By Mark Israel, P.E.
An idle project is never good, and there’s one thing that you can always count on to grind progress to a halt: inspections. This essential phase of any project is often one of the most tedious. In many states, delays caused by inspections can stretch on for months – and as cities grow larger and inspection staffs get stretched thin, the problem is getting worse. But this isn’t the case everywhere in the United States. In fact, one state has been ahead of the curve for nearly two decades.
Since 2002, Florida has allowed private provider inspections (PPIs) to speed up engineering and construction projects of all sizes. This significant legislative decision paved the way for faster progress, reduced risks, created jobs, and saved time and money for municipalities without sacrificing quality. Other states would do well to consider implementing this solution.
What are the rules on municipal and private provider inspections?
Unlike almost every other state, Florida requires three years of experience for each discipline that an inspector is certified for in addition to passing an ICC certification. This means that an inspector working towards a license in all four disciplines would need 12 years of experience. This has caused a shortage of inspectors in the state, but the allowance of private provider inspections has helped ease the strain.
Florida law provides that an owner may use a private provider for two purposes: providing plans review and performing required building inspections. Like municipal inspectors, private providers must be properly licensed to perform these duties.
While some other cities and states may allow private providers for limited inspections like roofing or certificates of occupancy, Florida is by far the largest and most forward- thinking state when it comes to leveraging PPIs.
PPI’s save time and reduce complexity.
A big part of the wait for inspections in other states is a shortage of manpower. There are significantly more private inspectors to choose from than municipal inspectors, and the variety of options created by PPIs provides the opportunity to choose inspectors based on reputation, track record, and other qualifications. For the end customer or project manager, not having to roll the dice with an unknown, overworked inspector is a boon.
The direct business relationship can make it easier to coordinate between inspectors, contractors, and design professionals. Plans review and building construction are two of the most arduous processes of any project, so having a high-quality inspector available on short notice can make a big difference.
Risk is reduced across the board.
PPIs don’t just make things faster and simpler, but safer, too. Faster inspections and the resulting acceleration of the building process both work to limit exposure to the variety of hazards that effect idle projects more severely as time goes on. Just like with municipal inspectors, thorough inspections can lead to fewer defect and warranty claims.
While government employees are protected from liability, private inspectors are required to carry $5 million in liability insurance that can be invoked as late as five years after a project’s completion. Private providers are also bound to stricter licensing rules than government inspectors. While unlicensed municipal inspectors can work for one year while they work towards earning their license, private inspectors are required to already be fully licensed to perform any work. They’re also held to the same penalties and standards of accountability for violations.
Some critics claim that PPIs create conflicts of interest and could enable corruption. But Florida law prohibits anyone involved in the design or construction of a building to also act as an inspector. Any city or state that wants to emulate Florida’s success should follow suit with smart regulations that keep standards high.
Florida is reaping the benefits.
Florida is leading the way in construction, development, and engineering projects. Private provider inspections are helping projects move forward faster than ever without creating additional risk or sacrificing quality. The wide range of options for building owners also helps facilitate the continuation of time-sensitive building projects during tough economic downturns. It’s a win-win situation for businesses, governments, and communities.
Other cities and states deciding it’s finally worth it to implement PPIs is not a question of if, but when. And those who get on board sooner will have a big advantage.
Mark Israel, P.E. is the CEO of Universal Engineering Sciences. Following the foundation of the company by his father, he has dedicated his career since 1990 to helping build and expand UES’ portfolio, growing the company from a municipal engineering outfit to a major national firm. Mark holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Tulane as well as an MBA in Management from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College. Working at the national headquarters in Orlando, FL, Mark oversees the operations of the company’s 2,000 engineering professionals and 33 offices. He drives the organization’s community and philanthropic initiatives and manages mergers and acquisitions including those of GFA International; NOVA Geotechnical; Contour; and Wallace Kuhl & Associates.