Kicked off Phase Inspection Project

I was approached by a realtor who formed an LLC with two building contractors. The contractors would build the houses and the realtor would sell them. The realtor has a rich doctor husband so I can see why the contractors agreed to the arrangement. I have worked with the realtor in the past and she was an honest person and wanted to hire me to do the phase inspections. To give you some background they are building out in the county that has no building codes. They used a plan sheet drawn up by some guy in the lumber yard (see attachment). When the realtor called she said the foundation subcontractor has already started. So I drive out there and find the footings have been poured with 4-foot #4 rebar doweled into the footings at 4-foot centers. The tallest basement walls were 9-feet high with two step-down sections on one wall and a tapered wingwall on the other side that goes from 8-foot down to 5-foot. I introduced myself to the subcontractor and proceeded to take photos and take a few measurements. I get back to the office lookup the soil type, which was as bad as it gets, so the reinforcing steel requirements in the 2018 IRC indicated #6 at 23". I sent and email to the realtor stating their subcontractor had placed a fraction of the rebar required and recommend they not continue until this was resolved. To add salt to the wound I informed her the step-down wall sections and the tapered wingwall needed to be designed as a cantilevered retaining wall since they retained more than 4-foot of backfill. She took my recommendations to her two contractor partners, which out voted her two to one to pour the foundation “as is” because they felt their subcontractor would walk off the job. She politely called me and said my services were no longer needed, and that she did not realize her two partners valued profit over doing it the right way. I have attached a few photos for reference. Notice too few bars and the vertical steel in the 9-foot walls are 5-foot too short. PS - About forgot the contractor was using Grade 40 rebar not Grade 60

Spec House 3-6-20.pdf (3.6 MB)

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I hope when that house is complete and someone needs and inspector that inspector is you and you can inform them on the inadequate foundation. Wouldn’t that be awesome.


Those are amazing observations, but are they beyond the scope of a home inspection? This sounds like an engineering inspection, and I don’t know if conflict of interest is the right term here, but an inspector is always in conflict with a builder / seller. The more you tell them, the more you officially make it known in the case of a lawsuit that the facts were known. Strange business relationship.

The fact that he ha P.E. after his name would make him more liable to have not said something. Engineers can do engineering inspections. When I find engineering issues I refer an engineer who in turn will say what I can not.

Is the agent maintaining her relationship with these idiots?

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I just noticed the P.E. My brain filtered it out as part of his name. #Imsmart

Realtor is only after their vested interest in the transaction. Any shown interest in engineering amounts to flattery and salesmanship. Cynical or truth?

Dust off your expert witness credentials because I see testifying in your future. And expert witnessing can pay very well.

Here’s my issue, can my confidentiality with my client an LLC (the realtor and her two contractors ) be breached if my engineering licensing board requires me to uphold the following engineering ethics requirements?

Here are the relevant ethics statements:

The engineer shall in the performance of professional services, licensees hold their primary responsibility to the public welfare which should not be compromised by any self-interest of the client or the licensee.

The engineer shall recognize that their primary obligation is to protect the safety, health, property, or welfare of the public. If the professional judgment is overruled under circumstances where the safety, health, property, or welfare of the public are endangered, they are to notify their employer or client and other authority as may be appropriate.

I notified my client in writing (see attached pdf). If asked in the future to do a home inspection for a potential buyer or asked to do a structural inspection on the foundation for the current homeowner I would have to decline stating a conflict of interest since I was hired by the builder. My knowledge and documents could be turned over if I receive a subpoena from an attorney or court.

Inspection Letter 6-11-20_Redacted.pdf (1.1 MB)

Hey Randy,
I guess this is where I am confused with this whole thing, and that in itself could not be a good thing for you…

Were you hired as a “Home Inspector” or as an “Engineer”?

As quoted above, you infer you were hired as an Inspector, but everything else, including your letter, reads as if hired as an Engineer.

This could get ‘sticky’ if push came to shove without there being a clear distinction as to your duties/responsibility.


Every day I walk out the door I am both an engineer and a home inspector. As a courtesy, I would notify a homeowner if I saw the deck had a serious structural defect while doing a home inspector for a buyer. Ethically I am bound to by law, but it’s no different if a licensed electrician was doing home inspections and pointed out a problem that only someone with his special knowledge would know.

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I understand exactly what you are saying, but IMO, the above states that while you are working in the capacity of an Engineer, and would not specifically apply if working as a Home Inspector.

Have you seen the Internachi Inspection Agreement? There is a specific clause in it that allows (gives you the option) to disclose your Engineer license which allows for your added expertise. You hinted at this scenario earlier, so perhaps you use such a clause, and include it as part of your inspections, automatically.

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What I want to know is the chance the foundation would fail with #4 grade 40 rebar @ 4ft? Does the required #6 grade 60 @ 23" have any “over-engineering” in it? The 5 foot too short is surprising of it all. Something does not add up.

Yes, the foundation would work, under normal conditions but everything that is engineered has a safety factor percentage for conditions that may be extreme to normal conditions. SO, after a year or so under freeze/thaw reactions or expansive soils if it fails and people are hurt or killed what is it that you wish you would have done, perplexing, isn’t it?

Just read the attached PDF in which Randy signed and sealed the report on letterhead using his engineering company, time for a lawyer’s recommendations.

Speaking of the PDF report, the last line line refers to “we discussed the lack of detains in the plans…”
Is that a typo or an engineering thing?

Dominic, that should be details.

Simon, If you convert #6 grade 60 @ 23" to the equivalent #4 grade 40 rebar the spacing would be #4 @ 7". That says the contractor installed 15% of the required reinforcement if the vertical steel was the right height. With out reinforcing steel in the upper half of the wall the wall would fail when the tension in the wall reached approximately 10% of its compressive stress. This would result in a sudden failure and collapse of the wall about mid-height. Reinforced beams and walls are designed to be slightly under reinforced to allow the rebar to yield causing the wall or beam to noticeably deflect before failure giving a visual clue the wall or beam is failing.

Jeffery, I use my own phase inspection agreement, which includes the following:

AREAS WITHOUT BUILDING CODES. In the event the Dwelling is located in an area where building codes are not required:

• If building code compliance is not included in the construction contract or specifications, building code comments in any report will be for information only.

• If building code compliance is included in the construction contract or specifications, building code comments in any report will be the Clients responsibility to enforce. Client agrees the contractor is ultimately responsible for all construction activities, including complying with all building code provisions.

• A Certificate of Substantial Compliance will be issued, if warranted, based upon observations made during site visits.

My phase inspection work is technically covered by the home inspection side of my business, but you don’t have to be an engineer to reference the rebar requirements in the code, because the tables were developed by engineers. If I had done the calculations to determine rebar spacing then I would be practicing engineering. If asked to do engineering work I would require a separate contract from the engineering side of my business. I also exclude structural design in my phase inspection agreement, but have an ADDITIONAL SERVICES section in my phase inspection agreement that allows a client to pay for other inspection services on an “as needed” bases at $100/hour. Does this help clear up any confusion or just make it worse?.


So Randy are you more concerned about the wall caving in or being involved in some form of litigation? Or both?

Randy …

Over the past 35 yrs I’ve done around 15,000 inspections for phase inspections, home inspections, commercial inspections , etc. In there I’ve gone out over 112 times for expert witness type inspections or provided testimony for the same. As a generalist home inspector I’ve both acted in defense of licensed PE’s and disputed their reports or actions. To date my report or findings have come out on top each time.

I’m very sorry you’re in that situation. I’ve been in a similar situation 3 times on new construction (Inadequate footings or deficient foundations) … 2 of those times the builder was a licensed PE and tried to over-ride me. The 3rd time the builder was a licensed architect … I was fortunate to have been in areas with code enforcement all 3 times AND the head of the respective code dept was a licensed PE.

In my instances, the code dept … looked at my report, went out looked at the site / agreed with my findings and did the STOP construction jig TILL it got corrected. In one instance the builder had kept going forward and had the house framed AND dry’d in … He had to stop construction for almost 7 weeks tearing stuff down to redo his footings, foundation, etc. It was costly I’m sure. I’m ALSO very sure I was NOT popular on his sites BUT to his credit HE never questioned my reports again.

Two years later he started taking TRADE-INS (their house against the new one) and hired us to do all the inspections on the trade-in houses…


Adam, I am not worried about litigation, I notified my client in writing and they decided not to fix the problem. If and when the foundation develops cracks will depend on what they backfill the foundation with and how wet the soil gets. My main purpose of submitting this issue was to help others see why some foundations problems may develop and a potential issue when doing phase inspections in areas without building codes. In 35 years working with contractors both in residential and heavy highway I have learned the Golden Rule about what motivates a contractor; The option to make money or the threat of losing money. You can write letters until you run out of ink, but if you can’t control the money you can’t control them.

Unfortunately by the time someone calls me to do a phase inspection their fate is already sealed. They failed to purchase an architect stamped set of plans and they signed the builder’s contract without modification.

Builder’s contracts are typically written to ensure they get paid, see Golden Rule above. Reference to code compliance and quality of workmanship is nowhere to be found in their contracts. Some of the larger residential contractors may stipulate who can be on the job site during working hours. If you want a phase inspection be sure to include language the phase inspector (home inspector or engineer) has full access at any time. My phase inspection agreement states the following:

RIGHT OF ENTRY. Client warrants that Company’s representative will have access to enter and inspect the property at any time to review the ongoing construction activities. No area or component of the construction will be restricted or unavailable.

Be aware unless the architect is local most house plans have a generic statement that reads something like this:

Basement wall construction shall be reinforced masonry or reinforced concrete, as required by local codes.

So if there is no local code enforcement the contractor is free to do whatever he wants, like in my case.

Another overlooked issue is manufactured trusses. The truss company is responsible for the truss design only, including all the connections between trusses. But the homeowner or his representative is responsible for, all anchorage designs required to resist truss uplift, gravity and lateral loads, including all permanent stability bracing. This means someone on the job site must be able to read truss plans. Standard H3 hurricane clips may not be enough on some trusses, especially on girder trusses.

The quality of workmanship mentioned above is another overlooked detail homeowners forget and contractors don’t include. These are typically called Job Special Provisions in commercial projects or just specifications in residential contracts. Some of of these are already in the IRC such as grading requirements next to the foundation, if your not covered by building codes then specifications are critical as this specification below for backfill.

Excavation and Fill - Backfill material to be used from the excavations shall be of such nature that after it has been placed and properly compacted, it will make a dense, stable fill. It shall not contain vegetation, masses of roots, stones over 3-inches in diameter, or porous matter and shall not be saturated. Organic matter shall not exceed minor quantities and shall be well distributed.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) produces a document called Residential Construction Performance Guidelines you could incorporate in the contract by reference. Here is a typical guideline for uneven concrete slab:

Observation: The concrete floor or slab is uneven.

Performance Guideline: Except where the floor or portion of the floor has been designed for specific drainage purposes, concrete floors in living areas will not have pits, depressions, or areas of unevenness exceeding 3/8 inch in 32 inches.

Corrective Measure: The contractor will correct or repair the floor to meet the performance guideline.

Discussion: A repair can be accomplished by leveling the surface with a material designed to repair uneven concrete.

This concrete specification may need to be modified for tile floors like the following:

For tiles with all edges shorter than 15 in., the maximum allowable variation is no more than ¼ in. in 10 ft. and no more than 1/16 in. in 1 ft. from the required plane, when measured from the high points in the surface.

I could write a book, but you get the point. The devil is in the details so if you don’t have what you want in the contract you can’t expect to get what you want.


Great info and insight. Thanks Randy.