A Christmas Story: The Triumph of the HSER Elves

It was Christmas eve-eve when National Comfort Institute (NCI) teamed up with Henry Sterling of Pompeii Plumbing and Heating to bring Christmas cheer and a bit of warmth to an 80-year-old Cleveland, OH senior.

I had heard from some of her friends that one of my favorite old gals, Betty, was living in the cold. It turns out that we had tested her home more than a year ago, and had completed the first Heating System Efficiency Ratio (HSER®) rating in history. Since then Betty had no results getting the builder or the HVAC contractor to repair the system. Both parties claimed the system was operating just fine, and that she was simply being too demanding.

Heating bills for the cluster home of just over 1,000 sq.ft. had exceeded $400 per month, and Betty had been setting her thermostat in the 50s and dressing in layers in an attempt to keep warm.

As Betty was to be gone for the holidays, I persuaded her to give me a key to the house so I could retest the systems and make written recommendations. I told her I would provide the information to Pompeii’s so they could give her a written proposal to have the work completed.

Since it was Christmas, and NCI and Pompeii’s had both enjoyed a prosperous year, the companies agreed that a wonderful service project would be to test and repair the system at no cost to Betty. There’s nothing like a little payback during the Christmas season to bring some cheer.

The initial test proved the system had deteriorated further since the original HSER test that we had conducted. The HSER test now documented that the system was only operating at 31% of the equipment rated capacity. The HSER rating is achieved by measuring the live system airflow and temperatures and other system measurements, and then applying the rating formulas.

The testing revealed low airflow, high static pressure, uninsulated return ducts, improperly installed ducting, typical undersizing, an electrostatic filter, and poor venting and combustion. The test data was interpreted to identify the necessary renovation work, and the scope of work was created.

Henry got on the bench and made up the new return plenum and other necessary fittings, while I visited a local vendor and collected the rest of the needed materials.

Four trucks pulled up to the home and crowded the driveway at the appointed hour. The work was assigned out to each crew and we went to work on our assigned tasks.

Our appreciation for installers and duct renovators reached an all time high a couple hours later as Dominick Guarino (NCI’s CEO) and I were swimming through the cellulose insulation in the attic and contorting our old, overweight bodies between narrow trusses. We agreed that the installers and duct renovators, who get the real work done, don’t get near enough praise and are the real day-to-day heroes. Our hats are off to you. We have since doubled the estimated labor hours on the duct renovation. Do elves have to keep a labor budget?

With the duct system improved, it was time to call in the combustion master, Jim Davis, to put the final touches on the system. He found several problems with the equipment, and the vent, which Henry swiftly corrected. Jim laid his finger aside of his nose and, with a twinkle in his eye, completed his magic after 32 combustion tests and adjustments.

Meanwhile, we had balanced the system and took pressures and temperatures to document the net result of each improvement we had made.

We were concerned about the final result, since the system only tested at 31% HSER when we started. That’s only half of the typical heating system, which we’ve found to be operating at 50% to 60% through the initial HSER tests we’ve collected from around the country. Our goal of exceeding 90% Btu delivery had us concerned yet optimistic as we completed the final tests and calculations.

The final stroke of my calculator revealed the final HSER rating of the system to be 99% HSER. That means 99% of the equipment rated Btu output was being delivered into the envelope of the building! We took this system’s Btu delivery from 19,671 to 63,405. We called it one of those Christmas miracles like the movies all depict this time of year.

It took an hour or so to clean up the place and leave Betty a note thanking her for the opportunity to be of service and wishing her some Christmas cheer. Henry went out to his truck and filled out a one year no-charge service agreement as a stocking stuffer courtesy of Pompeii Plumbing and Heating. Dominick agreed to drop of a low-level CO monitor because her fireplace log tested poorly.

As we stood in the driveway dirty and sore, we all enjoyed that special feeling of knowing we had done the right thing, and that what we had accomplished will be appreciated by Betty for many years and Christmases to come.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company specializing in measuring, rating, improving and verifying HVAC system performance. You can contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800/633-7058. NCI’s website is found at www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com.

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