Doug Garrett, CEM, President, Building Performance & Comfort, Inc.
As energy auditors and raters went about their business of testing homes, performing energy audits and HVAC system inspections, they discovered and reported certain “problems” to the homeowners of Texas. For example, they reported that HVAC systems were oversized, or suffering from massive duct leakage! In late 2011, The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), which oversees the HVAC industry, started getting complaints from contractors about these new energy auditors doing work that was thought to be the sole preserve of licensed air conditioning contractors.
A workgroup comprised of the TDLR HVAC Contractor Advisory Board looked into the question: “What constitutes HVAC work and services that can only be performed by licensed contractors in Texas?” They concluded that per Texas law, testing for duct leakage, testing total external static pressure, providing information on sealing leaky ducts, advising homeowners on issues like return grille sizing, and even suggesting what SEER, AFUE or HSPF to select were all work that could only be performed by licensed HVAC contractors.
Energy auditors and home performance contractors had no legal status in Texas, as is the case in most states now. The certified energy professionals in the state as represented by Texas Home Energy Raters Organization (TX HERO) worked together with the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors Association (TX-ACCA) and the state legislature to write a bill that would recognize energy professionals and give them a legal status or “standing under the law” to continue working under current regulations. After months of negotiations, a bill emerged that would have allowed people currently holding a certification by a national or state accrediting body recognized by the TDLR to continue to do all of the current scope of work provided that they achieve an HVAC endorsement by completing a 60-hour HVAC course.
The curriculum of said course(s) would have been reviewed and approved by the TDLR and would include a long list of relevant HVAC design topics including ACCA Manuals J, S, D, T, the HVAC refrigeration cycle, basics of duct design, and much more. It was understood that this was a starting point and that the knowledge base necessary to maintain this HVAC endorsement for energy professionals could be raised incrementally in years to come. This seemed acceptable to all parties and things looked good. No one got everything they wanted, but everyone got much of what they needed. This is the essence of the legislative process in a democracy. You may remember that the great Mick Jaeger taught us this truth about life in general a long time ago.
The bill would have allowed homeowners and builders to continue to hire and be advised by energy professionals who were independent of any associations or loyalties except to them as the client. Energy professionals would have to register, take a class, and pass a test to demonstrate HVAC proficiency. It established a “standing under the law” for energy professionals, a framework within which they could operate legitimate businesses and continue to provide their services.
Then the legislative process got in the way. Since this bill would have required a small increase in staff at TDLR and some new regulations, it was killed. The bill did not get out of the Calendars Committee in time to reach the floor for a vote. I’ve been told by representatives of both TX-ACCA and TX-HERO that there is no doubt that the bill would have passed if it had made it to the floor and been given a vote.
Now we can only wait and see how the TDLR responds and what actions it chooses to take. They could choose to follow a path of benign neglect and wait for the next legislative session in two years and let the legislative process work. They could come down hard and hand out substantial fines to anyone who engages in HVAC design work without the proper license. They could have a rule making and choose to accept those certified energy professionals who already have certifications in HVAC. Some possibilities that have been mentioned include, NATE, NCI, BPI (Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Professional), and ACCA certifications. Only time will tell.