As supervising building plans examiner for Nevada County, Nick McBurney has the significant responsibility of checking the quality and consistency of construction documents that come through his department.
Errors can be costly, leading to delays and added expense. But McBurney doesn’t mind the challenge because he enjoys helping people with their projects.
“I like working in the building department because of the connection of getting things built in the world,” said McBurney, who has worked for the county eight years.
A native of Santa Cruz, McBurney didn’t originally plan to pursue a career in building inspection. He got a bachelor’s degree in geography from San Francisco State University in 1993.
When the first Internet browsers came out around that time, he jumped into a career in the tech world, working as a web developer in San Francisco. A few years later, his life took another turn when he took a computer job at Esalen, a famous holistic retreat and educational institute in Big Sur founded in the 1960s.
McBurney lived in a 13-foot-diameter yurt and enjoyed delicious professionally cooked meals and cliff-side natural hot springs every day. “It was really magical,” he said. “It’s such a spectacularly beautiful, uplifting environment to live in.”
Eventually, he also got trained in Esalen’s version of massage. McBurney said he still has a massage table and uses his skills on his wife.
Later, he worked for a time as a construction worker. But the day his wife got pregnant, he knew he would have to do something different. “I decided that construction work was not going to pay the bills in the long run,” he said. He took night classes at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County and earned a certification for commercial building inspector. That led to a job at Humboldt County inspecting buildings.
He stayed with Humboldt County six years, driving 25,000 miles a year inspecting buildings throughout the redwood forest.
McBurney has been happy with his move to Nevada County and enjoys living with his family on a two-acre property that allows them to raise chickens and goats. Both he and his wife milk the goats twice a day, getting a couple of quarts to drink. The couple have two daughters – one a junior at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning in Grass Valley and the other an eighth grader at Nevada City School of the Arts.
For fun, McBurney likes to glide around on his new Onewheel electric board that he just got during the holidays. He enjoys how the board is “fun and dangerous” and gets his adrenaline going. “I don’t go that fast, but it feels really fast when I’m on it,” he said.
McBurney has also had success with gold panning. Following the lead of a friend who has been a prospector his whole life, McBurney uncovered 3 ounces of gold worth about $5,000 in 2022 using a highbanker on a spot on the Yuba River. He said he visited about eight Sundays to collect that amount.
Such pursuits provide a nice break from his work life which can be difficult when builders don’t agree with the county’s rules. “Some people understand government oversight of construction, but others feel they should be able to do what they see fit,” he said. “When those two worlds collide, it can be challenging to understand each other.”
Fortunately, McBurney said he is able to manage such situations by keeping a calm demeanor and explaining the benefits of abiding by the building code. Following the rules protects people’s investments and could, for example, prevent a fire from happening years down the line, he said.
“Ultimately the goal of what I do is to help people build things right the first time,” McBurney said.
Article by Lisa Renner, contractor - public information officer. If you have a suggestion for a staff highlight profile, please email Lisa.Renner@NevadaCountyCa.gov.