What is so special about a special inspection?

What are special inspections in construction?

In construction, the safety and longevity of a building is entirely dependent on its structural integrity. As cities expand and structures evolve in complexity, it’s imperative to have mechanisms in place to verify that the project adheres to approved plans and meets stringent building codes.

Special inspections are carried out by qualified special inspectors to ensure compliance with the International Building Code and approved project documents. This article delves into the significance of special inspections, their role in enhancing safety, and the broader impact they have on the built environment.

Why are special inspections required?

Special inspections involve the thorough examination of a particular project during construction to ensure alignment with approved design plans, specifications, and drawings. This meticulous oversight aims to prevent potential structural failures and ensure the safety of the public and occupants. Special inspections were introduced into the International Building Code in response to a series of catastrophic structural failures in the 1970s and early 1980s.

What’s the worst that can happen?


      • March 2, 1973 – Skyline Plaza Apartment Building


            • During the construction of a 26-story residential tower, as workers were removing shoring from newly poured concrete between the 22nd and 23 floors, the building collapsed and killed 14 workers and injured 34 others. 


          • July 17, 1981 – Hyatt Regency


                • Above the lobby, two walkways collapsed, one directly above the other. They crashed onto a tea dance being held in the hotel’s lobby, killing 114 and injuring 216.

          The U.S. House Subcommittee investigated these accidents and determined that many of these failures were directly related to insufficient inspections, review, and oversight by design professionals during construction.

          International Building Code: A Pillar of Safety

          The International Building Code (IBC) outlines guidelines and regulations to ensure the safety and structural soundness of buildings. The IBC not only prescribes testing methods and inspection criteria but also provides standards for various construction processes and materials. It defines the responsibilities of project owners’ agents and special inspection agencies, enforcing compliance with the code and construction documents. Referenced standards are an integral part of the IBC, reinforcing the importance of adhering to stringent quality control measures and design strengths.

          The Rigorous Scope of Special Inspections

          Special inspections extend their purview across a myriad of facets within the construction landscape. These may involve overseeing the fabrication, installation, erection, or placement of critical building components, including structural steel, concrete elements, and bolted connections. Special inspections are performed by qualified and registered special inspectors, often working under the direction of a building official. A special inspector will normally be a qualified person such as structural engineer, architect or design professional. They will also often serve as the owner’s agent undertaking dealings with the contractor.

          Approved Construction Documents as Blueprint

          Central to the construction process are the Approved Construction Documents, drawn up by registered design professionals. These documents serve as the blueprint for the entire project, encompassing detailed structural components, materials for building elements, and the required design mix for concrete construction. Within these documents lies the roadmap for construction, including provisions for the special inspection program to be adhered to and relevant building codes to be followed.

          Special Inspection agency

          At the heart of the special inspections process lies the Special Inspection Agency, staffed by registered special inspectors who possess the expertise to perform comprehensive inspections and tests. These inspectors are led by a registered design professional who will coordinate the required special inspections regarding fabrication erection or placement of all components and connections in

          Their qualifications are key in facilitating inspections that encompass diverse aspects of construction, including the fabrication process of structural components, the analysis of smoke control systems, and the examination of bolted connections. Through their vigilant efforts, they help bridge the gap between design and execution, ensuring a seamless alignment with approved construction documents.

          Advancing Construction Excellence

          The overarching goal of special inspections is to enhance construction excellence by fostering compliance with approved plans, codes, and standards. These inspections act as a safety net, catching deviations early in the process and mitigating the risk of structural failures down the line. By preventing construction defects, special inspections not only ensure public safety but also prevent unnecessary project delays and additional costs.

          Elevating Third-Party Inspections to a New Standard

          In the realm of construction, precision and adherence to standards are non-negotiable. This is where Level Engineering steps in as an approved special inspector, offering a comprehensive range of third-party independent inspection services that encompass a multitude of construction facets. Their expertise is a cornerstone in ensuring that buildings are not only constructed, but also validated to meet exacting standards, mitigating potential risks and ensuring long-term safety.

          Specializing in Diverse Domains

          Level Engineers’ specialized expertise spans a diverse array of construction domains, each requiring meticulous attention to detail and a deep understanding of structural principles. When it comes to steel construction, Level Engineers undertake the responsibility of inspecting structural steel elements with unparalleled precision. This includes the scrutiny of vital components and connections like open-web steel joists, joist girders, and cold-formed steel trusses. They also inspect placement of components that are critical for a building’s structural integrity.

          Concrete Construction,

          Concrete is a common material that often makes up significant portions of a building’s structural design. It is critical that a professional engineer inspects the placement, welding and quantity of steel reinforcing bars to ensure proper cohesion of concrete structures. The fact that steel reinforcements are not visible or accessible once the concrete has cured, makes special inspections and proper testing of hardness and moisture content vitally important to any construction project.

          Dynamic Approach to Wood Construction

          Wood construction presents its own set of challenges, requiring an excellent understanding of load-bearing components. Level Engineers will assess high-load diaphragms and metal-plate-connected wood trusses, ensuring that timber framing members meet rigorous safety benchmarks. Moreover, they delve into the intricacies of cast-in-place deep foundations and helical pile foundations, recognizing the importance of a robust foundation for a structure’s longevity.

          Wind Resistance and Beyond

          Beyond traditional construction practices, Level Engineers are well-equipped to handle the unique demands of specialized inspections. Wind resistance, a critical consideration in various regions, is meticulously addressed through their special inspections services. Whether it’s structural wood, cold-formed steel light-frame construction, or other selected materials, special inspectors take responsible charge that every aspect of the project aligns with stringent standards.

          A Comprehensive Approach

          As a registered special inspections firm, Level Engineering is committed to perform special inspections that comprehensively address a spectrum of construction materials and systems. Every special inspector at level tackles situations where alternatives to prescribed materials or systems are employed, offering their expertise to ensure that deviations remain within permissible limits. Their proficiency extends to unusual design applications, where materials described in the code are utilized in innovative ways. Level Engineers also take charge when materials and systems necessitate installation in accordance with additional manufacturers’ instructions to ensure compliance to both the code and the manufacturer’s requirements.

          Why Choose Level Engineering?

          Level Engineering is a registered special inspection agency, offering a wealth of expertise that spans a multitude of construction domains. With a commitment to ensuring that buildings are constructed with precision and adhere to the highest standards, they play a pivotal role in safeguarding structural integrity, minimizing risks, and upholding safety. Through their specialized inspections, Level Engineers contribute significantly to creating a built environment that is not only resilient but also enduring, reflecting their dedication to construction excellence.


          In the intricate world of construction, the significance of special inspections cannot be overstated. These examinations serve as a crucial line of defense against structural failures, offering an additional layer of assurance that buildings adhere to stringent codes and design specifications. With the lessons learned from past tragedies, the construction industry has embraced the importance of thorough oversight during the building process. Through special inspections, construction projects are imbued with an enhanced level of safety, quality, and compliance, shaping a built environment that is both robust and reliable for generations to come.

          Picture of Scott Zurn, P.E.

          Scott Zurn, P.E.

          Founder and CEO of Level Engineering & Level Design Partners. With more than 4 decades of experience, Scott Zurn has contributed to all aspects of the building industry, serving both public and private sectors. He’s achieved tremendous success in commercial and residential markets, held leadership roles such as building official, city engineer, and director for local governments, and accomplished hundreds of millions of dollars in successful commercial building and civil infrastructure as a designer, project manager, and leader. As the Founder of the Level brand, Scott is dedicated to ensuring the entrepreneurial success of design professionals, as well as creating positive environmental impacts through design work. Read Scott’s full bio here.

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