Tech Talk: Concrete Homes: CFA Certified Cast-In-Place Foundation Contractor Program
By: Ed Sauter, CFA Executive Director
Part V: The Concrete Foundations Association (CFA) unveiled a new industry program at its annual convention this summer for the certification of foundation contractor firms in the residential cast-in-place industry. This final article will discuss the issues that make this program reputable and that is the administration and validation of the companies seeking certification.
The CFA stresses that this is a company certification, not an individual certification. While a given number of company employees or owners must have a certain level of education and continuing education, that requirement only leads to a well-rounded company with knowledgeable employees. The CFA company certification program is intended to ensure that companies approved for this designation are not only good foundation contractors, but are also sound businesses.
CONTRACTOR CERTIFICATION ADMINISTRATION
One thing is certain regardless of who is running our state and local governments; we are moving toward more oversight, greater accountability, and the need for demonstrable experience for contractors and workers. The CFA Contractor Certification program anticipates this eventuality and has put in place a system that those seeking to impose certification can follow or implement. It also provides a mechanism whereby established contractors can separate themselves from the competition.
The current economic downturn in the residential market may have slowed construction but it hasn’t deterred forward thinking contractors from positioning themselves for the future when the market returns. The Concrete Foundations Association recently announced the approval of the first three CFA-Certified Contractors. ABI Corporation of Lee’s Summit, Missouri; Balmer Brothers Concrete Work, Inc. of Akron, Pennsylvania; and PROCON, Inc. of Rocky Mount, Virginia were recommended for approval by Evaluation and Certification Services, LLC (ECS), the independent certification agency hired by the CFA to provide oversight over the process and to perform verification of credentials and representations required in the process. Over 20 individuals representing at least a dozen companies have sat for the exam.
Using ECS as a third party evaluator provides the CFA staff and Board of Directors with an independent review of a contractor’s application and a recommendation as to whether or not an applicant meets the requirements of the program.
The process of becoming certified under this program involves much more than simply completing an application and submitting a fee. Continuing education, safety practices, employee training, and financial solvency are all evaluated as a part of the certification process. In addition, there are also mandatory insurance requirements which must be met and maintained in order for a company to continue its certified status.
“The CFA has put together a very comprehensive set of standards that must be met in order for a company to be certified,” says Jim Rogers of ECS. “More than half of the states in the U.S. do not have specific licensing requirements for concrete contractors. This new program will be an invaluable resource for qualifying concrete foundation contractors in those communities. Even in the states with strong contractors licensing boards, this program goes beyond most licensing requirements by incorporating continuing education requirements.”
Newly certified contractors will receive promotional information regarding the program to assist in presenting the concept to buildings, developers, and code officials. In order for the program to be effective they must first know that it exists, and equally important, what it entails to be designated as a CFA-Certified Contractor. Ask any of those sitting for the basic knowledge exam and they will attest to the fact that this is not simply a “rubber-stamp” program.
While it is not requisite, the CFA offers a seminar covering much of the knowledge required to pass the exam along with guidance in how to use the resources reference in the open-book examination.
There are two areas the committee will address in the future to further expand and define the program. The first one will be the concept of a certified Foundation Technician. One of the requirements of the program is that a certified company must have at least one person in their employ at all times who has passed the basic knowledge exam for foundation contractors. This comprehensive exam tests everything from concrete knowledge and safety to soils, site work, the basics of wall and footing construction and design. The examination tests the applicants ability to understand and use the resources available rather than memorize facts and figures. There is simply too much knowledge required to expect candidates to memorize information. With that in mind, the committee decided to make the exam open book, and to test the applicant’s ability to locate information, read and interpret tables, and simply know where to get the answers to complex and detailed questions.
Individuals who pass this exam have reached a certain level of expertise and the committee is considering a designation for those who have attained this level—the Certified Foundation Technician. To maintain this designation, Technicians must complete at least 12 hours of continuing education each year. The World of Concrete, CFA events, and other approved venues will provide the educational opportunities needed to meet this requirement.
Another level of certification is also under development and that is Level III Certification for contractors involved in the construction of above grade home construction, including walls and decks. The special aspects of this type of construction, combined with the fact that structural decks are part often part of above grade homes dictates a greater understanding of structural concrete, finishes, and other conditions involved in above grade construction. A separate examination will be developed to test this knowledge.
If you have any comments or suggestions about the requirements or details of the program, make certain you contact either Dan Bromley, CFA Certification Committee chair at (816) 795-0072 or DanB@ABI-Corp.com; 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 a registered architect and Executive Director of the Concrete Foundations Association.