Are Government Energy Programs Going Down the Wrong Path - Again?

EPA Energy Star® is proposing a huge shift in its approach to HVAC energy efficiency and involvement in our day-to-day relationship with our customers. The change indicates realization that equipment energy efficiency ratings alone are inadequate assurance that consumers are saving energy. The move is also pointing toward the payment of inspection fees to a third party “verifier” to approve our installations.

Although the proposed action is still under review, the wording in the initial draft reads “after January 1, 2007 manufacturers will no longer be able to label equipment as it is shipped from the factory with ENERGY STAR certification mark.” Furthermore, the draft reads that “at no time will technicians be able to label an HVAC installation as ENERGY STAR without involvement of a Third Party running an installation verification program”.

So, does this sound like a good move for HVAC contractors?

But wait, There’s More.

California energy “crusaders” have managed to get a law passed based on their 2005 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, effective October 1st, 2005. This law requires many climate zones in the state to pay for a third party verifier to inspect and test their customers’ HVAC systems whenever there’s an equipment change; when more than 40 feet of ductwork is renovated; or even when a heat exchanger is replaced.

Once again, the idea is being propagated that a tight duct system is sufficient to assure the consumer will save energy as verified by a duct blower test. By the way, if you don’t want to have the ducts tested, just put in a 92% or better efficient furnace and you can bypass your duct test worries. No mention is made of BTU output measurement, testing total external static pressure, or other sound, proven HVAC system testing methods.

What about the scenario of a typical consumer needing a heat exchanger replaced for $500? Will they now have to add on permit fees and additional dollars for a third party inspector? And if the duct system doesn’t pass the required test, there’s the additional imposed expense of a duct renovation along with any other mandatory costs.

Do you think California homeowners are aware of their upcoming forced contribution to energy efficiency? The cost to the consumer could be three to six times the price of a new heat exchanger and there’s still no guarantee it will get fixed right since tight ducts aren’t necessarily right ducts!

When the question is posed who’s going to pay for this, California’s answer was more of a question. They replied, “Well, the homeowner?” It’s doubtful if even the governator will triumph over that angry mob.

Even the Texas HERS (Home Energy Rating System) organization has asked for a nationwide one year moratorium on the proposed EPA new homes program which contains massive changes and lacks clear direction to assure real energy savings. It seems government agencies are attempting to enlist energy cops.

By their reckoning, it’s time to force the issue through the same old utility programs funded by many millions of dollars of rebate money for more tight ducts and high efficiency equipment. Many of these programs have passed thousands of systems as energy efficient. Meanwhile, performance-based contractors are currently harvesting these poorly performing “high efficiency” systems by renovating over a hundred thousand duct systems a year, and they’re proving measured increases in efficiency as high as 50%.

It’s clear the programs of the past haven’t been working and the pressure to deliver measured savings is intense. Why else would such harsh sweeping changes become law and code so quickly? Have you been exposed to these proposed changes in your community?

HVAC Organizations Didn’t Even Know

The excuse that proposed drafts were sent to “interested parties” and resided on a poorly publicized website for a 60-day comment period is sad and wrong. It’s evidence of desperate measures by special interest parties as the 13 SEER mandate could virtually eliminate the primary mission and jobs of HVAC energy crusader organizations around the country.

As an industry, we need to implement valid HVAC performance testing that field measures and rates the installed operating efficiency of HVAC systems. Equipment, filters, ducts and grilles become one system when installed in a building, and existing technology can quickly measure their performance.

Profitable repairs can be made with a measured return on investment to our customers. We need to implement profitable business models that succeed and prosper without relying on the dole of ineffective rebates. Only then will there be true sustainability.

Remember, many of these programs are only in draft stages and are changing daily. Many may benefit form your input.

Far more important is the way you decide to sell, service, install, and renovate the HVAC systems you work on every day. Learn to test them for yourself and move a decade ahead of the industry. Get above the noise and confusion being created by industry outsiders who know little or nothing about real-life HVAC contracting.

Rob Falke is president of the National Comfort Institute. He can be reached at 800/633-7058, e-mail [email protected].

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