EEBA's High Performance Home Blog

Building a Plan

For cities to reach their sustainability goals they will need to begin looking at innovative ways to speed up approvals and inspection processes.

Building a Plan

I’ve recently had dealings with the building department in a local jurisdiction. I’ve met with some of the officials. I like the people who work in the departments, but the antiquated processes holding up approvals is cringeworthy. I think it’s pretty rare to find a truly progressive building department anywhere in America (but please share if you know one and feel free to brag on them), and if nothing in the world ever changed, maybe that would be fine.

We all understand the challenges. They’re diverse and complex. Entrenched deep into our systems. The politics can be exhausting.

Many areas around the country are struggling with affordability issues - whether it’s the cost of land and building permits, the rising price of materials, the lack of labor, or all of the above. At the same time, cities and states are moving towards higher energy efficiency standards - many times creating higher building costs. California has obviously led the way with their own energy goals, with many states following behind.

With Phoenix’s 2050 Sustainability Goals, all new buildings will be required to be net positive by 2050. There were over 19,500 building starts in Phoenix in 2018. Although 30 years seems like a long way off, if nothing is being done to change the current systems, there will be no pathway to successfully reach a goal like that.

In 2017 Phoenix held a contest for architects asking them to design an affordable, “near net zero house” that would have the potential for widespread adoption. The plans are now available on the phoenix.gov website. Take a look and provide some feedback. After the original building plans were uploaded, the winner was asked to put in another three months of work to reflect changes in the city’s building code. The winning plans required 600 hours for developing construction documents and getting permits approved - which seems like a ridiculously long time.

There are a few off-site construction companies also working towards creating pre-approved plans that will allow them to build faster and more affordably in multiple cities. This model seems to be one of the ways we can create more speed while taking out unnecessary processes.

What other innovative ideas have you seen at work in your local building departments? And if you haven’t signed up for the High Performance Home Summit, it’s not too late! We hope to see you in Denver next month.

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