Energy Adviser: Planet Clark among county outreach efforts

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Quick, easy and cheap sounds good — until you see the results. Especially related to homebuilding or renovation. The Planet Clark website posts some examples of what this thinking results in, including a failed foundation, and several quick and dirty solutions that might send a safety inspector looking for a defibrillator. The website (http://planetclark.com) is just one arm of the Clark County Department of Community Development’s outreach effort.

“We like people to stay informed and have made Planet Clark one of our primary outreach activities for that,” said Mike Selig, program coordinator for Clark County’s Department of Community Development. “Homeowners need to consider both quality and safety of construction work, because the two go hand in hand. Our website shows homeowners examples of some unsafe and worrisome practices.”

The department also brings an educational outpost on wheels to neighborhood events and schools. The Planet Clark trailer is an interactive display offering adults and schoolchildren opportunities to learn about stormwater pollution, green and sustainable building techniques, and energy efficient lighting and recycling. Many local organizations participate and Clark Public Utilities has been a Planet Clark sponsor since the program’s inception.

“With school budgets down, the Planet Clark trailer provides a ‘come to you,’ hands-on field trip,” said Selig. “Fifth-graders are evangelists and they take what they learn home to their parents and help us educate adults.”

The educational trailer, newly refreshed with updated activities, is popular. Last school year, Planet Clark made trips to sites in the Evergreen, Camas and Vancouver school districts. At Columbia Valley Elementary School, the trailer appeared at an early evening carnival and had 250 visitors in about three hours Selig said.

Clark Public Utilities has a long-standing student tour program, hosting hundreds of field trips for fourth-grade students in Clark County each year. Popular with both teachers and students, the tours are focused on electrical safety and saving energy. Helping to boost awareness of the importance of energy efficiency, the Planet Clark stops at local schools provide added support to Clark Public Utility’s education initiatives by taking conservation examples and tips straight to the community.

“People oftentimes see us as a permitting office, but we’re more than that,” said Selig. “We’re responsible for making sure homes and other buildings are constructed safely and commercial and industrial buildings are safe for the employees working in them.”

That’s why the department’s community outreach also covers the building trades. Selig says their intent isn’t to slow builders down, but to encourage green and sustainable building techniques. It’s adding a new service to speed up follow-up corrections after a building inspection. After a builder makes the inspection corrections indicated, he can make an appointment to have them approved using a smartphone or tablet and Skype video connection. This approach saves both the builder and inspector time, and reduces gas costs while maintaining building safety.

Not long ago, the department got a grant for duct testing and tested 766 homes built between 1991 and 2007 for leaks in duct-work. State code requires whole-house ventilation systems in homes of that era. The testing showed that 79 percent of the homes had a leakage greater than the acceptable level. The department informed 555 homeowners they needed to have their ductwork sealed. Of these, 133 hired certified contractors for duct sealing. Do-it-yourself repairs were harder to track Selig said.

The program was very popular and the state EPA noted it as a possible best practice and case study for the state.

Disaster response is also one the department’s safety jobs. Its building inspectors respond to disasters outside the city limits and make rapid damage assessments to determine whether buildings are safe to use or must be shut down until repairs make them safe to enter. In this capacity, the department works with other community services, including police and fire departments.

Together, we all work to keep buildings in our county safe and working as efficiently as possible.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.