We have some new players in our industry. I’d like to introduce you to a group called the Home Energy Raters, (known simply as "Raters").There are more than 3,000 of them around the country. They inhabit every state of the union and they’re involved in well over 100,000 of our jobs every year. Who are these guys and gals and what role do they play our industry?

Back in the early 1980s it all began when energy efficient mortgages became available through various government organizations. These programs struggled primarily because there was no consistent method to evaluate the amount of estimated energy savings that may be realized from the energy efficiency improvements the programs were designed to encourage.

In 1995, several national entities formed Residential Energy Services Network, now days referred to as RESNET. The purpose of this organization was to develop uniform national standards and protocol for home efficiency ratings and to promote energy efficient mortgages. Over the past decade, the group has expanded its rating methods, membership and influence. The influence of the group has expanded to the point where Raters' services are specified by lawmakers and tax codes as mandatory requirements in the process of securing tax incentives and compliance for building code enforcement.

Examples of their acceptance by government officials include the requirement of a Rater's inspection and report before receiving the new Federal Tax Credits for energy efficiency improvements. In some areas of California, laws require a system inspection and a duct pressurization test by a Rater, in order for a new or retrofit HVAC building permit to be closed out.

You may not be currently required to use Rater services in your area of the country. In this case, consider this article a sneak preview into the future of our industry.

Testing

The HVAC testing portion of a Rater's job has a long way to go. Although the HVAC system is the primary source of energy use in a home, little attention is given to the final operating efficiency. Current Rater protocols call for verification of equipment energy efficiency ratings and equipment sizing. Tight-duct pressure testing is the primary performance test that's used to “prove” if a system is efficient of not. A point system has been fashioned that offers credits that can be swapped around a building to get a passing score based on what should happen when the building is built.

Most of a Rater's training stems from the building science industry, and focuses solid building practices with a heavy emphasis on the blower door test. However, each Rater carries his or her own level of knowledge and experience. One thing nearly all Raters share is a passion for learning. Because of this passion, you’ll find most raters are eager to gain knowledge, and are very accepting of anything you can share with them about live HVAC system performance testing.

Build Your Own Rater

Traditionally, HVAC contractors have not eagerly greeted any outside party’s input into their projects. But it appears this trend is here to stay, and is growing at a rapid rate. These programs appear at first glance to be unwanted enforcement, and maybe they are. But if you play your cards right, an association with a reasonable and dedicated Rater can improve the quality of your installations, and get you access to code compliance and tax opportunities for your customers that may be otherwise unavailable.

In larger companies, many contractors have found it prudent to establish an independent testing company and offer rating services for their projects and other contractors in their area. They designate a testing oriented technician, or hire a new one, and get them trained through an accredited RESNET training organization and certified by a RESNET accredited rating provider. This has proven for many contractors to be a step in implementing quality control processes far beyond government compliance.

Many contractor-associated raters complete other typical HVAC related task, including ACCA Manual J load calculations, working with building department,s and providing testing in and out services. It's estimated that only about 5% of raters are HVAC contractors or are affiliated with a contracting company.

Subcontract Your Ratings

It's estimated that only about 5% of raters are HVAC contractors or are affiliated with a contracting company. However, a large number of contractors have chosen to affiliate with an independent rater and use them as an extension of their staff as a subcontractor. Rater-subcontractors facilitate the government-required reports and inspections and, through an honest and committed relationship, often become an important team player. As HVAC performance measurement moves forward, contractors and Raters together may play a key role in developing practical standards and services that will move us far beyond where we are today.

Use Raters as Consultants

Although the building science industry and the HVAC industry are related, experience has shown it’s best for HVAC contractors that they remain separate. Raters, however, are positioned to patch us together in a positive way.

Every time you do a load calculation you’re asked to enter the building infiltration rate. Although every software program comes with a default, ideally a number should be entered that is determined by a blower door test. The next time you question the tightness of a building, go to the RESNET website and find a trustworthy Rater near you. Call them up, interview them, and get a price to test tightness of your building. Meet them at the project and interview them about services they offer. You’ll be amazed at the knowledge and commitment of most of these people.

Due to their experience, we’re finding many Raters have been exposed to building defect solutions that can get to the bottom of many of the comfort problems that we’re being blamed for. Raters have diagnostic abilities outside the HVAC industry that we desperately need. It’s not good business for us to be stepping outside our industry and licensing authority to deal with building problems that draw us away from our primary business. Many of us have dusty blower doors, unused duct testers, and infrared cameras stored on a closet shelf that are painful reminders of seasons when we’ve turned our attention away from our primary business in the past.

Nearly all good building scientists are also Raters. This army is ready, willing, and able to quickly and effectively solve any non-HVAC building defect you may encounter. In addition to their inspection and reporting services, because of their building industry connections, many have built strong relationships with the best subcontractors in your area. We all see buildings that need more insulation, windows replaced, and envelopes tightened, but may not have the ability to evaluate their impact on our systems or to find those to partner with. A trusted Rater may become your best ally.

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. To learn more about the Rate industry, go to resnet.us or contact Doc at robf@nationalcomfortinstitute.comor call 800/633-7058. Visit NCI’s website at www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, technical articles, and downloads.