Concrete Homes: CFA Certified Cast-In-Place Foundation Contractor Program
By: Ed Sauter, CFA Executive Director
Part I: Beginning in the summer of 2008, the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA) will unveil a new industry program to certify foundation contractor firms in the residential cast-in-place industry. This six-part series will focus on the details of the program. It will provide information to help business owners determine if certification will benefit their company and market. The goal of this certification is to unify the industry toward the goal of a common measurement of competency for concrete foundations and the companies that install them.
Certification of companies or individuals is a topic of interest in all aspects of the construction market as builders and code enforcers attempt to establish competency and accountability in construction. The market is becoming increasingly complicated with small and large companies vying for the same business at the risk of the client. A system whereby builders and building officials can ensure customers that the types of businesses they employ are competent is a growing priority.
National organizations and trade associations are ideally positioned to gather input from the industry and develop the necessary programs. The programs must provide the assurance that companies are devoting the resources necessary to remain current with the science and technology of their industry. It must also provide assurances that companies are properly managed, insured, and that they provide a safe environment for their workers. Many current company certification programs are designed, administered, and enforced by companies and individuals who have limited knowledge about the industry they regulate. The CFA decision is proactive, and the result is a comprehensive, but contractor-friendly, program that can be used by jurisdictions and businesses seeking certification of residential foundation contractors. The Concrete Foundations Association company certification program is in its final stages of development. The pre-qualifying steps will begin this August in conjunction with the CFA Annual Convention in New Mexico.
The program consists of a pre-qualification exam for a company representative(s), continuing education, and annual audit reviews of company operations. A certification board, separate of the established CFA structure, will oversee the program to eliminate conflicts of interest. A board of appeals will be established to resolve conflicts, disputes, and other issues relating to possible denial of certification to a company.
The program contains the following basic elements:
• Basic Knowledge of Concrete and Foundations
• Minimum Insurance Requirements
• Continuing Education (Annual Requirement)
• Safety Program Requirements
• Financial Soundness of the Business Entity
• Related Certifications or Verifiable
Training for Specialty Equipment
The Basic Knowledge component of the program would involve a one-time examination covering all aspects of construction that are deemed relevant to foundation construction. Specific categories of knowledge include:
• Building Codes
The information needed to pass the examination will be in a variety of publications readily available through the CFA and other sources. They include the International Residential Code (IRC) Chapter 4, the American Concrete Institute (ACI) 332 Documents (Standard and Guide), and the CFA Standard. The CFA will offer a seminar at its regular meetings to prepare for the multiple choice exam. At this time, it is anticipated to be an open book test.
All certified companies are required to maintain and carry in-force minimum levels of insurance for General Liability and Employer’s Liability. While levels of coverage are still under discussion it is anticipated the minimum levels will be $1,000,000 for general liability and $100,000 for employer’s liability. Evidence of insurance of coverage for the above as well as for Workmen’s Compensation in accordance with respective state law is also required. Any changes in the insurance coverage must be provided to staff in order to maintain certification.
Evidence of an industry approved safety program must also be provided for review and approval. The safety program must have at least the following components:
• A Safety Manual
• Applicable MSDS Sheets
• Safety Meetings with times, frequency, sign-off, and content
• Accident Reporting Procedures
• Confined Space Guidelines
• Cement Burns
Twelve hours of annual continuing education will be required of at least two individuals in the company. Education must be divided into the following areas:
• Codes and Materials (4 hours)
• Materials and Methods (8 hours)
A variety of options will be available to meet the continuing education requirements. The CFA summer convention, specific seminars at the world of concrete, Foundation Fundamental seminars, CFA regional meetings, and pre-approved locally sponsored seminars by builders groups and other industry segments will also apply towards this requirement. It is in the best interest of participants to have educational requirements spread over several individuals in the event someone leaves the company.
Companies must be able to demonstrate that they are financially sound through a series of questions relative to their business practices. The company must be solvent (assets exceed liabilities); State and Federal income taxes and payroll taxes must be current; Judgments and liens must be remedied; and the company must not be in bankruptcy. A negative answer to one of the above questions will not necessarily preclude approval for certification, but it will evoke additional questions with regard to resolving any deficiencies.
Many CFA companies operate equipment that either requires special operator training or certification or for which special training is available. Examples include concrete pumps, boom trucks, and excavation equipment. If a company operates any special equipment, they must demonstrate to the reviewers that they have trained personnel operating the equipment.
Owning a set of forms and having worked for a foundation contractor does not necessarily mean you are qualified to enter the foundation business. In order to be granted full certification, the business entity must have been in business for at least three years. New businesses that meet all other qualifications will be granted a Level I certification. Level II, or full certification, will require at least three years of experience in the cast-in-place foundation industry. The Board of Appeals will be able to hear special cases, such as a split-up of a partnership where both parties have the requisite experience. A third level of certification is anticipated in the future for contractors involved in constructing above grade homes with structural decks.
No one wants more regulation, hindrances, or requirements in order to operate their business, but the CFA believes it has a responsibility to the industry to anticipate the possibility of these needs and to put programs in place to address them. Certification is coming; we would prefer that the program is generated within the industry as opposed to having outside forces dictate our program. Ultimately, this program will be promoted to builders, state and local building code jurisdictions, and other potential organizations or companies that may be considering, or might consider in the future, a certification program. If you have any comments or suggestions about the requirements or details of the program, contact either Dan Bromley, CFA Certification Committee chair, at (816) 795-0072 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ed Sauter at (319) 895-6940 or email@example.com to make your ideas known.
Established in 1974 for the purpose of improving the quality and acceptance of cast-in-place concrete foundations, the CFA offers a variety of resources on topics ranging from residential foundations to above-grade homes, commercial market opportunities to alternative markets. CFA efforts have produced considerable promotional materials, educational seminars and networking opportunities that place members in one-on-one contact with experienced peers for assistance in resolving a variety of issues. The CFA and the structured Concrete Homes Council (CHC) represent the interests of its members and the industry on several code and regulatory bodies, such as the American Concrete Institute’s 332 committee—responsible for the creation of the “Residential Concrete Standard.” The CFA has several of its members on the ACI committee responsible for this document and will endeavor to ensure that the interests of the foundation contractor are considered. For more information about CFA, see cfawalls.org or call (319) 895-6940. For more information about CHC, see concretehomescouncil.org or call (319) 895-0761.
Ed Sauter, firstname.lastname@example.org, is Executive Director of the Concrete Foundations Association and the Concrete Homes Council.