Remember when the purpose of building permits was to assure the health and safety of our customers? A recent series of meetings revealed that the energy compliance portion clearing building permits has become a roadblock for building inspectors. Unfortunately, the same issue also is discouraging consumers, creating non-compliant contractors and causing building inspector overload with energy documentation that’s challenging for these important stakeholders to understand or benefit from.
The questions are: how can we get back to a building permit process that serves the public and is once again considered a good value? What if building inspectors could get back to health and safety, and the proof of real energy efficiency fell back where it belongs – in the hands of HVAC contractors? What would a documentation process look like that would ensure reasonable energy efficiency is delivered? If we can answer these questions, compliance will rebound slowly and increase steadily.
What Customers Want
Across the kitchen table residential customers are speaking out. As they make their decisions about equipment replacement and energy upgrades, the cost of compliance has become a significant line item that all too often is perceived not the be worth the cost, so it gets the axe.
“It shouldn’t be that way” we all cry. Well that’s right, but the facts are that this is exactly what’s happening in the market today. The cause is that the cost of compliance has steadily increased and the value of compliance has decreased to the point where it has lost its value in the eyes of most stakeholders.
In a recent discussion with a group of HVAC contractors it was agreed that the basic building permit cost to assure traditional health and safety was 20% of the cost of compliance. The other 80% of the cost was perceived to pay for energy efficiency expenses paid to third party inspectors, building department sub-contractors and unnecessary documentation resulting in governmental red tape. Bottom line, the benefits purchased by 80% of the permit cost had little value to their customers.
The idea that compliance is a citizen’s duty to government is being outweighed by the cost of compliance and the lack of assurance that true energy efficiency has actually been delivered.
The majority of customers want increased energy efficiency at a reasonable cost with a quick 3 to 4 year payback. While the top few percent of our customers purchase high-cost energy efficiency for social mileage or a love for the environment, most consumers aren’t willing to pay excessive costs without say-so in the matter.
What Building Inspectors Want
While the top few percent of building inspectors have learned the language and intent of energy codes and can interpret and enforce it, the balance of building inspectors don’t understand what the documentation means nor do they believe current regulations assure energy efficiency is being delivered.
It was recently estimated by one state official that less than 15% of building permit application offices were able to request or explain the documents required for energy compliance with the law. Contractors argue that this percentage is overestimated.
The red flag that should have caused us all to question whether we’ve gone too far was the day building departments began subcontracting the job of energy document compliance to outside professionals.
What if qualified contractors were enabled to test and document measured and calculated HVAC system energy efficiency as evidence that their installation performed to manufacturer’s specifications? What if the building inspectors and homeowners were furnished performance and efficiency reports that they could easily read and understand?
Would this not provide front-line evidence that a contractor did the job correctly and reestablish the ideal that a qualified contractor could design, manufacture, install and deliver a well-performing system?
Could this return to real quality be the missing link to heal our compliance problem for building departments, contractors and their customers? The question is: could the regulators accept such a simplified step towards reasonable compliance?
What Good Contractors Want
First we need to acknowledge that a less than ideal percent of HVAC contractors fall into the “good” category. Good contractors today do generally comply far more than the less desirable contractors. However it’s common knowledge that good contractors become the bull’s eye when it comes to the few jobs that are targeted for enforcement of non-compliance. Shouldn’t enforcement officials take their first shots at non-licensed, fully non-compliant HVAC contractors instead of those trying to do the right thing?
Good contractors will comply with building and energy codes, and nearly all agree that code compliance will increase if it’s changed to meet certain criteria.
1. Compliance has to change to be a good value to their customers.
2. Compliance has to be simple. Permit applications and processing must move online and become less of a burden.
3. Compliance documents must be published in clear language that all stakeholders understand. Compliance reports are to be created by qualified contractors and be based on actual performance measurements that are reasonable to all parties.
4. Compliance must provide evidence real energy efficiency is being realized. Transparency in efficiency is no longer optional. The day of deemed wish-a-watt energy estimation is past.
What Regulators Want
Regulators are under more pressure to deliver real energy efficiency today than HVAC contractors are. Over the decades as regulated attempts for increased energy efficiency has been taken from the hands of HVAC contractors and given to others, compliance in energy efficiency and the retrofit market has tanked.
Operating efficiency has followed the downward spiral as the appearance of efficiency is insinuated by component based regulations and endless quality checklists that have failed to deliver real evidence of energy savings.
Regulators are looking for an emerging group of qualified and committed HVAC contractors willing to be accountable for self verified energy efficiency. They seek those able to deliver measured and calculated performance that documents energy efficiency on every system they install. They want what consumers, building inspectors and better HVAC contractors want, and are searching as we are for a solution to a system that has slipped out of control.
Every good citizen wants compliance. But where is effective, honest and affordable compliance to be found in the retrofit market today?
Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute an HVAC based training company and membership organization. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a test procedure to self verify if your system meets manufacturer’s specifications, 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.