Putting the Q in QA


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The EPA’s ENERGY STAR for New Homes Program helps homebuyers distinguish between newly-constructed homes that deliver superior energy efficiency and homes of standard construction. The 2012 implementation of ENERGY STAR Version 3.0 requires that homebuilders comply with more stringent requirements. Some of the changes are aimed directly at improving the operation of HVAC equipment.

The ACCA Quality Assured (QA) Program recognizes HVAC professionals that perform Quality Installations as detailed in the ANSI/ACCA 5 QI-2010 Standard (HVAC Quality Installation Specification). This QA Program supports ENERGY STAR by serving as an independent, third-party program providing oversight to HVAC contractors in the program. Contractors that are recognized as QA Program Participants are required to follow the program’s Quality Assured Elements for those new homes that are to be ENERGY STAR labeled, and are subject to periodic quality assurance of the their policies, job documentation and installations.

ACCA Quality Assured (QA) Program

The Quality Assured (QA) program was developed based on the QA Contractor Elements found in Appendix C of the ACCA 5 QI standard. These QA Elements address business prerequisites, business operations issues, training and certification items, and customer relations topics that a company needs to have in place to ensure an ongoing level of workmanship in the field. The Elements require that a contractor address every aspect of the QI Standard, and how they intend to promote quality installations during the design, installation, and customer education phases of the installation.

These QA Elements help to level the playing field, because all contractors bidding on an ENERGY STAR project meet the same minimum requirements. This changes the bidding mentality from, ‘the lowest bid gets the contract regardless of quality,’ which has been all too pervasive in the past to, ‘only a quality installation bid is acceptable.’

“We’re thrilled with the QA Program. In the past, we’ve lost out to some competitors that cut corners. That might have saved the builder money up front, but it positioned homeowners for higher energy bills, more frequent repair bills, and a general distrust of dealing with HVAC contractors. That should never be the case, much less for ENERGY STAR homes,” says Ellis Guiles of TAG Mechanical Systems. The ultimate goal of the ENERGY STAR program is to ensure that participating contractors are designing, selecting, and installing HVAC systems that improve the value proposition by providing energy efficiency and superior indoor comfort.

Currently, QA participants self-attest compliance to the QA Elements. An interested applicant completes an application in which they confirm that they have written policies and procedures in place to address each QA Element as it applies to their business and jurisdiction. Additionally, an applicant provides copies of their licensure, registration, and insurance information. ACCA verifies this information, but may also request that the applicant submit written documentation addressing specific QA Elements at any point after formal recognition. Fortunately, the EPA’s approach of time-phasing the requirements for the ENERGY STAR New Homes Program has afforded many HVAC contractors time to develop their corresponding policies and procedures.

The emphasis on having developed and enforced written policies is to ensure that HVAC businesses can support on-going quality in the field, regardless of whether an installer has a “good” or “bad” day. This is important because ENERGY STAR Version 3 requires that HVAC contractors complete an HVAC System Quality Installation Contractor Checklist. The Contractor Checklist, aligned with requirements in the QI standard, was developed in order to improve the performance of HVAC equipment in the new home.

The design aspects of the ACCA 5 QI Standard cover the procedures prior to the actual installation of the HVAC system. These include the consideration of building ventilation, the correct calculation of the heating and cooling loads for the home, and properly selecting the equipment whose performance will most effectively meet the needs of the home. The installation and distribution aspects of the Standard, on the other hand, deal with the procedures of the actual installation of the equipment and the ductwork, as well as the post-installation testing of the system to ensure that it performs as it was designed. An HVAC Contractor Checklist completed in its entirety will provide a simple way of verifying that the work required of a quality installation was performed and that the resulting system meets ENERGY STAR requirements.

Issues Addressed in the HVAC Quality Installation Specification
Design Aspects Equipment Installation Aspects Distribution Aspects
Ventilation Airflow Through Indoor Heat Exchangers Duct Leakage
Heat Gain/Loss Load Calculations Water Flow Through Indoor Heat Exchangers Airflow Balance
Proper Equipment Capacity Selection Refrigerant Charge Hydronic Balance
Geothermal Heat Pumps Ground Heat Exchanger Electrical Requirements
Matched Systems On-Rate for Fuel-Fired Equipment
Combustion Venting System
Systems Controls

Given that the QA Elements are derived from the QI Standard, and that the ENERGY STAR Contractor Checklist is based on the same Standard, a contractor that meets the Elements will have no problem in satisfying the ENERGY SMART requirements. Builders “who select contractors that promote high performance HVAC equipment – and their proper installation – enjoy enhanced comfort, reduced energy usage, and improved indoor air quality,” said Stan Johnson of Stan’s Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc. This served as EPA’s motivation for requiring the HVAC Contractor Checklist, and thus a Quality Installation, in Version 3.0.

Implementation

The implementation of Version 3.0 and the enforcement of some of the QI Standard requirements have been delayed in order to allow wider participation in the program. The phase-in for the implementation of Version 3.0 is as follows:

  1. Version 3.0 is required for homes permitted after January 1, 2012.
  2. Version 3.0 is required for homes completed after July 1, 2012.

The following Version 3 deviations from the QI Standard have been allowed until January 1, 2013:

  1. Equipment selection may be based on a load calculation that uses the worst-case compass orientation, regardless of actual house orientation;
  2. The outdoor design temperatures may deviate by +/-5F from the values found in Manual J8 Tables 1A and 1B;
  3. A low resistance air path to the return is not required for all rooms.

More information on the implementation schedule, including the graphic, can be found on ENERGY STAR’s site at: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=bldrs_lenders_raters.nh_version_guidelines_which.

Further Program Development

In 2012 and 2013, more thorough evaluation of a participant’s compliance to the QA Elements will be undertaken by ACCA. This will be accomplished through requests to the participants to submit written policies, as well as on-site compliance inspections. These on-site compliance inspections will consist of a QA Program representative visiting the participant and reviewing procedures to confirm that the participant is, in fact, performing as they have indicated.

In order to assist applicants and participants in attaining and maintaining program recognition, ACCA is developing QA Policy Templates. These templates provide sample policies that an applicant can tailor to their specific needs in order to address each QA Element. They were developed in response to requests for guidance on policy development by contractors interested in joining the program, but are unsure what such policies look like. The QA Policy Templates are developed in a way that contractors from any part of the country can use them as a starting point in developing their own written policies. It is incumbent upon each contractor utilizing the Templates to ensure that their policies account for specific requirements imposed in their jurisdiction.

Steps to Recognition

Contractors interested in becoming a QA participant need to complete the following steps to gain program recognition:

  1. Go to https://www.acca.org/industry/quality/quality-assured and review the programmatic documents (Participation Requirements, QA Elements, and Participation Agreement);
  2. Complete the three-module Orientation, including a knowledge assessment at the end of the entire Orientation (about 1.5 hours if done in one sitting);
  3. Refine or develop written company policies to ensure that the requirements in the QA Elements are addressed.
  4. Complete and submit the QA Program Application, and pay applicable program fees;
  5. Submit copies of business and mechanical licenses, registrations, and certificates of insurance;

ACCA is proud to support EPA’s ENERGY STAR New Homes Program and to help builders identify HVAC contractors positioned to undertake quality work to the industry-develop, ANSI-recognized, Quality Installation Standard.

You can find the ENERGY STAR HVAC System QI Contractor Checklist on the ACCA website at https://www.acca.org/qa in the ES Checklists link. If you have any additional questions on the information found here, please contact Wes Davis at 703-824-8877 or QAProgram@acca.org.

Luis Escobar
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