Hall County is as busy as it has ever been building new developments, especially new homes.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to slow down production, local building officials say that they are performing as many home inspections now as they ever have.
The Hall County Building Inspection Division is planning to hire two new staff members soon, and at least one will be a building inspector, said Lamar Carver, Hall County’s chief building official. The division currently has three building inspectors and one commercial inspector.
“If you look at the developments that are going through the planning approvals … it looks to me like the growth would be sustained — equal to or maybe even accelerating a little bit,” Carver said. “(Before you hire) you want to make sure that your growth looks sustained, that it’s long term.”
In 2019, Hall County performed 16,516 inspections, according to documents from the division. In 2020, that number dipped to 14,641, but in 2021, the division has already performed 9,303 inspections as of July 14.
The county has also dealt with an uptick in building permits. The division received permits for 557 single-family residences in 2019, then 620 in 2020. And thus far in 2021, they have already received 636 permits for single-family homes, as of July 14. They are on pace to double the amount of permits they received for all of last year.
Gainesville has also seen a rise in development, especially with commercial buildings and new apartment complexes, Gainesville Building Official Joe Davidson said.
“With the COVID issues we had, we kept going,” Davidson said. “We kept very strong here with projects that were going on and inspections, and now it seems like it’s doubled since last year.”
Gainesville has three inspectors on staff, and Davidson said they have been able to keep up with demand so far.
“What I try to stress to people is we’re really their (homebuyer’s) advocate,” Davidson said. “We make sure that it (the house) is code compliant and the codes are followed, so when they move into the home and they’re living there, they know that it’s a safe place, and it’s been inspected properly to meet code.”
Many of the people moving into new homes in Hall County will be first-time homeowners. Building inspectors are looking to make sure that homes are up to code, Carver said, and the codes only establish the minimum that a builder has to do. Many issues with a new home may be problems that a builder must fix contractually but do not violate any codes. For example, county and state codes don’t require floors to be covered or even walls to be painted, because codes are designed to focus on safety and structural integrity as well as making sure the home is sanitary. Cosmetic issues or even issues like doors not closing properly still may not fall under a code violation.
Inspectors look at a home several times throughout the building process including checks on the foundation, a rough-in inspection when the home is about 50% complete and a final inspection where they look at all framing, plumbing, electrical issues, HVAC, driveway, house numbering, landscaping and soil erosion. With increased development, more density and more rainfall, soil erosion has become more of an issue of late, Carver said.
“If I had to give a piece of advice to any new homebuyer … I would tell them to be patient,” Carver said. “Two things are going to happen almost every time. …. It’ll take longer than you thought and cost more than you thought.”
There is still a significant strain on supply of building materials, Carver said, which has contributed to delays in building timelines.
Patience can benefit both the owner and the builder, Carver said, because an owner might have several smaller issues that need to be addressed but that aren’t life safety issues. He advises to wait three to six months before having a builder to come out and fix issues all in one trip.
“Your builder doesn’t want you to call him 57 times in the first six months you live there, because every time you call he has to get somebody in a car, drive over, do the work,” Carver said. “It takes him an hour to fix a five-minute little nail pop. What he wants you to do is wait till you have about 20-30 of those things. … If you have a life safety issue, you call them immediately. You don’t wait.”
His division will soon be moving to a web-based system, accessible to builders and contractors, to speed up the process of sharing information about site inspections, Carver said. Currently, a builder must call their office or check the building site in person to see if they must respond to any code violations or if they passed their inspection, he said, but with a new system from Accela, the county will be able to communicate that information much more quickly.