Tips from Three ENERGY STAR Raters
ACCA has conducted various interviews with other ENERGY STAR stakeholders in order to offer different perspectives and potential areas for improvement for QA Recognized Contractors. For October, we sought out three raters that have worked on ENERGY STAR project in order to hear what they have to say about their experience with the program and, especially, with our contractors. Their experiences have been as varied as their companies and the regions in which they work.
After candid interviews that took place over the phone or through electronic correspondence, there emerged common areas identified by all three interviewees as aspects of working with the ENERGY STAR for New Homes program that contractors need to improve upon.
Get the Rater on your side: Communicate to the Rater any issues that prevent completion of documentation (e.g., no power, no information from system designer, scheduling conflicts, etc.).
Invariably, the first aspect openly identified as needing improvement was the documentation requirements that are now in place for ENERGY STAR Version 3.0. The three raters noted that it was notoriously difficult to get the required paperwork from the HVAC contractors whose work they were verifying. Two further noted that accuracy is another issue related to the documentation requirement that sorely needs improvement. “The contractor reports are embarrassing. They often have blacks or are filled out incorrectly. There needs to be some basic training on how to fill out the checklist,” says the New York rater.
Our interviewee from North Carolina similarly states, “I would stress the importance of submitting their 3.0 documentation in both an accurate and timely manner to their technicians. Doing so will ensure that we’re not drowning in a back log of work on both ends of the process. All this will result in happy clients at the end of the day.” So, talk to raters is you’re late submitting any documentation. Let them know why; they may be able to help you in the process. For its part, ACCA plans to provide instruction on how to properly fill out the ENERGY STAR checklists so that all QA Recognized Contractors have the same basic understanding of what everything means. This will address our Texas interviewee’s advice that, “Everyone needs to get on the same page! There are too many differing interpretations of the ENERGY STAR requirements.
Ensure the superintendents/start-up technicians do their job. Recommended: Spot-check ENERGY STAR checklists (airflow, charge, documentation).
The second common aspect for improvement agreed upon by the raters concerned the preparedness of the in-field technicians working on the projects they have verified. Rater 3 noted that some contractors have had little to no formal design training, and that even when they had for training, it didn’t seem to “sink in” in many cases. Not surprisingly, this led to technicians not appreciating the need to follow sound industry design, installation, and testing procedures. The result is often a slow and repetitive certification process for the homes that were not meeting the ENERGY STAR requirements.
Rater 2 also cited technical training issues. Specifically, one recurring issue in his area seems to be that technicians have difficulty accurately measuring and modeling fresh air ventilation rates. To remedy this, ACCA is now requiring that all new contractors seeking program recognition submit the proper number of NATE certification cards for their start-up technicians, as required in QA Contractor Element 3.2. This requirement is also being more strictly enforced for contractors seeking to renew their recognition.
ACCA has also launched a new site (http://residentialdesignhvac.com/) dedicated to its Residential HVAC Design for Quality Installations Certification, available both in-person and online. This certification will require a commitment of roughly 25 hours for the online course, or three days in-person and will cover ACCA’s Manual J (load calculations), Manual D (duct system design), and Standard 5 (Quality Installation Specification). Recognizing that a three day course is not sufficient, ACCA also offers various other educational resources such as webinar courses, meeting sessions, conference presentations, and an apprenticeship program. QA Recognized Contractors are highly encouraged to enhance their existing technician training with these available continuing education resources (https://www.acca.org/education).
Communicate the Program Value
“Customer Education”: Inform the builder of the skills and knowledge that is required to do a quality installation, as well as the training and certification that is required to attain them and prove it. (Previous QA article?)
The third agreed-upon improvement for QA Contractors was in communicating the added value of an ENERGY STAR home. “The procedures in the ENERGY STAR certification program are a valuable component of the long term durability of a home and the life of the equipment. This value needs to be described to the customer in a more effective way,” says our New York area contractor. Unfortunately, some builders have seen the increase in price as the only, deciding factor and have chosen to limit their work with the program or drop out completely. Thehe contractor should take an active role in convincing previous builder partners that continuing in the program is better for all three parties (home owner, builder, contractor) in the long run.
Action Item: Include a document in the job file that is specifically for the home owner. Recommended: ENERGY STAR’s Heating and Cooling Guide
(http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/publications/pubdocs/HeatingCoolingGuide%20FINAL_9-4-09.pdf?262a-0b20) or develop your own from the information found on ENERGY STAR’s Quality Installation site (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=hvac_install.hvac_install_index).
ACCA understands that many contractors have limited contact, if any, with the purchaser of the ENERGY STAR home. If that is the case, it is incumbent upon the contractor to make the necessary arrangements with the builder to ensure that the true value of a HVAC Quality Installation is communicated to them, along with what it includes. Effective communication of the benefits, and adherence to the Quality Installation Specification, will result in more, happier customers and increased business for the contractors.
By speaking with three contractors from three distinct regions of the country, we were able to find common areas for improvement for all QA Contractor Program participants. If all program participant contractors focus on completing the ENERGY STAR program documentation correctly and in a timely manner, continuing and in-depth technician training, and communicating the ENERGY STAR certification value to customers, we will all be able to raise the bar for the program and for the industry.
A Special Thank You To Our Volunteer Interviewees
Rater 1, Mr. Simpson, located in Wylie, TX.
RESNET HERS Rater; IECC Code Inspector Certified.
Has rated 1000 ENERGY STAR homes in six years.
Rater 2, Mr. Fearrington, located in Morrisville, NC.
RESNET HERS Rater; NAHB Green Accredited Verifier.
Has rated between 100 and 200 homes since 2011.
Rater 3, Mr. Vitale, located in Syracuse, NY.
RESNET HERS Rater; 11 years working with Home Performance with Energy Star.
Has rated nearly 40 single family homes, and 400 multi-family units.
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