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This article was originally published in the March/April 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.

 

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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1998


TRENDS

'Affordable' Quality

Cathy Muller of the National Center for Appropriate Technology explains how to use a flue-gas analyzer during the Affordable Comfort West field training.
At this structure on the Affordable Comfort West job site, Tim Locke (left) of Quality Assured Comfort in Fair Oaks, California discusses troublesome insulation with a conference attendee. Notice the gaping batts (right).
Promoters of whole-house diagnostics and construction have always puzzled over one question: how can you get subcontractors with expertise in various areas to work together, ensuring that the various systems they are responsible for (insulation, framing, HVAC, windows) work with all the other systems in a house? Answer: Put 'em all in a big room with a few whole-house experts and get 'em to talk to each other.

Affordable Comfort West, held at two locations in Northern and Southern California last November, brought together air conditioning contractors, ventilation contractors, insulation installers, architects, and general contractors for two days of discussion and field study. Trainings were sponsored primarily by the California Energy Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy, and major California utilities.

John Tooley of Advanced Energy in Raleigh, North Carolina, started off the Sacramento training at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's Energy and Technology Center by asking for the members of each trade to stand up as their profession was called. He got all the way from HVAC contractors through general contractors, plumbers, electricians, architects, lighting designers, energy auditors, insulation contractors, educators, and policymakers without finding a trade with no one in attendance. I'm trying to find out who we can make fun of, Tooley said. Are there any lawyers in the room? Jackpot.

Framers got to hear the gripes of duct installers, who complained of having to install duct runs around complicated framing structures. Insulation installers were shown how one missed frame cavity exposed the whole building envelope to the outdoors. Architects saw how their designs created problems for almost all of the job site subcontractors. General contractors discussed how, in a labor-short market, they can train and keep crews from job to job, and overcome communication problems on the job site.

Affordable Comfort Incorporated is a nonprofit educational organization based in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. By coordinating this effort of communication among the trades, the group hopes to further its overall goal of promoting high-quality construction and resource efficiency. Linda Wigington of Affordable Comfort says that the West Coast training, particularly in Northern California, had a better turnout than expected. We were really pleased, she said. It's hard to get those people to a conference. For someone who is self-employed, taking two days off and paying for training is very difficult. Wigington said that this kind of training is also unusual for contractors. Most of the training that contractors attend is very specific. Many times it's free training offered by a supplier. By its nature, dealing with interactions is not specific.

--Polly Sprenger

 


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