For decades government and utility programs have provided HVAC contractors cash incentives to install high-efficient equipment and seal ducts. A major shift is underway uncovering a wealth of never before realized energy savings. This is being accomplished by focusing on maximizing the operating efficiency of existing equipment and renovating the air distribution system.

It’s called Quality Renovation and its opening new doors to energy savings by taking the best of quality installation and quality maintenance and surgically renovating the defective parts of the system causing the efficiency losses. The result is a low cost improvement for consumers with realistic budgets and extremely fast return on the investment. At the same time QR provides profitable low cost, and high margin work for HVAC contractors.

What’s driving this change is the realization that much of the deemed energy savings of the past was never realized by consumers and the utilities charged with shaving peak energy consumption. All along the real energy hogs of low airflow and BTU losses through the duct system have evaded the prescriptive programs of the past.

The challenge is that the energy losses have been invisible to the simplified duct leakage testing programs previously used. Also programs assumed that the super high equipment efficiencies proclaimed by the manufacturers in the laboratories were being realized in the field when in actuality, the delivered efficiencies are often 30% lower due to undetected system losses.

Invisible Energy Losses

Recent hearings in California have revealed that some HVAC energy modeling automatically assumes that 100% of equipment rated BTU was being delivered into each home.

The truth is that often well over 30% of the intended heating and cooling capacity is lost before the system can deliver it into the building. Essentially this realization opens the door to a new level of energy savings that existing regulators never knew existed. This creates opportunity for HVAC contractors to crack open a newly discovered treasure chest of innovative energy savings to their customers. They can also benefit from the endorsement of the utilities as they learn to bring these savings to their rate payers.

Live System Testing

For an HVAC contractor to be able to harness these lost BTUs and return them to their customers requires that the defects be identified. This is only accomplished through a series of tests unfamiliar to the programs of the past.

Since each system is different and suffers from a variable set of system losses, it must be tested under live operating conditions to discover what these defects may be, and to identify the effect each is having on the operating performance of the system. This requires each contractor to move beyond the duct leakage test methods that have dominated HVAC energy efficiency for decades and intelligently investigate each component of the system and its live operating efficiency. In this next level of testing the system is actually operating when its performance is being tested. That’s a major shift in HVAC testing, isn’t it?

HVAC Testing

Testing is quite simple once the skills and judgment are in place to perform the testing, diagnose the test data, and prescribe the needed solutions.

Temperature, static pressure and airflow measurements taken under live operating system conditions and are recorded. From this data and several other key observations and calculations, the results are compared to manufacturer’s specifications and defects are uncovered.

Airflow at the equipment and delivered into the space are key indicators of performance. Combined with temperature profile testing that identifies wet bulb and dry bulb temperatures at a series of critical points across the system, it produces the delivered BTU of the system. Delivered BTUs are then compared with the rated BTUs as published by the manufacturer and adjusted for current operating conditions.

This rating helps the consumer understand their system’s operating efficiency and also pinpoints specific defects that if repaired, will result in a significant increase in operating performance that normally exceeds any increase that can be found by high efficiency equipment replacement alone.

What customers realize is that these efficiency losses have been missed by energy programs of the past. Furthermore without these defects corrected, it’s impossible for high efficiency equipment to actually deliver the savings promised by the manufacturer and AHRI published efficiency ratings.

Contractor and Customer Discovery

The assumption that installed equipment is delivering its rated capacity can be verified under live operating conditions in about an hour. What’s more important is that HVAC contractors and energy professionals can measure the operating performance of a system with the assistance and participation of their customers.

Involving the customer in the testing and diagnostics process has proven to be a valuable learning experience for the customer and contractor alike; as together they discover the operating performance of the system and find the defects that are deteriorating the system efficiency at the same time.

When a progressive contractor utilizes this testing and involves their customers in it, the odds the customer will decide to invest precious dollars in energy improvements makes sense because they see and understand the cause of the wallet draining energy hogs and become motivated to solve the problem.

When consumers learn about a government or utility program and decide to take advantage of the program, what they often get is an energy score on their home only. The score has no value without the consumer being able to connect with the defects and understand the solution to their new found problem.

The day of energy raters simply learning to rate a building is past. Training and skills that enable a contractor to identify the problem and provide reasonably priced solutions are what defines a winner in this game.

The real goal of government and utility program is defined by what is called market transformation. This implies that the testing and energy improvements incentivized by the program will continue once the funding has ended. The reality is that this rarely happens.

As programs become more in line with the activities that are really good for the contractor and consumer it has been proven that this ideal of market transformation may actually succeed in the future with realistic programs that actually provide profitable repairs for contractors and reasonable measured savings for their customers.

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 free procedure describing how you can measure fan airflow, contact Doc at robf@ncihvac.com or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles and downloads.