Non-energy code best practices that can ease IECC enforcement
The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is one of a full suite of codes published by the International Code Council and adopted by most communities in the United States. However, competing priorities, budget and staffing challenges can make full enforcement of the IECC demanding for local jurisdictions. This article explores tools that jurisdictions have shared as best practices that benefit both the local staff and the design-build community.
The International Accreditation Service (IAS) is a subsidiary of the Code Council and it accredits a wide range of companies and organizations, including local building departments. Best Practices — Lessons Learned from the Building Department Accreditation Program and Major Jurisdiction Committee provides a wealth of ideas that, while not specific to the IECC, can help with energy code enforcement. Below, we highlight best practices from Salem, Ore., and Mecklenburg County, N.C. They are focused on coordination, consistency and incentives for eliminating inspection failures — all practices that could support compliance and enforcement of the IECC.
The Building and Safety Division in Salem, Ore., offers an enhanced permit service that tailors the permitting process to an applicant’s construction schedule. Options available to customers include deferred plan review submittals, expedited plan review, phased permitting, pre-submittal review or assignment of a project coordinator.
Salem assigns, at no cost to the applicant, a project coordinator to commercial construction projects that are large-scale (typically $10 million or more), high-profile, politically charged, complex or just plain unusual. The goal of the project coordinator is to have a one-stop contact that can assist throughout the entire construction project. Project coordinator involvement begins at the pre-application stage and continues through to final occupancy.
According to Rebai Tamerhoulet, manager of Salem’s Building and Safety Division, the most important function of the project coordinator is establishing and maintaining an open line of communication between the city and the project design team. Once construction begins, they attend weekly construction meetings; maintain steady contact with architects, engineers and contractors; manage project requests for information and change orders; oversee new permits and revisions; and help provide code-compliant solutions to unique project problems. Their job is to get prompt answers to clients’ questions or get them in touch with the proper personnel.
Coordination benefits both the city and client. Tamerhoulet also noted that the project coordinator is a benefit to the client by providing them one focal point in the city. “The project coordinator is a benefit to the city by eliminating duplication of effort among staff and improving efficiencies by involving only the necessary personnel on a given issue,” he said. The developers love the program even when they were paying for it because it saves time for all, streamlines communication, is a one-stop shop, problems are solved quickly, the bureaucracy of review and permitting systems is managed, and more.”
Tamerhoulet was named the 2019 Oregon Building Official of the Year at the Oregon Building Officials Association’s annual business meeting and conference.
Salem is a busy city. Between July 2018 and June 2019, there were more than 2,350 permits issued for projects with a total valuation of more than $467 million, according to division records. Among the developments moving forward were 317 multi-family units, 13 accessory dwelling units, and 547 single-family or duplex homes. More than 110 new commercial/industrial permits were issued during the 12-month period, totaling nearly $110 million in valuation.
The city of Salem is the only building department in Oregon to be accredited by the International Accreditation Service.
Creating a collaborative culture of doing well
If your local jurisdiction having authority is having resource issues, consider the solutions developed in Mecklenburg County, N.C., and more recently embraced by the state of North Carolina. Like many jurisdictions, Mecklenburg County was facing resource constraints. Their solutions and collaboration with local stakeholders have created a business model involving encouragement, engagement and completion.
Consistency – Speak with one voice
Mecklenburg County’s code enforcement section has a well-established consistency policy, implemented in part with regular code academy (formerly called “consistency” meetings) for residential building, commercial building, electrical, mechanical/fuel gas and plumbing. The county initially introduced consistency teams for each inspection discipline to address the decrease in office time achieved by moving inspectors to 95-percent field-based. Industry and the public are invited to academy meetings, and decisions on the correct local interpretation of the code distributed to the field inspectors and industry. They make available online interpretations of code requirements for commercial, residential, electrical and mechanical disciplines. As noted in the County’s policy:
It is very important that code enforcement is administered in a fair, thorough and consistent manner by all. The purpose of this policy is to improve the department’s ability to accomplish the above and “SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE,” by outlining the steps used to address “gray areas” and/or “interpretation issues” as they are encountered. “Gray areas” are code questions that are encountered by experienced code officials. “Interpretation issues” include various types of code enforcement problems caused by missing or non-compliant information on the approved drawings, or by inconsistent code interpretations between office and field code officials.
It’s faster and less expensive to do it right
Time is money, money is motivating and it pays to do it right in Mecklenburg County. Mecklenburg County’s business model is demonstrated at three touchpoints — preliminary plan review, plan review and permitting/inspection. Mecklenburg offers preliminary plan review meetings, providing an opportunity to identify issues and begin an early dialogue between applicants and code officials, cultivating a sense of being part of the project team.
Successful plan reviews are supported and encouraged via the architect/engineer (AE) Pass Rate incentives program. According to Patrick Granson, MCP, CBO, LEED-AP, director of code enforcement for Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, with resources stretched thin the county realized that AE with poor performance was hindering the process of the other more-diligent individuals. The program categorizes AE’s into four major groups: superior, successful, not yet graded and poor performers based on the pass/fail rate based on the most current 14 events in the plan review system. The AE Performance Level Chart outlines the incentives given to superior performers, the services provided to successful and not yet graded performers, and the disincentives for poor performers. Not only are superior performers offered expedited service but poor performers are also provided additional coachable moments with required peer review and preliminary plan review. Granson notes the rating has become a marketing tool for architects and engineers.
Finally, at the permitting and inspection phase, the fee schedule and enforcement procedures combine to provide a recap sheet showing the number of inspections and failures per trade at the certificate of occupancy (CO). The re-inspection fee structure is based on an evaluation of each project with regard to the project code defect rate (failed inspections/total inspections for all disciplines), at project completion or issuance of the CO or temporary certificate of occupancy, whichever occurs first. The projects code defect rate is compared to the Percent Fee Adjustment Schedule and, prior to issuance of the CO, or following the final inspection, either a charge or credit would be calculated based on the original permit fee, and applied to the general contractor’s account.
Mecklenburg County’s building department budget is fee-based, with no outside funding from the city. With more than 306,000 inspections last year, Granson credits the department’s collaborative work with local stakeholders in developing these programs, creating a new business model of shared responsibility in code compliance, that has contributed significantly to resource management both human and financial.
Department-wide best practices can contribute to enforcement across the entire suite of International Codes. Do you have IECC-related best practices you would like to share with other jurisdictions? Email Michelle Britt, director of Energy Programs for the International Code Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.