Air Balancing and Energy Star

The proposed Energy Star for qualified homes, Version 3.0, has recently been released and is drawing a combination of praise and fire from the HVAC, rater and building professions. My inbox is buzzing with comments about the proposed standard and what effect it may have on the future of our industry.

The Energy Star label is a recognized energy efficiency marketing program that’s used to identify products intended to deliver reduced energy consumption for consumers. About every three years the homes portion of the program is revised to include recent advances and improvements in energy efficiency.

Air Balancing Added

The proposed standard includes the use of air balancing hoods to measure delivered airflow at grilles and registers to verify the design system airflow and required room airflow.

Airflow traverses are used to verify equipment airflow and that trunk ducts are moving the required heating and cooling. Static pressure measurement can be added to the test of tight ducts as additional assurance to consumers that the duct system pressure doesn’t exceed the manufacturer’s rated fan pressure and actually delivers the goods.

Previously, many tight duct systems assumed to be efficient by previous standards, were unable to move the required system airflow. These systems performed very poorly in reality but achieved high efficiency scores. This costly mistake will be detected and corrected as the standard accepts and promotes the measurement of total external static pressure.

Varying Opinions

The airheads (including contractors and raters) are applauding the frequent references to air balancing as a means of actually measuring the performance of an HVAC system. When compared with the present savings assumed by modeling and the erroneous assumption that full energy efficiency is realized only by installing HVAC equipment higher AFUE or SEER ratings.

Those unfamiliar with system performance measurement are crying foul play and bemoaning having to measure airflow and system pressures claiming this is not their job and that the skill set is out of their skill set.

The bottom line as far as HVAC system testing is concerned is that the new standards are requiring more work than before. Like most advancements in professional requirements, some contractors are already performing at a higher level, some will step up to the plate and some will drop out of the game.

A New Door Opened

In addition to the currently accepted efficiency standards, Energy Star 3.0 also opens doors to future advancements in energy efficiency by enabling public officials to adopt more advanced technology and test methods that will come to market in the future.

Many new and proven testing and diagnostic techniques are being used in field-testing around the country. Many air balancing techniques that have been proven for decades in commercial buildings have been adapted to perform effective residential testing.

New methods of measuring live building heat loss and heat gains are being tested and found to reduce equipment sizes by as much as 50% when compared to current standards.

New software programs are being accepted by states and utilities around the country that exceed current government standards. While old modeling programs assumed energy would be saved based on supposed building values, today’s programs replace assumptions with live field measured building values.

So in the future it looks like we’ll be moving forward. While the new standard is far from perfect, steps are being taken to improve the product we deliver to our clients. So how will you react to changes in the industry? Are you there already and profiting from advancements available today? Do you plan to step up to the plate? Or, will you remain as you are today and survive as the low bidder?

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company with technical and business level membership organizations. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a test procedure showing you how to measure airflow with a balancing hood, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles and downloads.

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