There's a good chance you’ve heard about Homestar, the $6 billion Federal energy efficiency program created by the proposed legislation, H.R. 5019, and S.3177 Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010. This act provides rebates for energy efficiency measures: primarily sealing, caulking, and insulating homes to reduce energy waste.

The Act, which has passed in the House, but still needs Senate approval, also has provisions for replacing heating and air conditioning equipment, with minimum efficiencies of 92% AFUE on gas furnaces, 16 SEER/13 EER for air conditioners, and 15 SEER/12.5 EER/8.5 HSPF on heat pumps. Duct sealing is also included in the mix.

This legislation indicates rewards will be based on "performance" rather than specified products, yet the rebates are for "high efficiency" products, based on sticker ratings rather than actual performance. Isn't that interesting?

In another breath, Homestar authors call for modeled performance and simulations to determine energy savings. How can a simulation or model determine if energy is actually saved? Hasn't that been the problem all along with most efficiency programs? Models, simulations, and "deemed" savings are still only design, not "actual" energy savings verification.

The good news is there seems to be a bit of "wiggle" room in the legislation with regards to defining how to prove energy savings. As long as there's room for alternate methods for determining performance, there's hope, and there's room to show what our industry can do.

Another important aspect of Homestar is that work must be performed to Building Performance Institute (BPI) standards and by BPI-certified contractors. There are also provisions to allow other certification standards to be used as well.

Here's the rub: there's a very narrow window in Homestar to propose changes, additions, and certifications, so as an industry we must act quickly. While BPI's standards for building shell/envelope testing seem solid, their HVAC standards don't address true delivered performance — rather they focus on prescriptive methods. My concern is the Act's authors haven't been sufficiently exposed to other available performance standards.

Focus on Results, Not Prescriptive Measures. We need to better balance the scale to allow HVAC contractors to provide the kind of work that can have a huge impact on energy consumption — the performance of the HVAC system itself — in addition to equipment efficiency, house, and duct sealing. The HVAC industry has the ability to prove system performance improvements without modeling, without simulations, without "deemed" savings. We can prove delivered BTUs for each KWH or cubic foot of gas. We can prove it through our testing process, and through utility bills after our work is done. Why use simulations when we have the real thing?

As an industry, we need to send a loud and clear signal that HVAC improvements can be a huge energy savings measure any homeowner can achieve. Think about it: if an HVAC system is only transforming 60% of the energy it's using into useful heating or cooling BTUs, other home performance measures can only affect those delivered BTUs. You can't save what you don't have!

There are cases where house sealing has as much bang for the buck as HVAC performance improvements. There are also cases where sealing and insulating can reduce the load enough to significantly downsize equipment, saving even more energy.

Each home is different, and has different problems and different solutions — and that's the whole point! We shouldn't constrict ourselves or our customers to one-size-fits-all solutions.

As professionals we need all the tools to evaluate all aspects of performance and help our customers determine the best solution for their specific circumstances. HVAC contractors must also be educated on whole house testing and performance so they can recommend the best solutions for each customer.

There is a growing group of performance-based HVAC contractors in this country that know how to test operating system performance and deliver significant, verifiable improvements in the systems they install and service. Others can be trained.

Performance-based contractors have an important part of the answers Homestar is looking for. We need to make our voices heard to make sure our industry is represented in this legislation. We can teach our representatives what performance is about and how a properly operating system can also save a significant amount of energy.

Go to www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com/homestar to download a letter that hundreds of contractors are sending their representatives to both support the Act, and bring attention to the fact that it needs to be balanced to include HVAC system performance . We'll also give you links to your state representative's email or mailing address.

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com), a national training and membership organization focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. Email him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.