Some Cities Keep Construction Going Via Virtual Inspections

Disaster Response

Although many cities have classified residential construction as an essential business, a designation that allows home building to continue during the coronavirus-induced shutdown, this designation may not be sufficient to keep construction going. To help remedy this situation, some jurisdictions have started to allow virtual inspections.

Thanks to efforts spearheaded by NAHB, the Department of Homeland Security classified residential construction as an “Essential Infrastructure Business” in its March 28 guidance.

Individual state and local governments are not required to follow the guidance; but a recent survey by NAHB shows 78% of builders report that residential construction has been classified as essential in the areas where they build.

Though construction activity is still permissible throughout much of the nation, the pandemic has slowed home building in a number of ways. It is therefore not surprising that, as shown in this recent NAHBNow post, the virus has caused nearly half of home builders to put projects on hold.

One possible bottleneck is availability and willingness of workers at the local building department to perform construction inspections. According to 2013 NAHB research, the median single-family home requires eight different inspections while it is being built, and some require 15 or more. So availability of inspectors can have a significant impact, and 82% of builders recently reportedthat the virus pandemic has had a noticeable, adverse effect on how long it takes the local building department to respond to a request for an inspection.

Some local building departments are attempting to alleviate this problem by allowing third-party and virtual inspections. However, the NAHB survey shows that just 4% of builders say this has started happening recently in response to the pandemic (compared to 23% who say third-party inspections were already standard operating procedure pre-virus). On the other hand, 20% of builders say their local building departments have started to allow virtual inspections recently, specifically in response to the current emergency.

NAHB Senior Economist Paul Emrath provides more analysis in this Eye on Housing blog post.

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