What makes a great tool?

Maybe it's lightweight or has great ergonomics. Maybe it's quieter or hoseless/cordless. The veteran tools, familiar and solid, have their qualities too. In my framing years, my Hitachi framing gun doubled as a hammer to knock top plates into alignment or nudge that truss over a hair. Any of these features can be argued for dominance on any jobsite, but there is one commonality that makes a tool great: It makes you money.

And it usually makes you money by saving you time.

So what other, unconventional tools can do this for you, and why is a building-code guy writing an article about tools?

The answer to both is within another question: “Where are you losing time on your jobs?" Does the building inspector come to mind now?

A lot of the "rules" handed out by inspectors don't actually come from the code. Rather, they come from manufacturers' installation instructions. The code references these instructions 381 times in the 2018 IRC and the directives within carry the authority of the code. That's just the low-hanging fruit, however. Many products are not mentioned in the code and are approved as alternatives. For those approvals, a product must be tested and the installation instructions provide the only manner in which their tested performance can be duplicated with assurance. These rules aren't printed in the big code books the inspectors should be referencing.

More to the point, they don't belong to the inspector. They belong to you.

These rules belong to the contractor installing these products, and their common absence on the jobsite is a recipe for lost time. See where I'm going? Those rules, those instructions, they are a tool that can save you time from a failed inspection. They are paper tools.

A custom deck builder, for example, could likely benefit from this tool: A 3-ring binder that contains all the specifications, listings, code-approval reports, and installation instructions for every product you use on your jobs should be available on your jobs.

The identification tags from the ends of your not-so-green treated lumber. The fastening pattern tables for your structural screws. The installation instructions of your composite decking with maximum joist spacing and other information. The load tables and installation requirements for your joist hangers. UL listing of your stairway lighting. The mounting bracket fastening of your extruded aluminum guards. This is just a scatter of examples of "code requirements" via installation instructions. True, many inspectors may not care about these things, but if they were to start making assumptions, wouldn't it be helpful to have a tool to set things straight and avoid lost time from a failed inspection or follow-up inspection?

Being prepared for inspection, as a professional with all the permit documents, plans, and your nifty product-installation binder, is an easy way to put an inspector at more ease with your job and at more caution to making up their own rules. The instructions hold everyone accountable.

Ultimately though, this tool shouldn't be thought of as just a way to satisfy that troublesome inspector. The requirements of product manufacturers should matter most to the professionals installing the products. You chose them, you sold them, you installed them. Now take the upper hand and be the authority of them.

The inspector has the code book. You have the instructions.