Last week, David Richardson and I taught HVAC classes at the Midwest Residential Energy Conference in Lexington Kentucky. We had a blast. Somehow the HVAC and energy rater industries have found harmony in that region. The politics and the weird variations in culture were not in the way. We got down to the business of testing and improving the performance of HVAC systems that reached far beyond the usual home energy audit.

Typically, HVAC contractors have a general belief that energy raters come up short when it comes to testing and diagnosing an HVAC system. Performing a duct-tightness test and recording nameplate data has always failed to prove whether or not a system is performing in the eyes of savvy HVAC professionals. Something about this group of raters made them different though. They didn’t accept what they had been led to believe and were searching for more.

Rob Falke, president, National Comfort InstituteHome Energy Audit Reality Check

In Kentucky, this large group of excellent energy raters stepped way outside their normal comfort zone and embraced the idea that the average HVAC system operates below 60% of rated capacity. Armed with that knowledge, many of these seasoned raters swallowed hard and admitted that without measuring and rating the operating efficiency of HVAC systems, the typical home energy audit falls drastically short of revealing a home’s true energy story.

By measuring an HVAC system’s operating efficiency, hidden energy savings are uncovered. An additional 30% or more of savings can be measured and verified after a system is renovated. This energy savings is greater than are the efficiency increases that come from replacing equipment alone.

Side-by-side, HVAC professionals and energy raters learned to test, diagnose, and repair HVAC systems using procedures that are very different from the building science methods they were accustomed to using. Static pressure profiles, measurement of live duct airflow, temperature losses, and the measurement of delivered system BTUs into the building envelope were among the skills they learned.

Many discussions were held about how energy raters can work alongside HVAC professionals and increase their offerings to their customers. Instead of simply providing a homeowner with a list of defects in their home, raters can work with HVAC and insulation contractors to make specific recommendations and coordinate this work with other energy professionals.

Imagine these trades consistently partnering with each other and working together outside of incentive programs. How cool would that be?

The home performance industry has been dominated by the building science community, leaving most of the HVAC industry as outsiders looking in. The disconnect between what most home energy audits report and what HVAC contractors measure have been quite polarized in the retrofit market outside of utility programs. At this conference we witnessed the two groups unifying and supporting one another. Could this be a model for things to come in the near future?