There is growing confusion revolving around Home and HVAC System Performance. All too often the term— Home Performance — has become a catch-phrase that is increasingly misrepresented as an end-all approach to fixing everything to do with a home and its comfort system. Because of this generalization, many HVAC professionals think they should become Home Performance experts because they incorrectly assume Home Performance is the same as HVAC Performance.
An important truth we learned along the way is that relying on the equipment alone to deliver comfort and high efficiency still leaves a huge hole in reaching our objectives. We realized early on that the air distribution system, which is comprised of the fan,filter, coil, ductwork, fittings, elbows, boots, registers and grilles, plays a major role in delivering balanced comfort with less energy consumption.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
A precedent for this is still pervasive in our industry today. For decades, manufacturers of HVAC products have taught service companies that their job as a “dealer” is to sell, install, and service equipment. As a result, many companies are conditioned to think the end-product is the box, whether a furnace, condensing unit, thermostat, or air cleaner. When you step back from this typical industry thinking, you’ll see these products are just components, not the “system” itself. The end-product is how you put these components together. Essentially, YOU are the manufacturer of the system in the field.
This applies to virtually every product in our industry, residential and commercial. The only self-contained HVAC systems are through-the-wall and window units that are not connected to ducting or piping.
Manufacturers and distributors reading this, please understand, I’m not saying your equipment isn’t important. Just the opposite: good equipment, with all the great advances in technology, is critical to the industry’s success. Unfortunately, when paired with substandard air distribution systems, which are prevalent in almost 70% of homes in North America, your products rarely get a chance to perform as designed.
Just like a unit is not the same as a system, home performance is not the same as HVAC performance.
The point is, the HVAC system is not the unit. It is what you put together and make work in the field. Once this becomes part of your thinking, you’ll be able to look beyond the boxes at the entire system. The home itself is an integral part of the distribution system. As my good friend, David Richardson likes to put it, we live in the ductwork! What he means of course is the rooms in a building are an integral part of the air distribution system as they “connect” supplies to returns.
Why is this analogy relevant? Because all too often “Home Performance” tools and test methods are used to attempt to solve problems with a home’s comfort system, even though we have great tools and test methods to correct HVAC Performance problems. Just like a unit is not the same as a system, home performance is not the same as HVAC performance.
Many well-intentioned “Home Performance” professionals have often done more damage than good by treating HVAC system problems with home performance solutions. For example, just sealing ductwork without measuring and understanding the impact on system pressures and airflows can cause more problems than it might solve.
Conversely, it is a good idea for HVAC professionals to understand building performance in terms of its envelope and pressures. Essentially home performance should be looked at as a technical discipline, not as an industry or a product.
Too many organizations and well-intended utility program managers are lumping everything under the generic term “home performance.” This can marginalize what HVAC professionals do to solve actual HVAC performance problems. There are too many band-aid solutions touted by both industry and utility circles as answers to performance problems.
As you continue to explore this, be sure to look at what is being said and offered with eyes wide open. Don’t be lured into thinking that “Home Performance” is a panacea, or it’s the same thing as HVAC Performance – it is not.
When you demonstrate to your customers that you are the HVAC system expert, and are the right person to diagnose and fix long standing safety, health, comfort, and energy efficiency problems, you will win customers for life and sleep well with the knowledge that you are doing the right thing for them.
Dominick Guarino is CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), one of the nation’s premier Performance-BasedTM training, certification, and membership organization, focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. His e-mail is [email protected] For more info on Performance-Based Contracting™ go to WhyPBC.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058