North Las Vegas’ Evans tackled yet another obstacle, and kept the city moving safely
Valarie Evans, building official for the city of North Las Vegas, Nev., tackles projects, large and small, with a directness and purposefulness that underscores her drive to seek efficiency and improvement.
On her way toward achieving the coveted Master Code Professional designation, the indefatigable Evans took three certification tests in one day, passing all three. When she was notified by the International Code Council that she had earned the prestigious certification, Evans called Code Council Chief Executive Officer Dominic Sims directly and asked him which number she was. “I am Master Code Professional 806,” said Evans, who admitted she prepared nearly as seriously for a chance at an ICC Code of Honor Scholarship to attend the 2011 Annual Conference in Phoenix. She was pretty sure she was one of the first, since she applied online as soon as the scholarship icon popped up on the Code Council website.
Most recently, and extremely timely, Evans also was one of the first to begin streamlining inspections, which led to using real-time video for qualifying projects. That system has allowed the North Las Vegas to continue many inspections during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. “We are using 100-percent video inspections now,” said Evans. “We started the program in July 2019, and I had planned to go 100 percent with video by July 2020. So we were in pretty good shape to start now.”
Her eight inspectors are working from home using the video process, which starts with an application on the city’s website, using the Appointment Plus software package. Before the new system, Evans said, homeowners would take a day off work and contractors would do the project and leave cards to request inspections. Now, contractors set up the inspection process online when they get the job. Using Appointment Plus, Evans includes everyone on the list who will need to be involved, including the homeowner and each inspector who will have to sign off.
The city’s website walks customers and contractors through the process, making sure each has at least 4G wireless service and that their devices are fully charged. Contractors are urged to have all necessary tools (e.g., tape measure, level, ground-fault circuit interrupter tester, flashlight, step ladder, etc.) based on the type of inspection readily available. The contractor doing the work will use whatever video system they choose — Skype, Zoom or even a smartphone, tablet or laptop camera — to walk the inspectors through the project. The contractor points the camera as directed by the inspector and answers questions as they move through the jobsite. “At first, we had to tell them to slow down so we could see what we needed to,” Evans said. “Maybe even back up to make sure. But now, most contractors know what we want to see and slow down to make sure we can see it.”
Before the pandemic precautions, Evans said, inspectors would go out to finish whatever couldn’t be done through the video process. Now, she said, personal inspections are on hold until they get the all-clear. Still, she added, they’ve been able to do some 600 inspections using the video system; only putting a handful on hold.
Eligible projects include aluminum patio covers, water heaters, water softeners, plumbing re-pipe, gas line extensions for barbeques and fire pits, air conditioner change-outs, attic forced air units, mainline water repairs, electrical service changes, spa circuits, and detached storage sheds (not exceeding 600 square feet). And rooftop solar construction, which Evans said started the ball rolling on the new system in the first place.
Las Vegas re-introduced legislation after a three-year pause. Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to sell surplus electricity to the power company. That led to a boom in requests for solar installation, said Karyn Boenker, public policy manager for Sunrun Inc., a major installer. Boenker said Sunrun’s national solar organization noted that a major cost in the installation was the time it took for local governments to approve the projects — often up to three months. So she teamed up with Evans to see if there was a safe way to speed up the process. As usual, Evans took up the challenge, and in no time, had a streamlined online process developed, complete with real-time video inspection, that reduced the approval time to just hours.
According to Boenker, this system has spread to other jurisdictions in the Las Vegas area, especially as more customers want to find a cost-effective way to cool their homes during increasingly hot summers. But Boenker has been amazed how Evans expanded the streamlined inspection program beyond solar projects. “She is great,” Boenker said of Evans. “I just love working with them. And we are proud of whatever help we provided in getting this program started. This will help a lot after the pandemic is over, getting people back to work or in their homes and businesses more quickly.”
Evans believes the real-time video system allows contractors to improve on their work. “They can see during the inspections what could be done better, instead of waiting a few days to be called out to the site, and then bringing the information back to their management.”
Evans credited city of North Las Vegas government officials for allowing her to try new ways to improve. “I think it helps we’re a small town, so I can go up to the mayor’s office and say, ‘I want to do this.’ And he can just say, ‘Sure, Val. Go for it.’ Not a lot of red tape.”
“My mission always has been to do what’s best and most efficient for the city. This is another way. And we’re all learning it together.”