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Ask the building expert

A hired project or a do-it-yourself project can create questions. Morris building inspector Mike Jacobson said he will answers a variety of questions on building projects. Metro Graphic photo

Morris building inspector Mike Jacobson said he wants people to contact him before they start planning their possible new construction or home improvement project.

"I get dozens of calls every day," Jacobson said. "We do a lot of education and give advice and help to homeowners who are working on a house."

Jacobson will take calls about whether or not someone needs a building permit or if someone has a zoning questions. He will also take calls if someone has questions about their project. To reach, Jacobson, contact the city of Morris at 320-589-3141 and the city can provide his contact phone number.

"I will look at their project and visit with them," Jacobson said. He works with do-it-yourselfers and with contractors.

His advice to all, "Get an idea of what you will be spending before you tear apart walls," Jacobson said. "You need to figure out a budget."

Often, a homeowner will expect to pay for a project "from their checkbook," but more often that isn't the case when the project gets started, Jacobson said.

"Once you start tearing things apart, now, you may need to upgrade your wiring...and you can spend several thousand dollars quickly," Jacobson said.

Jacobson will also help review designs made by the homeowner or a contractor or lumberyard.

"Just yesterday, I met with a guy who was going to put up another garage," Jacobson said.

Jacobson evaluated the lot and the homeowner's plans. "We ended the conversation with me saying 'Why don't you add it on (to the house)," he said.

The homeowner said he didn't think he'd be able to add on the existing structure.

Jacobson said a big part of his job is to make sure the project gets done right which means the homeowner gets what he wants in the project.

Getting it right can require him to evaluate the age of a home.

A house built in the 1920s or 1930s can present challenges to a contractor or homeowner, Jacobson said.

There are circumstances when what needs to be done in the house won't fully meet all state building codes, he said. "We get it as close to building code as possible without tearing the whole house apart," Jacobson said.

One of the other pieces to getting a project done right is to protect the homeowner from a contractor's shoddy work.

When a hailstorm hit Morris a few years ago, several hundred homes needed to replace their roofs because of hail damage.

Those situations can attract contractors from miles away who do shoddy work, Jacobson said.

"We do background checks on those companies," Jacobson said.

Jacobson worked on behalf of the city, homeowners and cooperating insurance companies to make sure homeowners were protected. Many insurance companies said they wouldn't pay for the roof repair until it was inspected by Jacobson.

He recalled having to require contractors to re-do roofs in two cases during that hail damage season.

Jacobson worked in construction before becoming a building inspector about 15 years ago. He's one of the few in the region.

"There's a huge shortage of building inspectors out there," Jacobson said. He serves as the building inspector for at least 10 towns including Morris, Benson, Appleton and others.

He inspects houses and related projects but also inspects hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

Besides not inspecting electrical work, "The only thing I don't do is when you buy a house, I don't do that inspection," Jacobson said. There are other inspectors who do home inspections for sellers and buyers.

Check out the Stevens County Times Spring Home Improvement edition for more ideas and information. 

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