Through unanimous votes in both Florida’s House of Representatives (118-0) and Senate (39-0), the State government recently passed The Florida Build Codes Act. If signed into law by governor Ron DeSantis on July 1, 2021, the bill will among other things authorize local and state build code enforcement agencies to allow virtual building inspections, with one exception.
Decision to Change Code
An analysis of the legislation, prepared by the State’s Community Affairs Committee, linked virtual inspections to coronavirus. It reads:
As a result of COVID-19, many building departments in Florida began performing virtual inspections in order to prevent a shut down and to protect building department staff, contractors, and property owners. Virtual inspections allow a building official or inspector to perform an inspection without having to be physically present at the jobsite. They also allow building departments to continue operating during the COVID-19 epidemic, which allows contractors to keep working.
So far as the catalyst, legislators certainly have a point. A year ago, 70% of remodelers were reporting delays linked to homeowners not wanting a contractor in their home because of the virus, according to data from The Farnsworth Group. As of March 2021, the share of remodelers reporting such delays had fallen, but still more than half claim the issue remains a roadblock to business as usual.
The practice was so widespread in 2020, in fact, the International Code Council released its own guidelines for how virtual inspections should be conducted and for what purposes they should be considered. The guide also includes an endorsement of the practice, reading, “(The) advantages are so great that it will likely become a popular and routine tool for the foreseeable future.”
Not The Only Place Conducting Virtual Inspections
While Florida’s bill passed only recently, the practice of virtual inspections is nothing new. As far back as 2018, professionals have been petitioning the Florida government to include virtual inspections in its building code. In response to the pandemic, last year multiple cities across multiple states implemented virtual inspection programs; though, none but Florida’s seem to appear in actual legislation.
Certain cities and counties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington are allowing virtual inspections to varying degrees.
Contractors in Los Angeles County, for instance, may conduct a wide variety of residential inspections virtually, such as for PV systems, water heaters, HVAC changeouts, re-roofs, window replacements, and gas lines, among a list of others—and all a contractor needs is a “level,” “flashlight,” internet-able device with a webcam, an “internet connection,” and a “tape measure or any other tool to facilitate the inspection.”
In Bothell, Wash, however, virtual inspections appear to be limited to “plumbing” and “mechanical.”
Virtual Inspections in Florida
As for where Florida will allow virtual inspections, the legislation is vague. The bill dictates that state and local enforcement agencies may perform virtual inspections at their own discretion, with the exception of virtual inspections for “structural inspections on a threshold building.”
The wording is similarly vague in defining what constitutes being virtual, allowing such inspections to be conducted using “visual or electronic aids.” The ICC includes in its guidelines a list of suggested platforms that includes FaceTime, Zoom, and WhatsApp.
Reception of the news by some in Florida has been welcoming.
In a statement released by Florida-based company Inspected, which specializes in these types of inspections, founder Anthony Perera called the news, “a major step towards advancing remote inspections and implementing compliance procedures for the technology across the nation.”
Others, while not condemning the legislation, did express hesitation and concern.
“There are things that you can miss in the eye of a camera that you would not miss in person,” says Drew Smith, chief operating officer for Two Trails, a Florida-based sustainable building consultancy. Specifically, he mentions checking for air leakage around doors, windows, and HVAC units—all key in determining a home’s air leakage and overall efficiency. “Our inspections will not be done virtually at this time.”
In July, Florida’s governor will determine whether virtual inspections become an officially legal option for inspectors. With unanimous approval of the bill in both the House and Senate, the legistlation is expected to be signed into law.