Remote Virtual Inspections For Facilities

By Dave Walls
From the September/October 2021 Issue

Buildings have long been the foundation of our communities—beginning as shelter and safety for humanity—and over time evolving to meet even more of society’s needs including recreation, education, entertainment, and commerce. As the threats facing society continue to evolve, building safety and related industries are being challenged to adapt, and quickly. For example, the need for new inspection methods has been mounting for a while as the inspector workforce has shrunk and jurisdictions’ resources have come under financial pressure. And, as social distancing guidelines are once again being enforced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, professionals are finding it vital to adopt new technology like remote virtual inspections (RVIs).

Remote Inspections
Remote virtual inspection technology uses visual or electronic aids that allow inspectors to observe specific construction projects, products, or materials from a distance. (Photo: adobe stock – Kzenon)

For an industry that has historically relied upon in-person practices to ensure the structures within our communities are resilient, efficient, and safe for use, the ongoing pandemic is causing an acceleration of what has otherwise been a slow digital transformation. Furthermore, as state and local jurisdictions continue to place a greater emphasis on increasing energy efficiency and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the building industry is seeing more scrutiny. After all, according to nonprofit Architecture 2030, buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions.

In order to effectively address both current and future threats, the industry will need the trifecta of modern and innovative resources like building codes, advanced technology such as RVIs, and most importantly, the proper knowledge and guidelines to implement it.

Tool For Energy Code Compliance

The foundation has been laid with effective resources and technology. With government and building industry leaders racing towards achieving the greenhouse gas reduction goals set forth in the Paris Agreement and even more critically, to address the worst effects expected to occur as a result of a changing climate, resources like modern and effective energy codes already provide a strong basis for reaching energy efficiency building goals.

According to an analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy, the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) represents a 9.4% site energy savings improvement and an 8.7% improvement in carbon emissions for residential buildings relative to the 2018 IECC. Meanwhile, the 2021 IECC represents an approximately 40% improvement in energy efficiency for residential and commercial buildings compared to the 2006 edition.

However, it will take more than just building codes to address society’s current challenges. This is why as resources are advancing, so must technologies. For example, RVIs ensure the safety of professionals while allowing them to continue their jobs as building safety experts. This technology uses visual or electronic aids that allow inspectors to observe specific construction projects, products, or materials from a distance. These are beneficial when the materials or buildings are inaccessible, in dangerous environments, or where other circumstances prevent or restrict the possibility of in-person inspection.

With properly implemented RVI programs, building safety professionals can overcome a variety of challenges brought on by the pandemic and continue providing the services necessary to keep buildings safe and resilient.

Through these technological advancements, building safety professionals can spend less time traveling to inspection sites, resulting in a net gain meaning more projects getting the oversight and approvals they need to progress on schedule. Additionally, when permit holders like contractors and facility managers schedule time for inspections the appointed time is more precise. This provides the ability for them to better schedule other parts of their day—since previously they could have been waiting all day for an inspector as on-site visits were penciled in when there was time.

ANSI Standard On RVI In The Works

The path forward requires the proper knowledge for implementation. As with any time a new technology or resource is introduced, there needs to be standardized criteria in order to ensure it is effectively implemented.

Understanding this, the International Code Council (ICC) and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) have come together to develop a candidate standard on RVI for the energy and water use performance of buildings. Performance raters will be provided criteria to check all aspects of permitted construction for compliance with energy codes and other energy-related applicable laws and regulations. This essential step forward will create a set of guidelines for building safety professionals to remotely ensure and enforce energy code compliance and for energy and water efficiency performance. It will also allow industry professionals to conduct their jobs in a safer, more efficient manner, while ensuring they have the tools to complete the task.

The use of RVIs allows building safety professionals to not only complete their jobs locally with speed and precision, but also allow the wider industry to share their knowledge globally. Through this new candidate standard, officials will not only be able to better utilize RVIs but will also be able to help more building owners and facility managers to adhere to energy codes—helping to reduce their buildings’ impact on the environment.

NFPA Highlights 5 Keys To RVIs

Compiled by Facility Executive Staff

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has increased its work related to Remote Virtual Inspections (or Remote Video Inspections, or RVIs). While the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a surge of interest in this alternative to in-person, on-site building inspections, NFPA had appointed a technical committee in Spring 2019 to develop NFPA 915: Standard for Remote Inspections. This is currently in development; public input on the first draft was accepted until June 1 of this year, with the first draft report expected in March 2022.

In Summer 2020, NFPA released an infographic emphasizing five key considerations for RVI programs. These five keys are: procedures, communication, technology, verification, and completion.

  • Procedures: Develop policies for RVI and share with key stakeholders and the public.
  • Communication: Communicate the nature of RVI to ensure the health and safety of all involved.
  • Technology: Select the live video tools to safey and securely perform RVI.
  • Verification: Determine the type, time, location, and people required for the inspection.
  • Completion: Communicate RVI results or items for follow up in timely manner.

The “five keys” resource was released just as code officials, enforcers, and inspectors prepared to re-open occupancies and encounter significant inspection backlogs due to shutdowns during the height of the pandemic. As NFPA stated with the infographic release: “Until recently, use of RVI was limited and sporadic. The current pandemic and remote work conditions combined with a normally extensive workload have thrust RVI into the minds of authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) everywhere. RVI provides an effective alternative means for building inspection, enabling one or more parties to remotely perform an inspection of a building or building component.

Just like traditional on-site or in person inspections, an RVI typically occurs as part of a jurisdiction’s permitting process, project, or contract schedule, and needs to be approved by the AHJ for that area. Remote inspection can help accomplish critical and emergency permit work. Virtual inspections are not intended to be less complete than on-site inspections; they are meant to achieve the same (or enhanced) results as an on-site inspection. RVI is currently in use in select jurisdictions across the United States.”

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As new technology and resources are introduced into the industry, the opportunities these create are significant. It is just as critical that professionals are provided with the relevant knowledge to implement these advancements effectively. To ensure all building professionals are equipped to address current and future challenges to society, the industry must collaborate so that the proper technology, resources and knowledge are available.

Remote InspectionsWalls is the vice president of business support initiatives for the International Code Council. His responsibilities include both domestic and international business development activities. Prior to joining ICC, Walls served as the Executive Director of the California Building Standards Commission, which oversees the adoption and publication of the California Building Standards Codes. In this capacity he successfully directed the development and publication of CALGreen, the first mandatory statewide green building code in the U.S. He has also served as a Commissioner on the California Seismic Safety Commission and as a Board Member of the California Hospital Building Safety Board. A California Licensed General Contractor and having served as a code official in the building divisions for two local jurisdictions in California, Walls has also served as an adjunct professor in the construction management program at the University of California Davis.

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