How To Truly Deliver The "Green"

April 1, 2010
Unless we have a means to verify actual performance of the systems we sell, design, install and service, we’ll continue to miss the mark in terms of potential energy savings, peak load and carbon emissions reductions.

This is a benchmark year for the energy efficiency industry. New energy programs are being created at breakneck speeds at the state and federal level, as billions are being made available for sustainable energy efficiency.

When it comes to the HVAC industry however, sometimes it still feels a bit like the 1980s, with many programs still focused on equipment SEER and AFUE ratings as the carrot for changing consumer behavior. In some states it feels more like the 1990s where in addition to high efficiency equipment, the focus is on "tight duct" programs with little accountability as to whether energy was really saved by just sealing everything up.

As we look forward to new programs like the proposed Homestar, will they be based on those typical "prescriptive" measures, or will we graduate to verified, delivered system performance?

What's the difference? Plenty! Don't get me wrong, programs and standards that improve equipment efficiency, quality of design, installation and maintenance are a step in the right direction. In fact, they are a necessary part of our industry's evolution. But unless we have a means to verify actual performance of the systems we sell, design, install and service, we'll continue to miss the mark in terms of potential energy savings, peak load and carbon emissions reductions.

We've seen this in many residential and commercial energy programs over the last decade. Using prescriptive programs and "deemed savings" without verification is like treating a patient with cancer, but not verifying if it's really gone.

Verification is more than measuring how much a building leaks, or how much a duct leaks, or whether a refrigerant charge is correct, or even if we have enough airflow across a coil. These are all very important, and must be performed at the appropriate times, but they are measuring "elements" of performance, and done alone can miss the true delivered performance target.

To boil HVAC system performance down to the lowest common denominators, answer these questions: Is the system adding or removing all of the BTUs that the equipment is capable of delivering? Are the BTUs being added to or removed from each room or area in the right amounts to maintain proper comfort?

When the answers are yes, or at least 90% or better, these two questions will determine true energy usage. Think about it, if you sell a 14-SEER system that should use roughly 40% less energy than the 9 SEER unit it’s replacing, shouldn’t the customer get at least 90% of the BTUs that the 14 SEER can produce?

In reality when measured, we typically find only 60% to 65% of the BTUs can be added or removed are delivered, making the effective efficiency of the 14-SEER system around 9-10 SEER.

Will the customer save energy by just replacing the unit? Maybe. For example, if the air distribution system is both choked down and leaky, new equipment may save little or no energy. There are many variables throughout the system that determine efficiency. Unfortunately, if not addressed properly, little or no energy is saved.

When you take the delivered performance approach, you leave no stone unturned because you're looking at the end result. Delivered performance takes into account all factors: Infiltration, system leakage, radiant and convective duct losses, poor design, poor installation, undersized duct work, poor registers and grilles, restrictive coils and filtration systems, poor heat transfer from heat exchangers and coils, improper refrigerant charge – you name it.

When you measure delivered BTUs, you're truly looking at the end product of an HVAC system, and the very reason it exists in the first place: to add and remove BTUs. There are other factors like adding or removing moisture, indoor air quality, etc., but the bottom line is we add or remove BTUs to maintain structures at specified comfort levels.

So why this rant? We need to send a clear message to lawmakers, utilities, public utility commissions, states, consumer groups, and most importantly to our customers, that programs that rely on prescriptive measures alone will continue to miss the mark, and only deliver a part of the savings and comfort our customers are paying for and deserve, and that there is no reason to "settle" for anything less than delivered performance.

It's good for our customers, it's good for our economy and national security, and it's good for the environment. It's just good business, and I don't know how you could get any greener.

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (, a national training and membership organization focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. Email him at [email protected] or call NCI at 800/633-7058.