Algonquin's virtual inspection program catching on
Brian Martin spent his week inspecting house wrapping, windows and solar panels for the Village of Algonquin, all while sitting comfortably in his chair watching a computer monitor at the municipal center.
In the new world created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Algonquin officials have taken the opportunity to start a program that not only keeps residents and staff members safe from contracting the virus but also serves the community more efficiently.
The village recently began offering inspections conducted remotely by video through the Zoom meeting app. Staff members such as Martin already are accustomed to a Zoom-filled work environment, so the transition to virtual inspections went relatively smoothly.
Residents and contractors still have the option of in-person inspections, but the virtual option is gaining traction because of its convenience and safety. All that's required is a clear view from a homeowner or contractor's phone, tablet or laptop camera so the inspector can see the area and direct the person to the appropriate vantage points.
"It's different, but it seems like everything we do is in a Zoom meeting, so I'm used to working with it," Martin said. "And a lot of the homeowners and contractors are also used to working with Zoom."
Assistant Village Manager Mike Kumbera said the idea for remote inspections was a collaborative effort from the village's Community Development Department and innovation and technology team in conjunction with guidance from the International Code Council, which provides building safety standards.
While Kumbera said he's unaware of any communities in the area conducting virtual inspections, he wouldn't be surprised if the idea catches on. He expects the program, which allows the village to keep a video archive of the inspections, to continue after the pandemic eases.
"There are a lot of advantages we see in keeping this around perpetually," Kumbera said. "It addresses an immediate need for us but we see the potential for it in the future."
The program is only a couple of weeks old, but Martin already has conducted several virtual inspections. Demand is especially high for windows and doors because in-person inspections for those jobs have been on hold since the start of the pandemic.
Instead of driving around from site to site, the Zoom option allows Martin to save time and schedule more inspections. Right now he is able to virtually inspect everything from air conditioners and fences to patios and plumbing.
"I don't think it's a replacement for in-person inspections, but there is definitely an advantage to this," Martin said. "I feel safer not having to go into homes, and I imagine the homeowners feel safer not having us come in."