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Practical Information


Your career as a certified DSA school inspector
copyright 2006 DSA Inspection Resource

Ok, you’ve got the right background to be a project inspector, you passed your DSA exam, you found an inspection firm that wants to hire you and you’re thinking what do I do next?

Before we talk about your activities on the job site, let's review some of the books and reference materials you may need to help you perform your inspections.


What books and reference materials will you need to have with you when you perform DSA inspections? The answer depends on your DSA classification; Class 1, 2, 3 or 4. It depends on the scope of the project you are working on. It also depends on your background experience and knowledge. You can’t have too many reference books, manuals or product catalogues available; any and all reference materials can prove valuable to you at sometime during your inspection career.

Prices shown are non-member prices. If you are a member of an organization that publishes any of the books or materials mentioned below, you may be eligible for discounts.

DSA Title 24, Part 1 requires that the DSA certified inspector maintain the following code books at the job-site during construction (reference IR A-8):

1. Title 24, Part 1 (administrative code). $54
2. Title 24, Part 2, Volumes 1 and 2  (building code). $283
3. Title 24, Part 3 (electrical code). $221
4. Title 24, Part 4 (mechanical code). $179
5. Title 24, Part 5 (plumbing code). $179
6. Title 24, Part 6 (energy code). $47
7. Title 24, Part 9 (California Fire Code) $15

Recommended Reference Materials

1. AISC Steel Construction Manual (reference standard for fabrication, erection, and bolting of steel - The bible of steel construction). $439

2. AWSD1.1 (Structural Welding Code-Steel) $539

3. AWSD1.3 (Structural Welding Code-Sheet Steel) $96

4. AWSD1.4 (Structural Welding Code-Rebar) $124

5. ACI 318 (Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete) $224

6. CRSI Manual of Standard Practice (methods of placing rebar for concrete construction and masonry construction). $35

7. Masonry Institute of America- Masonry Codes and Specifications (manual of recognized codes and specifications for masonry construction). $30

8. Masonry Institute of America- Reinforced Concrete Masonry Construction Inspector’s Handbook (Detail information on reinforced masonry construction). $43

9. International Building Code (IBC)  Structural Building Code $107

10. NFPA 24 Standard for the Installation of Private Fire Service Mains (covers underground fire pipe and hydrant installation) $52

11. NFPA 101 Life Safety Code (fire and life safety requirements). $100

12. NFPA 101 Life Safety Handbook (illustrates fire and life safety requirements with graphical presentations). $189

13. NFPA 13-99 Standard for the Installation of Automatic Sprinkler Systems $103

14. NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code  (fire alarm installation code). $99

15. ADA Americans with Disabilities Act California Compliance Manual  (handicap access requirements detailed). May be able to download as PDF online.

16. SMACNA Seismic Restraint Manual (anchorage, support, bracing of HVAC duct and equipment) $177

17. Simpson Wood Connectors (manual of catalogues covering Simpson manufactured wood connectors).

18. Hilti Firestop Inspection and Installation Manual (Manufacturers data and detailed instructions for using Hilti Firestop products).

19. Hilti Fastener Catalogue (manufacturers catalogue for Hilti fastener products).

20. Ramset/Red Head Architects and Engineers Manual (manufacturers fastener data).

21. 3M Fire Protection Products manual (manufacturers data and recommendations for installing 3M fire caulk products).

22. WWPA Grading Rules (Grading rules and stamps for grading wood timber).
23. Metal Stud Manufacturers Association handbook (metal stud data and details).

24. Grace Thickness Handbook (manufacturers data on application-thickness for Monokote fireproofing).

Note: discounts are available as members of various associations (e.g. ACI, ICC). Product literature is sometimes available for free or at a very minimal price upon request from the manufacturer. Visit the “code book” and “association” links provided in the “resource” section of this web site to locate retailers.

Worried about the cost? You don't need every book listed here all at once. Build your reference library over time. Remember, this is a career; you're investing in your future!

In addition to the above reference and code materials, go to DSA web site, click on "Publications" and download (free) "DSA Interpretation of Regulations". These free IRs cover specifics on everything from inspector duties to installation of lay in ceiling systems to installation of post installed anchors!

Pre-construction Activities

Before you ever set foot on a project as the inspector of record, you must be approved by the architect, the engineer, the school district and DSA for each individual project you will inspect. Your certification is only the first step. You will submit your qualifications for a project on a DSA 5 form, usually delivered to the architect in multiple copies, each with a
"wet "signature. The form will be posted on DSA Box web site (I'll explain later) for your specific project, with signatures from all parties indicating your approval. You should also be able to get copy from the architect. Download free forms from DSA web site:


Your first experiences on a project as a construction inspector will depend somewhat on the quality and professional level of the contractor(s) involved on your project. Most schools in California award the project to the lowest bidder, so you get what you get.

You’ve inherited all this responsibility, you’ve got to answer to your DSA field engineer and the architect, and then there’s the “required duties of the project inspector” outlined in DSA IR A-8 (California Building Standards Administrative Code (Title 24, Part 1). Take a deep breath; take first things first. My only experience is as a Class 1 inspector so some of this information may or may not apply to your Class 2, 3 or 4 projects.

Unless you walk into the middle of an ongoing project, things don’t happen all at once. After submitting your DSA 5 form (multiple wet-signed copies) to the architect for approval by the owner, the design professional, the structural engineer and the State of California you will most likely attend a pre-construction meeting administered by the school district or a contract management firm. You will introduce yourself to the team members and be given a projected start date based on issuance of a ‘Notice To Proceed’. You will exchange phone numbers and email addresses with key players and have a chance to talk with the team about your expectations as the project inspector (e.g., request that any information generated by the team be forwarded to you so you can be kept in the loop). You will also need to ask the architect to begin the process of setting up a project DSA Box. This is an internet cloud for all required project forms and you will receive an email invite to log in and post required forms. This is also where you will download your DSA Inspection Cards (site and Building) and your List of Required Structural Tests and Special Inspections. DSA regulations call for specific forms to be posted by all the players on your construction team. There are too many forms to list here. You must realize that it will take time and research to figure all this out, but once you've done it once, you'll be set. Please visit DSA web site for complete information on required forms and DSA Box.


You will want to ask for a copy of the “stamp approved” DSA drawings and specifications. Be specific in this request since everything that follows is based on having approved drawings with a DSA “A” (application) number. Actually you need two numbers; the file number (a number that DSA uses to designate the school district and the application number, and the application number).

You will want to ask when a job site trailer or office will be provided for you. Will phone and phone lines, internet, power, and AC be provided? If no site trailer is to be provided but the project is of a size that you must maintain files and communication, you will need a secure space provided. May I emphasize secure? You don’t want vandals hauling off your computer or files. You don’t want unauthorized persons going through your files.

Prior to starting work you must contact DSA. Before doing this you have your application number handy and make sure you’re in receipt of a copy of the approved plans and specifications. DSA is broken up into divisions. If you’re working in the Orange County area you will be under the San Diego office jurisdiction. If you’re working in San Francisco you will be under the San Francisco office jurisdiction, etc. To find out, call the main DSA office in Sacramento or any of the offices listed below:

DSA Headquarters Office
David F. Thorman, AIA
State Architect of California
1102 Q Street, Suite 5100
Sacramento, California 95814

DSA San Francisco Bay Area Regional Office
1515 Clay Street, Suite 1201
Oakland, California 94612

DSA Sacramento Regional Office
1102 Q Street, Suite 5200
Sacramento, California 95814

DSA Los Angeles Basin Regional Office
700 N. Alameda Street, Suite 5-500
Los Angeles, California 90012

DSA San Diego Regional Office
16680 West Bernardo Drive
San Diego, California 92127

Prior to project start-up you should begin reviewing the approved plans. Check to make sure that the DSA stamp is present on each page of the drawings, that each stamp is signed and dated, and that the date is more recent than any changes that were made to the drawings. Don’t panic when you find out only half the drawings you have are signed and dated by DSA. You’ve got the architect’s phone number on the approved plans (see the “A” sheets). Call the architects office, ask the architect in charge of your project and discuss the issue. There may be a more recent set of drawings or there may be a change order out that covers the pages that are not stamped. Be firm on the need to have approved plans on site and ask for his/her assistance. If all fails, contact your DSA field engineer and discuss the issue and how to proceed. Have the project application number ready.

Locate the DSA Structural Tests and Special Inspections (T&I) sheet. The architect can provide you with this vital piece of information. It will have the project file number and application number and be on DSA letterhead (form DSA 103). Minimum testing and inspection requirements for all elements of the project will be highlighted on this sheet. DSA will ask that you have and refer to a copy of this document.

Project Start-up

When reviewing the plans and specifications on a Class 1 project, realize that the things are constructed logically. Prior to a building going up you’ll have site work (survey, grading, trenching, underground utilities, over-excavation and soils compaction). Focus on these elements of the project with some reflection on structural footings to avoid piping from passing through footings, etc.

Ask your District contacts which firm they’ve contracted to perform testing and inspection. Make sure the testing lab is noted on the DSA web site as a DSA approved testing lab. The IOR should not be an employee or contracted with the testing lab.

Set up a log so you can make entries every time you call the approved lab for special inspections (e.g. soils, batch plant, concrete, masonry, shop fabrication, welding, pull testing, fireproofing, sampling).

When you have an on-site office established, begin setting up files, plan tables, communication (fax, phone, email). Use the contract specifications to help you set up file names for submittals. Set up files for storing information on testing, inspection, meeting minutes, change orders, RFI, mix designs, non-compliance, IOR transmittals, etc. Set up boxes or files for submittals and product samples. Set up binders as needed. Maintain a phone book with contact numbers.

Let DSA know that you have established an office on site. They will visit you at their discretion, typically without notice. The visits may become less frequent as they develop a level of confidence in your ability to coordinate inspection and testing.

Construction Schedule

Is there a construction schedule published? You need a copy. This is how you will forecast special inspection needs and plan your own site inspections. The schedule will not only show site activities with windows of time to begin and complete the work, but may also indicate “critical path” activities; activities that drive the project with regard to time.

OK, you’ve got your office, documents, approvals, files, communication links and you’re ready to go.

Soils and Underground Utilities

Typically, the site must first be prepared. The basis of this preparation will be outlined in the soils investigation and recommendations report. You need a copy of this document. It may be contained within the project specifications. It may be separate. Read it!

The other document you’ll need is the Civil drawings typically showing demolition, grading elevations and site utilities.

After the site is surveyed, grading operations will begin. Underground utilities will start so that power, LV pathways, water, fire water, sewer and storm drain can be made available to the new structure. Although you have limited control over grading activities you will be asked to coordinate soils inspection as the work progresses. Make sure your soils person has the same soils report that you have. Make sure that any import-soil is approved by the testing lab prior to use, that any over-excavation or re-compaction is observed and tested.

Demo of existing underground utilities is an important part of site improvement. If existing irrigation lines are cut and not capped, water may flow and cause a delay to soils or footing work underway. Abandoned piping and larger conduit to remain in place may become hidden pathways for water migration and should be capped at the site limits or where encountered during excavation work.

For building footings, the bottoms of the footings must be on firm ground. The most important thing to check is the over-ex and re-compaction requirements. Typically, a building either have the soil beneath the building footings and the soil within a distance of 5 feet of the footings over-excavated and re-compacted to 90% or 95% compaction. The requirements will vary depending on soils conditions and height of the water table. Piles may be required which require continuous observation by a representative of the soils engineer (Title 24 Chapter 18).

How will you know when to call for special inspections? Read the contract documents and use some simple rules-of-thumb; Nothing gets built until the substrate below it is approved. Nothing gets concealed until it is inspected and approved. The use of Inspection Request forms helps organize and document this process. Contract specifications may specify that contractors give 24 to 48 advanced written notice for all inspections.

As excavations for underground utilities advance, you must be prepared to document the depth of the trench and make sure the contractor keeps a record set of as-builts that will remain on site and turned over to the school when the project is complete. Remember that when you are measuring the depth of a trench it is the burial depth of the utility that must be in compliance with plan details or specifications. A pipe trench may require sand bedding before laying the pipe. Most importantly, check with the grading contractor to make sure the area where trenching is underway has been cut to finish grade less any base and finish. If a trench is cut in an area where subgrade has not been truly established, odds are that your utility (pipe or conduit) will be too high to finish-surface after the area is cut to grade. You won’t be operating the survey equipment yourself but you can ask for the grading contractor to mark the as-builts indicating all areas where established grades are in compliance with the approved plans.

Now is the time to ask for approved concrete mix designs. All concrete that will be placed on your project will require a submittal of the concrete design mixes to the architect and structural engineer for written approval. Be careful, mixes may be approved for specific applications (e.g. 4000 psi for flatwork, 5000 psi for footings, etc).

The first concrete you will see may be slurry to be used to cover underground utilities. Will it be a one-sack, two-sack or three-sack mix? It’s not your job to engineer the project. Get an approved design mix for all concrete, including slurry for underground utilities. Check with your soils person when slurry backfill will be used under future footing areas.

Prior to backfilling utility trenches you must inspect the conduit or pipe per the contract specifications. Conduit may require a mandrel to verify that the conduit is clear. Piping will require a head or pressure test. San bedding, sand cover conduit chairs, spacing of pipe and conduit, pressure testing; all these activities require inspection and should be noted in your daily report.

During backfill you will need the soils person on site to make observations and test for compliance with compaction requirements. Failed areas must be re-worked and re-tested. Remember, trench backfill compaction requirements will differ depending on whether the trench is in a fire lane, roadway, sidewalk, flatwork, or landscape area. Compaction requirements may vary from 85% in a landscape area to 95% in a fire lane.

During excavation for site utilities, watch that no excavations are made within the surcharge of an existing structure footing. Details indication this restriction are usually, but not always, provided on the approved plans. Check with your soil person to get educated on this important issue. See Title 24 Chapter 18; “…backfilled trenches parallel with a footing shall not be below a plane having a downward slope of 1 unit vertical to 2 units horizontal from a line 9 inches above the bottom edge of the footing and not closer than 18” from the footing.”

Foundations and Footings

When the contractor starts digging footings remember that you must contact your DSA field engineer 48 hours prior to completion of foundation trenches. See DSA IR A-8.

See Title 24 18 for specific information on foundations. Assuming there’s no deep-pile-footings on the project, the contractor’s next step is to dig footings into the re-compacted and tested soil. The soils person should verify compaction at the bottom of the footings prior to installing rebar. The inspector (IOR) must verify the footing depth and width.

My intention here is to provide a general overview on typical inspection activities on a Class 1 school project. Specific information on foundations, rebar and concrete will be found in your approved plans and Title 24, Part 2.

You’ve got signed engineer approved mix designs on site. Footings are being dug and inspected. Rebar will be coming soon and it’s time to notify the contractor of the need to positively identify and sample the rebar prior to installation in the footings. Although the rebar can be identified and sampled in the field, the best way to manage rebar identification is to arrange for the fabricator to notify you through the contractor prior to fabrication (cutting, bending operations). The inspector will call the approved testing lab who will dispatch a technician to sample and I.D. the rebar at the fabricator’s shop per chapter 19 in Title 24. Have the lab person gather mill certifications for all steel and attach wired inspection cards on each bundle of bars to be shipped to the site; indicating that the steel has been inspected and sampled.

It is best to request that mill certs accompany all deliveries of rebar to the site, even though this may duplicate the labs activities. Having the mill certs will allow you to spot check the rebar at time of delivery by checking that the mill markings on the rebar match up with the manufacturer, grade and size of rebar delivered. If the bundles have been tagged by the approved lab, you will know that the lab also went through this routine to establish positive identification.

If you don’t have the background to perform on-site rebar inspection, call the testing lab for a certified concrete inspector.
When the rebar, dowels for walls, curbs and slab, embeds, column base plates, anchor bolts and any required sleeves (check your plans for accepted means of installing pipe or conduit through or below a footing) have been installed and inspected, it’s time to place concrete using the approved footing concrete mix. Batch plant and site concrete testing is required by the code. If approved by DSA and your structural engineer, batch plant inspection may be waived. However, on a large-scale project don’t count on this happening.

Typically, the batch plant inspector will be at the batch plant one hour prior to delivery at the site. This should be considered when arranging for special inspection.

The site inspector will ask how many test cylinders they should make. While the code requires one set of two concrete cylinders for each 50 yards of concrete (except that 3 cylinders is required for each mix at the beginning of concrete work), the specification may call for 4 or 5 cylinders each test. One cylinder may be a “hold”, one for a 7-day break and the remainder for a 28-day break. Check your documents.

Lab Reports

You should get copies of all field and shop special inspection reports issued to you daily. Non-conformance items should be clearly noted. Make sure you are also being sent copies of all lab inspection and testing reports! It is in your scope of work to not only make sure that all required testing is performed but to check that the test results all show compliance. Look each test report to check for compliance before stashing it in your job file.

The approved testing lab has a responsibility to issue copies of all reports to DSA. The testing lab should forward copy of all special inspection reports to DSA within 14 days of issuance. The testing lab is also responsible for issuing verified reports at the end of each project.

Curbs and Slab

The next step will be to get the slab and curbs placed. Again, soils testing, utility piping, penetration sleeves, rebar, anchors, embeds, wall dowels….make sure it’s all in prior to placement of concrete. Check that you have an approved mix design designated for slab on grade use.

At this point you must look at the formwork and pay attention to sill anchors and embeds that are required for framing. By now you need to have knowledge of the framing activities that will follow.

Don’t forget to check for any vapor barrier, sand or gravel that may be required under the slab.

Vapor barriers simple heavy mill plastic or they can be expensive complex materials with strict limitations on penetration and edge sealing. Ever seen stainless steel screed embeds that remain in the concrete to avoid penetrating the membrane?

I’m avoiding discussion on elevator pits and hydraulic elevator casings. These items as well as storage tanks or grease pits will add scope to your concrete work.

Retaining walls will require sub-drainage along backside of the wall. Watch for waterproofing requirements at sub-grade walls.

Framing (Wood)

Framing will be with wood, structural steel, and/or metal studs. This is the point at which you will discover if your anchor bolts (column anchors, sill anchors, hold down anchors) were installed in the correct locations. Where anchor bolts are missing you’ll need approval from the engineer (RFI) to use epoxy anchors. Ask for the pull test value from the engineer because epoxy anchors, if approved, will require pull testing by the lab. Pull testing requires access and special equipment that may or may not work where framing is in place so coordination is required to avoid removing framing to allow for the testing.

Slotting of holes at framing to allow installation at the anchor bolts is not typically allowed, There may be cases at steel column base plates where the engineer approves the use of slotted holes where welded washer plates are used, but the anchor bolt may not be long enough to allow this type of correction. Slotting holes at sill plates is not allowed.

Remember that all foundation plates or sills on concrete slabs resting directly on earth or sills that rest on concrete or masonry foundations must be pressure treated in accordance with accepted standards. Column steel should not terminate below grade unless protected by concrete. Dry rot, termite infestation and oxidation (at steel) destroy framing elements at the building foundation.

If you’re working with wood framing there’s a lot to learn. Special requirements are in place for hold-down anchors, thickness of sill plates, shear frame nailing and sheeting, and straps. Framing requirements at openings, splices and corners are of particular concern. Limitations for notching and penetrating wood are indicated in Title 24 Chapter 23. A clear understanding of plan reading and code (Title 24 Chapter 23) requirements is needed to inspect wood framing. DSA publishes information on all these topics in their seminar booklets.

Contact a recognized lumber grading association like the Western Wood Products Association (http://www.wwpa.org) or West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau (http://www.wclib.org) and request a lumber grading manual. The acceptable grades of wood for framing will be on the approved plans or in the contract specifications. There are accepted limits of moisture content that are permitted on a project. Check your specifications and available resources like the WWPA noted above.

If you contact Simpson (http://www.simpsonanchors.com/), Hilti (http://www.hilti.com/), or other recognized fastener companies you can request free catalogues showing information on their product line of fasteners and straps. This will assist you in understanding what type of fastener is being called out for on the plans.

When nailing operations are underway, make sure that the correct size and type of nail is being used. Galvanized nails are required when nailing into pressure treated sill plates. Nail guns have replaced the hammer. Check to make sure the guns are driving the nails in properly. Overdriven nails will break the outer layer of the plywood. Under-driven nails will require further engagement using a hammer. Palm held hammers can be used to nail in areas where access is restricted. Title 24 Chapter 23 has a nailing schedule indicating minimum nails and nail size to be used at various framing elements. A similar schedule may be provided on your approved plans. Minimum nail penetration is outlined in an understandable manner in DSA’s structural seminar books.

Splitting of wood framing is a concern during nailing operations. When splitting is evident, pre-drilling is required to avoid splitting.

You’ll need to study up on wood trusses and glue-lam beam construction when they are used in your project. Wood trusses are typically pre-engineered by the manufacturer’s engineers. Wood truss manufacturers are required to have periodic third party inspection (outside agency) of their shop operation and assemblies. Glue-laminated timber must be identified by the grade mark of certificate of inspection by an approved independent code-recognized agency. The inspector must verify compliance with the approved plans.

Make sure that any holes or notches cut in engineered timber or trusses is approved first by the engineer.

Bottom plates, studs, joists, top plates, bridging, bracing, blocking, fire blocking; if your classification includes wood framing it’s time to hit the books and understand what all the required elements will be.

Framing (Steel)

When structural steel is used for your primary framing you will need to make sure that all necessary shop and field inspections are performed. Anchors have been pre-set in your concrete footings using templates based on the steel fabricator’s base plate detailing. Hopefully the fabricator will visit the site to verify layout prior to fabricating the steel. The steel fabricator must be made to understand that he will be required to notify you prior to starting shop fabrication of steel.

When you are notified, you’re first call will be to have the steel positively identified (or sampled for testing if not identified) prior to cutting and fabrication. A special inspector or qualified lab person will go to the shop, receive the mill certifications and match up the heat numbers with those preserved on the steel (foil tags). Transfer of heat number will be required as sections are cut when using high-strength steels such as A572 or A992 steel. You should receive copies of the mill certifications with any steel delivered to the site. The lab will maintain it’s own file, although you can request copy from the lab for your files. I always ask for certifications with any structural materials delivered to the site…period.

See Practical Inspection Information for more!


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DSA, DSA inspection, DSA inspector, Class 1 inspector, Class 2 inspector, Class 3 inspector, Class4 inspector, school inspection, school inspector, DSA exam, project inspector

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