I hear grumblings from contractors now and then about problems they have experienced with their local mechanical inspectors. The list usually includes the complaint that inspectors look at jobs differently and often have their own agendas as to what is right, what is wrong, and what the definition is of a gray area. Frankly, I’ve always thought that a gray area defies definition. In the world of inspections, that gray area is often formed by either an inspector’s interpretation of a code or a contractor’s interpretation of the same code. It would be easy to say that all codes are written in black and white, not subject to interpretation. But that is not reality. That would be like saying that all inspectors interpret an HVAC installation the same way. That is really unreality. If inspectors worked in a vacuum, they might look at every job the same way. But let’s talk about the real world here.

Inspectors are supposed to base their observations on the most recent and updated code books. They are required to stay current with all changes to building codes. They are not required to take courses in contractor psychology, although I bet some would jump at the chance. It is a known fact that contractors do not live in a vacuum and that they, too, approach every job a little differently.

So how do two entities - contractors and inspectors - find common ground for the one thing that they do have in common: a proper HVAC system installation? I’ve got a couple of ideas.


Besides the in-person meetings between contractors and inspectors during the normal course of events, such as during the various stages of a job, i.e., preplanning, rough-in, and final walkthrough, there are other times that contractors can use to “educate” the inspectors.

I recently heard from a Michigan contractor who was concerned that some inspectors didn’t look at the whole house when inspecting a replacement HVAC system. He was concerned that inspectors only looked at the mechanical part of the installation, which is their job, and not at how the system fits into the entire building envelope. He felt that some inspectors were giving passing grades to systems that were either oversized or undersized.

He told me about two recent incidents where he had gone out on service calls to customers who had their systems installed by other contractors. One home had an undersized system and the homeowner had been complaining that the furnace was constantly running and the house wasn’t getting above temperatures in the mid-60s. Another customer had the opposite problem, his system was causing discomfort throughout the house and his energy bills were higher than expected.

In both cases, the HVAC system passed inspection because both were installed correctly, and by his recollection, installed very professionally. But they were sized incorrectly, something that could have been caught by an inspector (in this contractor’s estimation).

So I invited the contractor to meet some inspectors face-to-face at a recent Mechanical Inspectors Association of Michigan (MIAM) meeting to voice his concerns. His recollections of the meeting will appear in a future edition ofThe NEWS. This was one way of getting positive feedback: meeting an inspector outside of the normal venue and having a less-stressful exchange of ideas.


Using that same theme of face-to-face meetings, it’s also important to remember that the ultimate goal of both contractor and inspector is to ensure that the homeowner (or business owner) has a properly and safely operating system, according to the regulations that govern its installation. That’s black-and-white with no gray area.

However, human nature will always come up with some gray area. For that reason, open in-person discussions are the best way to resolve any differences and clarify each side’s position.

While at the last MIAM meeting, I had the chance to sit down and chat with an inspector friend of mine, who was featured inThe NEWSlast year. Jerry Payne, a mechanical inspector for the city of Wyoming, Mich., was more than happy to talk about how to better the relationships between contractors and inspectors.

He suggested that most inspectors are very willing to talk with contractors and most are easy-going and easy to get along with. Judging from the room full of friendly conversations, I could understand that. But what bothered me, and I have stated this before, was the lack of contractors in attendance. Out of the 50-60 people at the meeting, I only counted two contractors. Although it was a meeting of inspectors, they have always been open to inviting contractors to attend and get to know their organization.

Guys like Payne would be happy to talk with contractors - as long as there are contractors to chat with. For that reason, I say get involved. If you’d like to talk with your local inspector or a collective group of inspectors, find out when and where they meet. Then ask if you could attend their meeting.

If you have issues with your inspector, arrange to meet with the person. It could save you a lot of time, aggravation, and money by doing what comes naturally: chatting.

Publication date:04/16/2007