Why and how pool builders should play nice with building departments.
I often hear from clients and fellow builders alike how much they "hate" the building department and the "stupid" inspectors. They usually follow up such statements with a story of a specific inspector and how "dumb" he was and why something did or didn't apply to them and their project and go on to say how they just won't get a permit next time. Now, I have absolutely have had my tiffs with building departments and inspectors, BUT at the end of the day it is very important you find a way to get along and work with inspectors and building departments.
Typical pool building application
Personally I think the main purpose of a permit is to make sure the government gets its tax money. I believe this because there are many municipalities that do not inspect anything but INSIST on having permits pulled with fees paid prior to starting. The second (and most important) reason to go through the plan review and permit process is to make sure that the project design and installation method is sound and to code. As complicated and frustrating as it can be, the building department's (good ones) objective is to insure the work and project is safe. From a homeowner perspective this is how you know your builder is installing per code and you are safe. From an installer perspective, this is how we insure we are doing it correctly and assuring our client the same.
By having inspections you are partially transferring liability from yourself to the building department. This is why building inspectors may seem like they are just being too "darn picky." A good department and inspector is going to insist that he or she knows what is required and know what they are looking at. This is not always easy. Most inspectors do a lot more than just inspect fiberglass swimming pools. In fact most don't do a whole lot of pools of any kind. They are typically electric inspectors that also do swimming pool inspections. To complicate matters each type of pool follows different guidelines and codes for a lot of items. By them approving and signing off on an inspection they are literally putting their name on the work and are responsible for insuring its safety / code compliance. As a homeowner you should absolutely insist on permits and inspections for this reason.
This can be the tricky part. Clearly a good builder and building department have a common goal: Code compliance and safety. Unfortunately there can be a lot of grey in there. From interpretation of the code to applicability to a project, it is important to understand what the inspector wants to see. If he is not sure (which is often the case for us) provide him the code and explain what was done and why. We have found that including photocopies of the code book with highlighted sections included with the permit packet is golden. This makes it easy for the inspector to know exactly what and why we did what we did. Don't get me wrong we often have inspector ask us to do extra stuff that is not code or applicable to a project. My policy is this: Let the inspector win within reason. As long as what he is asking for is not dangerous and does not causes a safety concern, just do it. Often we have inspectors ask us to bond our equipotential grids in four points. It's not required on a fiberglass pool but frankly it's easier to just add $40 in clamps and move on. On the other hand we have had many inspectors ask us to connect bonding wire to grounding lugs in service panels. Not safe! We will argue that one. National Electric Code 2008/2011 680.26 is loose on how to terminate the bonding wire. It states that it is not required to connect to ground, when in reality it should not because it can actually ENERGIZE the water with electricity. The take home here is pick your battles.
As a builder, the building department and inspectors can make or break jobs. Code is code but the heartburn in getting your inspections and approvals in a timely manner and with the least amount of heartburn can come down to the relationship you have with the department and inspectors. We have gone, and will continue to go, out of our way to make the inspectors life as easy as possible. We have also worked with building departments on their continuing education programs. The note below is one we received from Delaware County, one of the largest and fastest growing departments in the nation. If you are a builder consider reaching out to your local building department and offer to come in and talk about a subject. You may be surprised at what you learn in preparing for it and how well the new relationships pay off in the field when it's time for your next inspection.