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Changes in Certification: Why it matters to HVAC contractors

Posted by Colleen Weston on May 30, 2012 @ 09:45 AM

iStock 000018889523SmallIf you have not cruised by the Energy Star website  lately it is worth a look.  Let me give you a taste:

 “If your HVAC equipment is more than 10 years old or not keeping your house comfortable, have it evaluated by a professional HVAC contractor. If it is not performing efficiently or needs upgrading, consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR”

What is not to like about that from the government?  Well, be careful what you wish for.  I am reminded by the Garth Brooks' line, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”.

Let me quickly set the stage.  Energy Star has been around a long time.  The previous label suggested energy savings, but the reality of the method of usage and the application of each product delivered widely varying results.  It is like the fuel efficiency sticker on a new car.  The MPG assumed obeying the speed limits, no unusual climate issues and of course proper maintenance.  So today’s mandate is to remove some of the uncertainty regarding efficiency, require manufacturers to more stringently test units, put some teeth into enforcement and on contractors to ensure proper installation. 

The recently developed ACCA Quality Install Manual, has given the industry a guideline for proper installation and commissioning of residential systems.

Once again, sounds like a great idea.  The issue, however, is a little thing called real world experience which is lacking.  I have been on the road lately with a number of HVAC contractors, all of them I consider to be top flight operations.  None have embraced the Quality Install protocol set by Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) as a goal for their company. 

These guys are in the trenches, and in today’s economy that means most of them have a much more hands on role in their companies.  All of these guys are ACCA member contractors.  When I ask them about adopting such protocols, they get uneasy.  It is not because they don’t do good work; on the contrary, they all are exceptional in their markets. They just see the rigidity of “STANDARDS” as lacking a real world feel.  They take no solace in the fact that the Quality Install program passed American National Standards Institute (ANSI) review. 

In fact, contractors pass right by the credentials part of the program, they are interested in:

  • How do I learn it &/or teach it?

  • How much will it cost to implement?

  • If I am the only guy in the market complying will I be rewarded for being good or penalized for adding cost?

  • Who is going to test my work, rate my work, and evaluate my findings?  Am I setting myself up for a customer issue?

What has happened in the HVAC world is that manufacturers who have been testing their products for a long time will need to adapt their ways to comply with new Department of Energy interpretations and measurements.  While uncomfortable, that process can be handled. It may cost a little more but manufacturers are used to testing and working toward compliance.  The new rub here is the revelation that installation is the real battlefield.  Contractors have been graded by the marketplace, good guys got more business, contractor's who left problems floundered and moved along.  No one really went behind the industry and measured airflow and operational efficiency.  

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a natural evolution for our industry, but it will be received more like a revolution by the majority of practitioners.  It will also create a huge controversy on who gets to judge and how compliance will be monitored and measured.  Simply, there are few trained energy raters and inspectors who can fill the void, and at this moment there is still a great deal of discussion on proper measurement techniques and results.

So the wonderful encouragement to homeowners to update their systems with qualified Energy Star rated equipment installed by a qualified professional installer takes on a little more complexity.  

Are you going to be a Quality Install advocate?  Are you going to pay additional to hire a Quality Install Contractor?   Is your municipality going to require contractors to comply with Quality Install protocols?

By the way…. Currently there are around 500 Quality Install trained contractors in the entire USA today; there are 550 more in the pipeline.  Oh yes, we only have 100,000 or so left to train.  Piece of cake!!!


Topics: ACCA, policy, quality install, manufacturer, certification, Contractor, hvac

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