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Drawing the Line: Home Performance Versus HVAC Specialists?

Posted by Jason Wall on August 09, 2013
Drawing the Line: Home Performance Versus HVAC Specialists?
Here an inspector looks at a furnace and tells the homeowner, "Every day that it works is a gift." (Credit: Flickr)

At one point not too long ago, it felt like the HVAC contractor community was strictly against the home performance community. One wanted to improve our home’s energy efficiency without sacrificing our climate control needs—and the other? They wanted to sell expensive metal boxes and scramble for the door before clients saw their energy bills come in. And that’s how the story went for some time.

While I wouldn’t paint this picture myself, I have witnessed a remarkable shift in what defines good service throughout my 23 years of work installing and servicing heating and cooling systems—and the line between home performance specialists and HVAC contractors has truly become ambiguous.

With innovations in HVAC tech (like geothermal heat pumps and chilled beams), increased buyer awareness, and incentives such as the 25C tax credit on residential energy, the goals of each camp have merged into one common goal: provide energy efficient heating and cooling options to increase consumer satisfaction and comfort while lowering carbon emissions in the process. Whether to remain competitive, accrue customer loyalty, or even out of a growing green consciousness, many HVAC providers and contractors have made whole-house climate control efficiency a priority of their work.

Why would those of the HVAC community be concerned with a whole-house performance approach?

Few elements of a house cohere like its indoor climate. Every aspect of its design and construction, from passive solar design elements to outdoor climate, has an immediate impact on how hard a home’s HVAC system needs to work. Homes with problems such as lacking insulation, air gaps, and unsuitable sunlight mitigation can seriously impede how efficiently a system runs. Many HVAC contractors are adapting by offering complete home inspection services using the term “energy audits.” Many consider these services as a form of preventive maintenance since not addressing these problems can cause system inefficiency and even failure long before a system should be replaced.

What does a whole-home approach include?

Primarily, contractors will perform an energy audit before servicing a home. These professional will seek to seal a home to ensure that no energy is wasted through leaks. After all, a home with a cutting edge system will still have to struggle in conditioning a space if it’s lined with air gaps like Swiss cheese. This approach involves sealing floorboards and window gaps with caulk, weather-stripping, polyurethane coating, and other materials depending on the surface and climate needs.

This audit also includes searching for humidity problems, mold growth, insulation inspection via thermal imaging, and other general system inspections. For many, these additional measures have changed what it means to service a customer in the field. Whereas HVAC installation was once as much a sales position as it was a contractor’s job, it has now become one of accountability and honesty towards the customer.

What does this mean for the HVAC industry?

Many firms see this approach to HVAC installation and maintenance as a necessary measure to stay competitive in this time of increased liability and higher customer expectations. To state the obvious, an era of social media and potential blowback to personal reputation or brand has made lackadaisical service a non-option. Soon, it could become fact that the line between home performance specialists and HVAC contractors will be completely indistinguishable.

Do you believe that the whole-house approach is a necessary evolution in the industry, or merely one way to adapt? How do your recent experiences with professionals in the field align with this shift?

 

Jason Wall is an HVAC technician with more than 23 years of experience throughout the United States. His most recent project involved renovating his own 1920s Pennsylvania home. Whenever he has time from home, he enjoys connecting with other professionals from the field, spending time with his kids, and keeping up with professional baseball.

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