisdictions.”
His is now a more administrative role, Brinkman said, as he helps customers through the process.
“I still like being out in the field with the guys and helping the younger ones learn,” he remarked.
Brinkman said he has seen numerous changes in his 15 years in the industry.
For example, fire sprinkler systems are required in new residential construction, as are conduits to accommodate solar units.
“Solar is big,” Brinkman noted. “When I did my first book there was no mention of solar installation. Now (solar inspections) are every day.”
Codes cover every aspect of a building, from the foundation to the shingles and all the systems within.
Improved codes have enhanced safety, Brinkman said, but he emphasized that the code is a minimum standard of building quality.
“If something is built to code, it is built well but could be built better,” he said.
In addition to handling new construction, Brinkman pointed out, the building department handles permits and inspections for home repairs and improvements.
Re-roofs, new HVAC, construction of new patio covers (attached or otherwise) and water heater replacement are among the many projects which require a permit.
The permit and inspection insure that improvements and repairs are completed safely, Brinkman emphasized.
A water heater, for example, “is probably the most dangerous appliance in your house” so insuring proper installation is a safety measure, he said by way of example.
Contractors, not property owners, should pull the permits for a job, Brinkman advised.
“It is the responsibility of the contractor to get the permit. If a contractor pulls a permit and they are having an issue with the installation we can help them resolve it,” he explained. “If the property owner gets the permit, they are the homeowner/contractor.”
And, Brinkman said, the property owner most likely assumes liability for any injury under that scenario, which their standard property insurance may not cover.
“Your contractor is insured and needs to be the one who is responsible,” he stated.
Brinkman encourages property owners who are unsure of whether a pending project requires a permit to check with their building department before proceeding.
Doing so not only helps insure the work is done correctly and safely, he said, but also provides a paper trail which offers assurances to a buyer should the property change hands.