Published on July 1, 2020.

Comparing Notes

A veteran and a newbie share RVI lessons learned


Jim Muir, the top building official in Clark County, Washington, and Tim Mikloiche, his counterpart in West Hartford, Connecticut, make for a fascinating contrast. In 2012, Clark County became perhaps the first building department in the US to adopt widespread use of remote video inspection (RVI). West Hartford, on the other hand, only started using RVI in March when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the town offices.

Though each came to it in different times and under different circumstances, both Muir and Mikloiche have a wealth of valuable information on how to build and maintain a successful remote video program.

Jim, how did you come up with the idea of remote video inspection for Clark County?

MUIR: We were coming out of the recession, and it was difficult hiring employees to keep up with the demand for inspections. And at the same time, I had one inspector who was battling cancer and was on light duty in the office. So it was kind of like a mother of invention moment. We had this resource—a guy who really wants to work—and one that we could really use to get more inspections done. Everything just came together.

Tim, you had very little time to create an RVI program. How did you do it?

MIKLOICHE: The NFPA white paper [available at] helped a lot—it added credibility to the program. With that, we created an outline and filled in the details. We had to throw it together really fast, and so we’re on revision eight after two months. It’s a learning curve.

What’s an example of one of those learning moments?

MIKLOICHE: We would need to measure the depth of a pier, but the tools to do that wouldn’t be available at the site, or we’d need to see a roof, but there wouldn’t be a ladder. So we instituted rules that the contractor has to be there with the right tool to conduct the inspection—a ladder, a tape measure, a plug-in tester to check an electrical outlet.

Jim, what were your biggest challenges with RVI early on?

MUIR: A good WIFI network. We have a large county—a big portion of it is rural, and some of those areas have a poor WIFI signal. Obviously, there’s no way we can do the video inspection if there isn’t a connection. When we started, we had an acceptable signal half the time, maybe less. Now I’d say we have an acceptable signal about 75 percent of the time.

Jim, since the pandemic, you said you’ve been getting a lot of calls about RVI from other inspectors. What’s the most common question?

MUIR: The biggest question is probably about the kinds of inspections that can be done remotely. The answer is most things. There are a few obvious ones where it’s not very likely. We wouldn’t want to do a whole framing inspection on a house remotely, for instance—it’s not an efficient way to review a big-picture part of a construction project. But for lots of individual components and systems, RVI really works well.

What’s an important thing for building officials to know if they’re just starting with RVI?

MUIR: I don't know if this is going to sound corny, but if you don't have your team dedicated to the mission, you're probably going to get pushback and ambivalence. So my best advice is to make sure that you're connected to your team, and they understand and buy in to the team's mission of trying to do their job more efficiently and keep up with technology.

MIKLOICHE: Early on we developed some inspection checklists for RVI, which are really just guides for inspectors. With this pandemic, more inspectors are doing inspections outside their concentration, so checklists have been great. Check, check, check, and you’re done.

What’s the biggest misconception inspectors have about RVI?

MIKLOICHE: Two big ones are that video inspections are of lesser quality and that they take a lot less time. I think for us it takes roughly twice as long to complete a video inspection, because you can’t just turn your head and look at something else. Also, in a lot of cases, it’s actually a much more detailed inspection, because you can get up close and personal. If you’re there in person you might have to stand six feet away [for safety reasons], but on a phone you can zoom in.

How do you get buy-in on RVI among your partners like contractors and homeowners?

MUIR: Being in contact with the various industry and building groups is advisable all the way around, especially if you're trying to roll out something new. If you don't have at least a basic relationship with those partners, you'll be fighting an uphill battle. We've always attended trade meetings and local association meetings—real estate and banking meetings, and public community agencies like Rotary clubs. If you get an opportunity to present who you are and what you do, it's always good to be out in the community trying to do as much outreach as possible.