Working to Streamline HVAC Permit Processes

Chuck Colgan's picture

When a residential HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) replacement is made in California, it's often done without the required permits. Why? While the cost of a permit is a factor, the biggest hindrance is the time it typically takes to go through the permit process.

The Center for Sustainable Energy, with funding from the California Energy Commission, is working with building departments across Southern California to make the residential HVAC permit process less burdensome — for both contractors and building department staff.

Five ideas to streamline permitting

  • Improve building department web pages that explain permit requirements and processes
  • Implement online, expedited permit processing for HVAC installations
  • Synchronize the building inspection and Home Energy Rating System inspection
  • Use checklists for permit review and inspection
  • When funding is available, hire a part-time energy code expert to guide building department staff

These solutions were based on input from an online survey of 54 municipal building departments and 94 contractors, raters and permit runners, as well as in-person working groups with staff from 11 building departments.

“There is a general consensus that permit streamlining is an important goal,” said Marissa Spata, CSE project manager. “We want to develop feasible solutions that work for stakeholders on both sides of the permit desk.”

Local governments want to increase permit compliance so they can ensure safe installations and track energy savings tied to HVAC upgrades, which can be used to inform goals set in climate action plans and environmental impact reports. Contractors who pull permits also benefit from increased compliance, because they won’t lose as much business to those that keep their prices artificially low by skirting the law.

Join meetings set for November

According to Spata, the next step is to further vet the proposed solutions through one-on-one meetings with building departments. The meetings will be held in the San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and Inland Empire regions in November. Building departments interested in discussing permit compliance strategies are invited to participate by contacting Marissa Spata.

The results of this project will be an HVAC permitting best practices guidebook, which will be distributed to local jurisdictions in 2015. Local government officials can subscribe to CSE’s local government email list to stay informed.

Chuck Colgan