Many signs point to the fact that quality in our industry is declining. Numerous studies performed over the past 15 years — some as recently as 2006 — have confirmed this.

A fairly recent study performed by Advanced Energy in North Carolina found that 90% of HVAC systems don’t perform as they should.

A recent Decision Analyst study commissioned by North American Technicians Excellence organization found that 33% of new installations result in one or more call-backs. Previous Decision Analyst studies found that 80% of consumers want more from their home comfort systems.

In 2006, NCI studied several hundred homes tested by its members, and found the average measured efficiency is 57% of what a system is capable of delivering, with many systems delivering 45% or less of the BTUs they are capable of producing.

Interestingly, many existing systems with newly installed 13+ SEER equipment and 90+ furnaces are delivering a lower percentage of available BTUs than their predecessors. Why? Newer equipment is extremely dependent on proper system design, air flow, and installation.

The Quality Process, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, revolves around a simple principle: Improved quality only occurs when you can provide measurable improvements.

We now have the tools and the knowledge to quantify and measure performance. The industry’s job is to either add or remove Btus from interior spaces to keep people comfortable. It’s all about the Btus. If you can design and install systems that add and remove the right amount of Btus, and do so while wasting as few of the Btus as possible, you can deliver true performance and measured quality.

Real Solutions
On existing systems, there are four keys to delivering the right amount of Btus to the right areas as efficiently as possible.

  • First, start with good design criteria based on the needs of the structure. In addition to load calculations, you need to also determine required room-by-room cfm. Once this is determined, select the equipment that delivers the right amount of Btus to the system.
  • Next, test to assess what the system is actually doing. Most contractors just rely on the load calculation. The reality is unless you measure you’re just guessing.
  • Third, renovate the system to match the design criteria. This may include replacing ductwork, adding supplies and returns, sealing ductwork, and redesigning the overall distribution system. This requires educating the homeowner about what their system is doing, and how it should be working. Ultimately it’s the customer’s decision to go ahead with the work.
  • The final step is to test out and adjust the system so it delivers the right amount of Btus to the right areas with as little loss as possible. In new construction, the process is similar, minus the test-in component. The advantage in new construction is you have a clean slate to work with. The downside is you’re often at the mercy of the architect as well as the builder’s budget.

I understand that not every customer will pay to have their systems replaced properly. The reality is few are even being given the choice.

The danger, as I see it, is that forces outside our industry are becoming increasingly aware of this lack of delivered performance. These forces include government agencies and utilities. Some of these forces can be your allies, others your enemy, especially if they’re testing an installation where you didn’t inform the customer of the condition of their “system.” Home Energy Raters are taking a closer look at how our systems are performing and many are now offering homeowners independent testing.

So whose job is it to fix this mess? It’s up to associations to get this point across to their members. It’s up to manufacturers and distributors to educate their customers about delivered performance. It’s up to the industry’s publications to get the message to readers. Finally it’s up to all of us to change the way we look at the systems we install and service, and teach our customers what quality in their heating and cooling systems is really about.

Dominick Guarino is chairman/CEO of National Comfort Institute, a national training, certification, and membership organization focused on everything from Performance-based Contracting through mold liability prevention and more. Contact him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.