Like every other industry, the local building industry is adapting to social distancing and the other impacts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

But the good news for the industry is hammers are still hammering, and roofs and walls are going up.

Construction has been deemed by Florida as an “essential industry.” Locally, the building industry is doing well so far under the present conditions.

“Overall, new construction is continuing on,” said Suzanne Graham, government affairs chair for the Charlotte/DeSoto Building Industry Association.

“With the lower interest rates, new construction is still running,” Graham said, suggesting the industry is moving forward while staying within the guidelines laid out by the CDC.

But that doesn’t mean the virus hasn’t affect how the building industry does its business.

“Suppliers and storefronts are trying to find new ways to be able to help customers, since many stores have closed or are giving one-on-one consultations following CDC guidelines,” she said.

The beat goes on in areas the have seen a lot of building in recent months, like the city of North Port.

“So far, we have not seen a slowdown in permitting,” city spokesman Joshua Taylor said. “The amount of permits is steady. Just this week a local home builder submitted 20-plus permits in a single day.”

Since March 1, North Port has issued 772 various permits. During the same time period, from Feb. 1 to Feb. 24, the city issued 763 permits.

“We are open and doing business daily with some safety measures in place,” Taylor said. “We have installed large plexiglass shields at the front desk for employees and visitors to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.”

Permitting and site inspections

Both Sarasota and Charlotte counties instituted online permitting rather than processing permits in their offices.

“We are still processing permits even though the lobby is closed to the public,” said Ben Baily, Charlotte County interim Community Development director.

“All permitting will now be handled through our online permitting portal,” Bailey said in an email to the Sun.

“(Wednesday) is the first day that we are closed to the public, so it’s too soon to tell what the permit numbers look like,” he said. “We’ll know more in the coming weeks.”

Sarasota County instituted similar policies and are processing building permits online.

Building inspections are more complicated.

Charlotte County suspended inspections this week of “existing” residential dwellings due to COVID-19 until further notice. That means inspectors won’t come to inspect your new water heater, replacement air conditioning ducts or any other interior work for homes that aren’t new.

However, for inspections inside dwellings, Charlotte building officials “would accept pictures and video for certain inspections types.”

“Inspections on residential and commercial accessory structures (docks, seawalls, pools, boat lifts, sheds, garages, cages) will continue as long as the inspector doesn’t have to enter the dwelling unit to access the accessory structure,” county officials stated in a press release. Contact the county for the details.

“Inspections on new construction residential and commercial buildings will continue, but we ask you limit the number of workers in the buildings while the inspection is taking place,” the release states.

Sarasota County prefers acquiring photographs and videos rather than sending out its inspectors to a site. The details how to photograph and film for an inspection can be found on the county’s website.

In those cases where an inspector is on site to inspect a home, Sarasota County has laid out detailed instructions on how those inspections should be conducted:

“When performing inspections on occupied structures, each inspector will be instructed to ask prior to entering the structure if anyone within the residence or structures is ill or not well. If any individual is ill or sick the inspection will be canceled.

“If all is well and entry is allowed, the inspector will encourage the owner to open and close the entry doors to avoid the staff member from touching these surfaces.

Each inspector will practice the six-foot social distancing, limit contract with any surfaces and once inspection is complete all paperwork will be documented outside of the structure.”

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