A reliable barometer of how the economy is doing… Sacramento County’s Building Permits and Inspection Division is booming. Summer business from 2014 to 2015 has increased an average of 20 percent.
What’s fueling the increase? “It’s the economy,” said Chief Building Official Brian Washko. “Production housing is up, which includes demand for permits, but it also means we have more people working, who are in turn remodeling their own homes, generating more permits. It’s a great sign that things are turning around.”
Washko noted they have 1,700 production homes in 23 different housing tracks in the queue waiting to be built. “Each of those pulls up to 30 permits prior to a certificate of occupancy. When this kind of activity starts, it really spikes our work demand.” In addition to production housing, private permit activity is up, including additions and especially kitchen remodels.
When the spike in demand was causing delays in inspections and work turnaround, Washko brought on two inspectors and is looking for nine other staff. “We’re looking for well-trained, experienced inspectors,” he added. With the Board of Supervisor’s approval, he also contracted for consulting services to help handle the work spikes, noting they are experienced and receive full training from County staff.
With the building industry rapidly changing and water and energy saving codes coming in faster than ever, it can be difficult keeping up with the changes, and even contractors may not be aware of the new codes. For example, the new California code that requires all bathrooms, even in private homes, be equipped with occupancy sensors so that lights can automatically shut off to save electricity. Another is the code that requires all electrical outlets to only work when a plug is inserted…they won’t work if knives or toys are inserted. Though designed to save children’s lives, “no contractor likes to hear that he has to remove all the plugs and replace them to meet code requirements.” Staying on top of the new codes and dealing with contractors and home owners requires experience and judgment.
Building requirements often cause people to view inspectors as critical or too bureaucratic, making the job tougher and more expensive. An Inspector’s job is to insure that buildings are built to California code and save lives as well as property. Improper building is often hidden until a failure happens, and we have to follow the laws. An example are fires in nightclubs that cause a great loss of life because there were improper exits, pathways, occupancy rules and lighting.
To meet the changing demands of the industry and make the division more efficient to handle seasonal work load spikes, the division received a top-to-bottom analysis, was reorganized based on business demands and received customer service and cross training. “We’re assessing the talents we have and preparing for the future,” Washko said. “The trades are an excellent, well-paying career path and we’re looking to bring on the best of the best, who are trained and ready to keep up with the changing demands.”