Building efficiency and net zero housing are current building trends that continue to gain popularity. These practices aim to reduce the amount of energy it takes to build a home and sustain it over time, by as much as 80%.

As a province, Ontario is committed to more efficient building and energy conservation, and this is reflected in its energy-conscious building code. According to the Ontario Association of Architects, Canada’s most populous province promotes some of the most progressive regulations in North America to encourage better energy conservation.

While it is important that buildings operate efficiently to reduce energy consumption, this is only part of the big picture when it comes to building efficiency. Another often overlooked part is the first step: paperwork.

Cloud-Based Systems Use Less Energy

The paperwork that planning and building departments manage does not need to be on paper or on-premises systems. There is a more energy-efficient alternative that better promotes building efficiency from beginning to end: moving to the cloud (this means the software is hosted and accessed online via the internet).

According to a six-month study funded by Google, when software applications used by 86 million U.S. workers were moved to the cloud, energy use was reduced by a staggering 87%. These same results could be realized by local governments that move their software to the cloud.

Typically, on-premises systems require frequent manual configurations, application installations and additional costs — for example, cooling costs can increase when servers need to be purchased — to keep things running smoothly.

Instead, local governments can move to the cloud and have their service provider take care of hosting the software. This can help planning and building departments take strides toward reducing their energy consumption and cutting down on operational costs.

It is important to note that not all cloud-based solutions provide the same energy-efficient benefits with respect to what data centre is hosting the solution, because data centres have different energy consumption ideals.

Ontario’s leading community development software, Cloudpermit, prioritized where its data and software would be hosted, and as a result, chose Google Cloud. It is a platform that is understood and well-respected for its efforts to have a minimal impact on the environment. Google Cloud also walks the walk as it is currently carbon neutral and aims to run on carbon-free energy in all its data centres by 2030, which has and will continue to reduce any environmental impact.

Paper-Based Systems Mean More Paper

Paper-based systems, or on-premises systems that still rely on paper in some way, require a great deal of paper to keep things running smoothly. This means that local governments need to file countless projects and spend hours sifting through them to find the right piece of information.

Traditionally, applicants need to print their applications when they apply for a building permit or planning application. There is no way to ensure that paper applications are complete before they reach a planning or building department. As a result, most applications that local governments receive are incomplete, so applicants need to give it another try after learning they missed a step or two.

Not only is this extra work for both staff and applicants, but resubmitting an application slows down the process and uses up additional resources, printing costs and energy.

Cloud-based systems allow mandatory input fields to be used, so applicants must fill in all information before they can hit ‘submit.’ This ensures that local governments receive complete applications when they move to the cloud. Applicants can submit everything they need online, which is a big win for building efficiency.

Give Third Parties an Online Experience

Paper processes cause a lot of headaches, especially for planning departments, as they can deal with upwards of20 identical paper applications that have been circulated to multiple third parties for comments and approval.

It takes an abundance of energy to print and mail this many applications (a burden that usually falls on consultants or developers), and this can be prevented by moving processes to the cloud.

No printing or mailing is required when planning and building departments give their community an online experience to enjoy.


Reduce Travel and Carbon Emissions for Applicants

Travel is always needed when local governments rely on paper for community development. Applicants must travel to the government office to drop off their application, and this can be difficult for those who live far away, work during the same hours the office is open, or do not have access to transportation.

No matter what an applicant’s circumstance is, the paper adds unnecessary travel, time and energy. Paper-based and on-premises systems mean that applicants need to jump through a lot of time-consuming and energy-heavy hoops just to get their application in the right hands.

Cloud-based systems allow applicants to reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions since they can submit applications online instead of travelling to the government office. Moving processes online empowers applicants to do everything they need to do online from the comfort of home —on any mobile device.

Eliminate Extra Trips for Building Inspectors

Paper-based or on-premises systems mean extra trips for all parties involved.

Local governments that have populations of 5,000 residents and receive 100 building permits per year can save 300 trips and tons of carbon emissions when they adopt Cloudpermit, based on Cloudpermit’s research and conversations with local governments that have made the switch to the cloud.

A prime example of unnecessary travel and poor building efficiency comes from building inspectors using anything besides cloud-based solutions. They travel to their inspection, write down their notes, take photos, and then need to head back to the office to finish their inspection.

Cloud-based systems cut down on energy consumption since building inspectors can conduct on-site mobile inspections and input their notes and photos in the field without needing to travel to the office to re-enter or file the same information.

Sometimes, building inspections do not require an in-person inspection, but paper-based or on-premises systems do not give inspectors the right tools to use an alternative option —cloud-based solutions do.

For example, Cloudpermit allows building inspectors to perform simple inspections and re-inspections remotely. Inspectors can request photos or arrange online meetings as proof of on-site conditions without needing to make an extra trip back to the site.

It is also easier to dispatch inspectors to different zones or areas that make the most sense for their day when all inspection locations are easy to see on an online map integrated with accurate geographic information system (GIS) information. This makes necessary travel more efficient since routes can be planned to reduce travel time.


Pave the Way to Better Building Efficiency and Reduced Energy Consumption

Bringing community development online has many positive repercussions for local governments, building inspectors, development communities such as builders, and applicants.

There is an opportunity for local governments to lead by example by adopting a cloud-based solution. By doing so, planning and building departments are showing their development communities and applicants that building efficiency is important and worth investigating. Change starts at the top and trickles down, so take the time to consider what you want to promote in your community and how you can get there.

To learn more about why cloud-based solutions offer better building efficiency and reduced energy consumption from the beginning of any construction project, please visit cloudpermit.com.

Originally published in Issue 133 of the OBOA Journal.