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Do No Harm

Posted on:

To anyone or anything!!!

You know just about the time you think you have gotten this HPC, IEQ, BPC, or the other names we have attached to tightening up the house, sealing duct systems or construction, ventilation, insulation, indoor air quality, and air dilution figured out that is about the time we will get slapped back to the reality of “we are not as good as we think we are.” That’s when it is a real shock to our egos!

I remember receiving a call from a new customer that had a 1st year HVAC contractor just out of tech school install a new horizontal gas furnace and indoor coil with matching OD unit in their home. Before you jump, he had the proper state licenses and insurance requirements. The customer was satisfied with the workmanship of the installing contractor, but still had a problem. Every time his wife came home, she started having heart palpitations and had made several trips to the emergency room. When she would get to feeling better, she would then return home. After returning home, the effects would again start in a matter of a few hours.

The installing contractor had walked off the job, because the cooling and heating was working and he had passed the cities permit requirements. He had even called the manufactures representative to visit the job and both of them signed off on the installation of the job. However, they decided, without testing, to solve the problem by adding a fresh air intake duct upward through the roof deck and compositions singles and terminate in the return air platform. Of course, no dampers or filters were added and humidity controls were not considered since it was fresh air in their minds. In one of the free training classes, they learned that fresh air dilution was the answer to odors, etc. and of course, they talked the customer out of more money for this additional work.

They also decided that the installation of a UV light would help clean the air.

By the time we received the call the customer was a mess and the husband, who happened to be a firefighter handling the hazardous materials team was also at the end of his rope on what was going on.

We agreed to test and determine the problems and make recommendation for a given fee and not that we could do anything beyond that. We wanted a clear expectation before starting and had the proper paper work created and signed prior to beginning.

The first thing we performed, which the 1st contractor should have also done, was to sit the couple down and had a long detailed discussion of how they got to this point, when it started, had they had issues before, etc. After this discussion, we determined that they were very careful purchasers of furniture, carpet, and other items brought into their home, because the wife had allergies of some sort for years and even used specialized paints when redoing the house. No sensitivity testing had ever been performed on her, so they were not sure what the issue was, but knew she had experienced issues related to health and breathing when purchasing products. We referred her to a specialist and after several test determined that she was super sensitive to formaldehyde and such related chemicals as well as sensitivity to ozone. We now performed testing in the house, on products, materials, etc. that were used and found traces of this family of products. Now where was the source?

After obtaining MSDA sheets on all products used or installed by the first contractor we determined that the insulation used on the inside cabinet of the horizontal furnace contained the source. Now the issue was back in the customer’s hands as to next steps to take to resolve the issue.

The first contractor wanted nothing to do with this issue and felt it was a manufactures issue and wanted us to remove the insulation, etc. The manufacture claimed it was not their issue or covered under their warranty. We declined to perform this type of change to the equipment and began a search for the solution. We finally found a furnace that did not use formaldehyde or related chemicals in the equipment and made a deal to replace the equipment, clean the duct system, modify the fresh (outdoor air) intake system to perform properly and clean and sanitize all components while the customer was out of town for 2 weeks. This gave us time to complete the job, do final air testing to ensure a clean safe IAQ home prior to them returning and all turned out well as they were able to return to their home and rest safe and sound.

Lessons learned and confirmed was to begin with the goal of “DO NO HARM” and do the basics of questioning, testing, listening before commenting about a solution. After gathering proper verifiable information, you can then and only then go about selecting products and processes to solve the problem.

Was there considerable pressure on us to find a quick solution? You bet but a series of quick fixes got them in trouble and you know the old saying? The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth! Knowing when to go slow on IAQ, IEQ and HPC work will keep you out of trouble.

Always remember, “When things go south….don’t go with them.”

Watch the accepted RULES, because they are always the rules but the rules are not always right. You must use good judgment when applying generally accepted practices related to Indoor Air Quality and Home/Building Performance contracting. You may be asking? What is he talking about?

Larry Taylor
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Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings

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