Letters: January/February 2010
The Elephant in the Room May Be an 800-lb Guerrilla
Excellent comments addressing the elephant (HVAC) that continues to ignore the entire home performance scene (“The Elephant in the Room: HVAC for High-Performance Homes,” Sept/Oct ’09, p. 6). You have put the onus on the building contractor, which I suppose is where the pressure is best applied. I see an opportunity for a course here somewhere but am not certain how deeply a general contractor is going to want to drill into the intricacies of HVAC… you may have some insight there. We have taught the Manual J, D, and S and so on for years and have been promoting the HVAC aspects of home performance hard for at least two or three years and continue to be amazed (especially with the Green Hoopla going on) that most contractors are not catching on even yet. As an industry educator for the past 20 years with a prior history of being a tech, contractor, and participant with the industry, I am embarrassed that my industry has not seen the benefit of picking up the home performance ball and running with it… grrrr! More of your comments ring true with my experience with the HVAC industry. The lack of professionalism by and large in the HVAC industry offers huge opportunities to anyone that wants to differentiate themselves and their company from the pack, but it seems that there are not enough go-getters involved that see that reality. We are involved in a California utility project that will be cranking up come January 2010. In performing the research for the Southern California Edison (SCE) proposal, I discovered that there are 384 North American Technician Excellence (NATE)-certified technicians in a workforce estimated by SCE to be 46,000! How ugly is that? How do we fix it? We will continue to work toward tuning up our industry with accessible education and training via the Web. I don’t know what else to do, other than make it readily available and as comprehensive as possible to those who need it. In closing I wanted to make sure that you know that your comments are very much appreciated and on the money in this reader’s opinion.
Chris Compton, CEO HVACReducation.net, GreenCollarEdu.net Heron, Montana
Author David Butler replies:
Thank you for your letter and your passion for raising the bar. You may have misunderstood my point regarding builder education. Builders certainly don’t need in-depth HVAC training (although a high-level HVAC course sounds like an excellent idea!). The home performance industry has a responsibility to provide HVAC guidance to the builder. Energy Star’s new-construction program is not just a rating process, but intends to expose builders to best-practice methods for achieving compliance. However, most raters are ill prepared to advise builders on HVAC best practice. As a trainer, that’s whom you should be reaching out to.
In Praise of Independent Raters
I have some comments regarding the letter from John McFarland in the Nov/Dec ’09 Home Energy (“More Praise for Steve,” p. 4). John wrote asking if it is important to become a HERS or BPI rater to do home performance contracting.
As I started to focus on doing home performance contracting, I chose to use an independent HERS rater for my energy audits. This removes any appearance of a conflict of interest. My rater gives the client a full report of the energy performance of the building with a prioritized list of energy improvements and approximate costs of those improvements. I then provide estimates of the costs of the suggested improvements and work with the building owner to help them decide what should be done.
Having worked in superinsulated new construction as well as restoration and renovation of old buildings, I already had a working knowledge of home energy performance. Despite my 33 years of experience, both my rater and I are sometimes surprised by what he finds in his audit. I would much rather focus on doing the work of improving the energy performance than having to spend the time and money to become a rater.
Here in PA we have the Keystone Help loan program to help finance energy performance work. They also offer a program to educate builders called Home Performance 101 to bring builders up to speed on the science of home performance contracting.
As I say in talks about green building, improving the energy performance of existing buildings is the least expensive way to reduce our energy use and our effects on climate change. In fact, there are few investments you can make with a better return than improving the energy performance of an old building.
My wife and I live in a house built in 1994 with what seemed like pretty good insulation levels. It costs as much to heat this house as it did to heat our old house that was built in 1904. The builder made many mistakes that we found out about through experience and an energy audit. We will be lowering our heating and cooling costs to about a tenth of what they are now through sealing leaks and adding insulation.
Bruce Wilson, LEED AP Owner, Bruce Wilson Contracting Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
I read your article on mobile home duct improvement (“Moisture, Leaks, and Pressures in Mobile Homes,” Mar/Apr ’06, p. 20)—very good and very informative. I have an early ’70s mobile home with the dreaded “belly return” air plenum. Well, the “road barrier” has failed. With the failure of the plenum, I have lost both return air and insulation of the entire floor and water and sewer pipes. I’m wondering what the best methods are for getting back the return air plenum and insulation. Would you replace the entire “road barrier” by some means, or do you have some better alternative method to correct this dreaded design?
I have seen such a problem “corrected” by insulating the skirt down to the earth and putting down a vapor barrier on the ground. Not a good solution in my opinion.
Let me know what you guys might do in this situation. Thanks much.
Mark Prucnal Murrysville, Pennsylvania
Author Cal Steiner replies:
The correct way to fix your problem would be to replace the road barrier, insulate the belly, dense-pack the wings, and eliminate the return registers. Then put a 16 inch x 24 inch grille in the furnace door. You may also have to undercut the doors in the home to allow the air to return to the furnace. If you throw a pressure gauge hose under the shut door and measure the pressure with only the furnace blower running, it should be less than 3 Pa. Please let me know if you have any other questions.