CHEERS has taken a new approach using data science to solve this state-wide issue. Through evaluating jurisdictions with higher-than-average compliance and understanding what makes them successful, we have found five actionable steps your jurisdiction can implement to improve your HVAC compliance.
#1: Use CHEERS to Check Energy Code Compliance
Building departments who use CHEERS save time when validating energy code requirements. Building departments can use the CHEERS software to:
- Search the address or permit number
- Visually screen for all pre-validated sections
- Then proceed with signing off the energy code section on the final permit.
Building Departments can access the CHEERS at no cost. Visit cheers.org and click “Register with CHEERS” to begin using the CHEERS platform!
#2: Be Diligent with Your Contractors
A survey completed by The Energy Center found that 48% of residents ask not to pull permits because it’s too time consuming (1). While few building departments have guidelines in place to issue or deny residential retrofit permits the same day, that unfortunately is not the case for all.
Being confident no time is wasted when verifying a permit will benefit everyone. Having the permit ready for pickup once the permit is paid for doubles down on this idea. Increasing compliance comes down to contractor and homeowner expectations. If the contractor and homeowner can be confident the permit application will go through the permitting process fast, there will be less chance of non-compliance.
#3: Take a Second Look at Your Online Portal
One of the best ways you can benefit the contractors is by allowing permit applications to be completed online. Taking the time for a contractor to drive to the building department, wait in line, submit the forms, wait for approval, wait for the inspector, pay for the permit and receive the permit are all extra tasks that don’t equate to extra sales thus it’s seen as a pain and not a benefit to the building industry.
What do you use your building department’s website for? Is it just to show the contact information and address? Many departments are connecting their websites to an online building permitting portal like Accela (www.accela.com). This allows contractors to apply for permits, pay for fees, and track permits through the process without any extra work for your department.
#4: Reshape the Permitting System
A recent trend in building departments has been introducing express permitting for smaller, common projects like HVAC changeouts. This is a great way to improve the wait line for contractors with small jobs which often get stuck behind larger whole-home projects which increases project time on the contractor.
The city of San Jose has begun completing virtual inspections on all low priority jobs that don’t require in depth analysis. Inspections use video calls with the contractors to visually check their work completed.
Another option to decrease time delay is pre-submission of materials. This way, all permit screening of the property can be done before and out the way when the documents are submitted.
A recent thought is approving HERS raters, which are already at the site, with all the necessary codes to validate the work completed. While this has not been done at any jurisdiction, it would greatly improve the availability for inspector-level people to go over wok completed.
#5: Refocus Your Customer Service Experience
As the most widely used resource, your customer service staff greatly help contractors with issues and permit approval. But with long lines and approval times, the contractor is affected. Here are three points which can improve the customer service effectiveness.
The first point is understanding the expectations from the contractor’s point of view. A survey by the Performance Alliance found that 50% of permit applications, contractors were initially not providing the required Title 24 Energy Code documents (1). Here are a few helpful questions to ask:
- Do they know when to provide each required document at which time?
- Is this easy to understand for them?
Knowing expectations of required documents in an easy to understand process is critical to the contractor’s success.
The second point is making it easier for contractors to get questions answered. Widely seen as an improvement from the building department’s perspective, the automated phone operator or straight-to-voicemail system increases the time it takes to converse with the department intended. With a contractor who frequently deals with your department, the automated operator wears down the experience. Having a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on your website can greatly help limit common questions and a department phone directory listed on your website helps point contractors in the right direction without having to deal with the automated operator.
The third suggestion is building healthy relationships with the contractor community. Using a newsletter tool like MailChimp to regularly educate and communicate with your community can greatly increase relationships which in turn means compliance.
BONUS #6: A Very Active Code Enforcement Program
If there is a cost to contractors (time, money, risk of not getting a job because of increased cost of permit) there will be people who try to skirt around the law. In order to deter this from happening, a level of enforcement will be needed. This can happen in two ways.
The first way is increasing access to the Building Permit Violation Form. When a contractor loses a bid to another contractor whose price was lower due to not permitting the work, the contractor wants a channel to provide that information to the building department. By making it easier for people to take down information and submit via an online, the number of publicly submitted reports will increase.
The second way is increasing the enforcement of local building departments. It is understood that building compliance enforcement is under minimal attention due to limited budget. The City of Cocoa has overcome this by moving the code enforcement under the Cocoa police department. Now, code enforcement has access to all investigative tools at the police department’s disposal (2). Even a small step of coordination with police to communicate construction to code enforcement will increase the number of eyes looking out for non-permitted work.