Insulation Inspections: Program seeks to guarantee workmanship and job quality across Canada

With express building schedules and a fluctuating economy comes price dropping and, in many cases, workmanship is compromised. Discussion has grown at TIAC’s national and provincial levels about development and implementation of an insulation inspection program, as contractors look for ways to correct the prevalence of poor workmanship and promote their associations.

Steve Clayman, Director if Energy Initiatives for TIAC, said the concept and development of an inspection program in any capacity is tremendous and is unprecedented in the industry. “Poor quality happens because of the constant push for lower prices,” he said. “The ‘race to the bottom’ demands unskilled and unqualified installers. The skill sets required by qualified mechanical insulation installers underscore a high level of professionalism in the trade.

“A mechanical insulation quality assurance program should be as much a part of any project as are audits for LEED, building energy use, roofing, and several other building inspection requirements.”

The British Columbia Insulation Contractors’ Association (BCICA) started developing its Quality Assurance Certification (QAC) over a decade ago. The QAC sees projects registered with the BCICA to be completed to specific standards by vetted contractors and all work is subject to a vigorous inspection program. Inspectors are trained through BC Institute for Technology (BCIT) courses developed and accessed through BCICA.

Brian Hofler, consultant to BCICA, said the program currently has 65 jobs on the go with mechanical insulation contracts ranging from $25,000 to over $1,000,000.

“Total value of jobs currently is approximately $7,000,000,” he said. “[The program has trained] two full-time inspectors and one ‘stand by supervisor’.”

Engineering firms Integral, Rocky Pt., and Smith & Andersen have all named the QAC in their master specifications.

The program has garnered a great deal of interest at TIAC’s national and provincial levels.

At its last AGM, the Association d’isolation du Québec – AIQ heard a presentation on BCICA’s program with the intent to consider adopting it or something like it in the future. Remi Demers, TIAC’s Director of Quebec, said the AIQ is interested and excited about the possibility of an inspection program in Quebec, but still unclear about how to make it happen.

“We would like to reproduce what BCICA is doing but we are not sure if it will work with our bylaws and with different laws in Quebec,” he said. “We would like to see TIAC get involved in producing a master program that can be adapted to each province.”

For the AIQ, an inspection program holds promise—as a smaller association with just 40 companies, this could help sell the AIQ and quality workmanship, and alert specifiers that the association is working towards a solution for poor quality craftsmanship in the industry.

“The problem we see is, on the commercial side, there is a great deal of poor quality work,” said Demers. “When you don’t have lots of jobs and people are cutting prices, they are also cutting corners. We need a program like this as soon as possible.”

AIQ would like to see TIAC as the driver of national adoption with the provinces buying in as appropriate and with modifications to suit each jurisdiction.

In Alberta, for instance, any inspection program the Thermal Insulation Association of Alberta (TIAA) may entertain would only apply for the commercial sector in that province. Large industrial projects already adhere to quality control measures that exceed standard regulations, which means most agree the program wouldn’t apply in that sector.

“We are up in the air for it to be either an Alberta program or a national program,” said Mark Trevors, TIAC’s Director of Alberta about the association’s preference around who lead the development of an inspection program.

“The problem is knowing what members in the commercial market who contribute to TIAA/TIAC will benefit. If it is going to benefit the insulation industry, chances are TIAA will most likely supported it in the big picture.”

At the administrative perspective, the challenge with bringing the inspection program to the national level is ensuring provincial associations update their bylaws and membership requirements to integrate with the QAC program, said Chris Ishkanian, BCICA member and co-developer of the QAC program.

“Mandatory bonding by the contractors is essential for enforcement of the program as one example,” he said. “The other major requirements are inspector training and marketing the program. BCICA can assist with the inspector training but the provincial associations will have to recruit inspectors.”

Provincial associations would have to market the program to engineering firms in their locales, with the objective of having the program form part of the firm’s master specification. BCICA can assist with information materials, but regional associations would have to do the groundwork.

“The most important aspect is contractor buy-in,” said Ishkanian. “They have to believe the program will raise the quality of work in the field and level off the bidding process. Too many companies cut corners knowing they can get away with it and that presents a challenge to the bidding companies that base their bid on completing the project as per the specifications.

“When contractors know the work will be thoroughly inspected, they will bid accordingly.”

BCICA approached TIAC about a year ago with the premise of negotiating an agreement that would see TIAC as the national provider of the program, and the board has discussed seeking feedback from the provincial associations about whether this is an initiative the contractor members would like the national association to pursue. Moving forward will depend on contractor buy-in and a clear agreement on how the program will be shared.

“If the contractors want this then negotiations will start with BCICA,” said Ishkanian. “There will be a cost to TIAC but not necessarily to the provincial associations. This would be a ‘value add’ as a benefit of being a TIAC member. These details will form part of the negotiation if there is consensus to move forward.”