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Green Building Curmudgeon

Construction in the Pandemic Age

A green building consultant explains his company's approach to safely continuing to work through this crisis

Homemade fabric mask from my crafty spouse.

As green building consultants and verifiers, we are intimately involved in single family and multifamily projects through the entire construction cycle. Fortunately for us, and much of the industry, construction has not been hit as hard (yet) as other industries, many of which came to a sudden dead stop in the last few weeks. Being able to work, however, does not keep us from being concerned about our employee’s health and well being when they are on job site.

We are currently not working in any occupied buildings and are establishing policies on how to handle our regular site inspections on all projects. Travel is becoming an issue for our team. When more than one team member needs to be at a site inspection, typically when we are doing final inspections with duct and envelope leakage testing, they are driving separately to maintain appropriate distance by not sharing a vehicle. This is manageable for local projects, however for long day trips, our travel expenses will rise significantly. Overnight travel is another challenge to overcome. Flying to remote projects is currently off the table, and a general concern about staying in hotels is leading some of our team to consider camping out on long trips. Thankfully we are in a good season for that activity.

Looking for alternatives

A remote video inspection policy was recently established by Home Innovation for NGBS projects, almost simultaneously with an internal procedure we created and tested. We expect to be able to implement these procedures on certain upcoming projects to further limit contact with other people on job sites.

Like many other businesses, we are conducting much of our work remotely, holding video conferences in lieu of weekly in person staff meetings. Most of our multifamily pre-construction project meetings have been web conferences for quite a while, as project teams are scattered around the country, but we have transitioned to web conferences for our local single-family projects recently, which can be challenging for first-time green builders we work with—time will tell how well this works out.

Getting others to behave

When we do visit projects, it challenging to maintain appropriate distances from others. Some contractors are taking the Corona virus threat seriously, using safe practices consistently, while others are more casual. I have found myself backing away from others who don’t give me my six-foot space on recent site visits.

One current project is to establish requirements for contractors to follow in order for us to provide them site inspections. This policy is expected to include requirements such as everyone within six feet of our team must wear a cloth mask or respirator, no other work going on in the areas we are inspecting, and confirmation that the job site has it’s own robust virus safety protocols. All our employees have respirators, gloves, sanitary wipes, homemade hand sanitizer we prepared from Aloe vera gel and alcohol, and are trained in their use and encouraged to take consistent and rigorous safety precautions.

It remains to be seen how long we will have to maintain these policies, and if enough construction work will continue to keep the industry afloat. While we have concerns about the health risks of being on construction sites, we believe that taking appropriate precautions and avoiding high-risk situations will allow us, as well as the industry as a whole, to survive while continuing to expand the country’s much needed housing stock.

-Carl Seville is a green builder, educator, and consultant on sustainability to the residential construction industry. After a 25-year career in the remodeling industry, he and a partner founded a company, SK Collaborative. Photos courtesy of the author.


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