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What does a Chief Building Official do?

By John Wilfong
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A chief building official usually works for a particular municipality and is responsible for enforcing all applicable building codes for buildings within that municipality. His responsibilities usually extend to residential, commercial and industrial buildings to make sure they are safe for use and compliant with the law. These officials are also usually responsible for reviewing all site and construction plans submitted to the municipality to make sure they follow the appropriate laws. The chief building official typically has the authority to interpret the building code and act as the local or regional government's key official when dealing with all construction and development issues.

Most municipalities of all levels employ a chief building official, which is typically an unelected position. They manage the building-code enforcement department and coordinate the efforts of a staff of building inspectors. The chief building official usually abides by a set of codes, or laws, regarding building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing work. The most popular set of codes in the United States is the International Code Council set of codes. They have been adopted by 50 states at the state and the municipal level.

Building inspections generally involve the structural integrity and overall safety of buildings. Fire-suppression systems, smoke alarms and other safety systems will often also be a part of the inspection. The chief building official also oversees electrical inspections, such as the wiring for heating and air-conditioning systems and other appliances. Mechanical inspections are often also part of the job, including reviewing commercial kitchens and large-scale heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

In most cases, chief building officials are also authorized to issue citations. These citations may be criminal or civil. Typically, they come with a fine and a deadline to complete the work needed to get the building up to code.

Aside from coordinating a routine inspection schedule, the chief building official is the key point of contact for a governing body's relationship with architects, builders, developers and contractors in the process or planning to construct a building. The official is usually the one that inspects each set of plans for new construction and perhaps even plans submitted for significant renovation. Along with the resulting power to approve or deny the plans, he may offer recommendations to plans to get them up to code.

Chief building officials also often have a host of administrative duties in terms of overseeing the building code-enforcement department and working with upper level management of government, as well as elected officials. The chief building official frequently attends public meetings to explain and interpret the building code to help the elected officials in their decision-making processes.

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