By Ray Isaac

Are You Ready

As an industry, we’re on the brink of an amazing opportunity. The rising cost of energy is pushing many of our customers to become increasingly educated about their HVAC systems, and the Internet is making it easy for them to obtain that education.

These customers are beginning to understand the importance of proper system installation that goes beyond simply buying a more efficient “box.” At the same time, energy efficiency programs are demanding increased savings from HVAC installations.

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) observed these developing market forces and recognized that its professional members wanted to demonstrate appropriate performance levels. The association then took steps to raise the professionalism of all participants, and enhance the image of proficiency in the industry.

The result is the information contained in the quality installation (QI) standard (ANSI/ACCA 5 QI – 2007 HVAC Quality Installation Specification). This national standard provides industryapproved procedures and tolerances for installing HVAC systems. For full details, download the QI Standard at www.acca.org/quality.

Defining the National Standard
HVAC industry stakeholders — manufacturers, utilities, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), numerous associations, and of course, contractors — created the standard upon which installation performance can be benchmarked. These stakeholders hammered out a document over the course of two years that defines the attributes, measurement metrics, procedures, and necessary documentation for quality installations.

The QI Standard focuses on residential and commercial unitary equipment (the most prevalent equipment type): air conditioners, heat pumps, and fossil fuel furnaces and boilers. These are seen in 85% of U.S. commercial and residential buildings. The standard is divided into four general groups: system design, equipment installation, duct installation, and documentation.

Each item in the standard is already required by model codes, manufacturers’ installation instructions, or is an industry-recognized good practice. The standard brings all of those together and actually prescribes the level of performance that HVAC systems must meet to be considered installed in a quality manner.

Asking the industry to comply with the new level of performance may be considered excessive by some contractors. However, the QI Standard is being embraced by utility and municipal program administrators, the EPA is promoting it in a new EnergyStar™ program, and forward-thinking HVAC businesses are referring it to their customers.

Merely selling high efficiency boxes or sealing undersized duct distribution systems is no longer enough. Contractors are now expected to ensure the entire HVAC system meets the minimum standard.

Tools to Support the QI Standard
ACCA has developed a technician’s guide to support HVAC professionals seeking to implement the requirements in the new national standard. There are also consumer-oriented checklists that explain the benefits of QI, to help contractors promote the new level of performance to their customers.
The Technicians Guide for Quality Installations assists contractors as they determine which measurement approach to follow when seeking compliance with the QI Standard’s requirements (such as procedures, measurement approaches, meters and instrument types, etc.). It also educates contractors and technicians about the procedures involved and the specific measurements necessary for the approach selected (such as steps outlined, caveats, do’s and don’ts, etc.).
QI Comfortool: This brief checklist for ACCA members summarizes the four pillars of the QI standard and highlights the importance of North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification. Technicians or sales staff can answer questions and explain why customers should choose their company to install the new HVAC system, as well as the benefits of compliance with the QI Standard. If more detailed information is needed, the technician or sales staff can use the more comprehensive QI Checklist.
QI Checklist: A free Checklist for Consumers is offered in two formats: one to consumers, and one to commercial building owners. It provides a succinct, guided tour through the design, selection, installation, and testing of new HVAC systems as they relate to the industry standard.

The checklist offers questions for consumers to ask prospective contractors, and explains the importance of each element in the standard. There are general questions that help consumers assess contractors’ qualifications. Consumers assign points for each element, and then determine the “value” of the proposed work by dividing the full installation cost by the number of assigned points. The checklist also demonstrates the value of any additional work required to ensure the system is properly installed. The checklist suggests that the contractor with the lowest “cost-per-point” offers better value than a low-priced contractor.

BE PREPARED FOR INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION

How will building owners know whether their new HVAC system actually meets the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s HVAC Quality Installation Specification? How would a utility know if the incentive for an HVAC system quality installation actually met the QI standard? The answer is qualified, objective, third-party verification.

Industry leaders saw the need to provide verification procedures to ensure that an HVAC system was installed to the QI Standard. They also saw the need to outline the roles and responsibilities of different participants conducting a verification effort. To address these issues, a new broad-based committee set to work developing verification protocols, or procedures, that will enable demonstration of compliance to the QI Standard.

The current EnergyStar™ Residential Quality Installation program is ramping up for a major consumer focus on the QI Standard in 2009. Utilities and other interested parties are also gearing up for strong implementation of verification efforts in support of the QI standard. Currently, a number of municipalities are writing more stringent requirements into their building codes that require verification of the QI Standard.

Training, changes to business practices, purchase of new tools, and implementation of new approaches should begin now. Waiting until 2009 — just a few months away — will put you at a disadvantage in the marketplace to those who have already prepared. — RI

Transitioning Your Company
Forward-thinking professional HVAC contractors, and their technicians and installers, are already taking advantage of the opportunities the QI Standard presents, and are preparing their companies for even more opportunities in the future (see the sidebar, “Be Prepared for Independent Verification”).

To be sure your company reaps the benefits this standard presents, consider these steps:
Review the QI Standard and Quality Installation: A Checklist for Consumers (both of these documents are free at www.acca.org/quality)
Obtain the Technicians Guide for Quality Installations to identify the skills and tools necessary to accomplish its principal elements
Conduct internal reviews to identify your company’s existing skills and services that comply with the QI Standard; skills and training needed to upgrade to the standard; tools necessary for the measurements to ensure quality installations; strategies to present these new opportunities to customers, and modifications in record keeping procedures t o capture information.

Climbing Higher
Performance-oriented contractors who deliver quality installations will enjoy the profits and relationships developed with customers who want the job done right. The path to destruction is paved with good intentions, and this industry has attempted to accommodate those who wanted lower prices with ever decreasing levels of performance. That must change.

This article started with a quote from Skip Snyder. I’d like to close it with one from Stan Johnson of Stan’s Heating & Air Conditioning, Austin, TX: “Quality will never lower its standard to us, we must raise our standard to quality.”

It’s time for all professional HVAC businesses to take a stand, and raise our standard to quality.

Ray Isaac is the president of Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., Rochester, NY. He is the 2008-2009 chairman of the board for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and serves on the executive committee for the board of directors of North American Technician Excellence (NATE). Ray has been in the HVAC industry for more than 25 years. He can be reached at 585/545-1400, or by e-mail at rsisaac@isaacheating.com.