Who Is Responsible for the Building Envelope?

May 25, 2009
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The HVAC industry is just one sector of the trades conducting work under the roof and within the building envelope of homes and commercial structures. The responsibility for sizing equipment and designing the duct and ventilation systems, however, has been placed solely on the backs of HVAC contractors. When did this happen? When did the HVAC contractor - not the structure designer - become responsible for these?

I don’t think any other trade within the construction industry has been pushed more by the government, regulations, and consumers in this matter. In fact, it’s become so bad that many contractors are now expected to conduct and be held responsible for in-home heat loss/gain, duct design, and ventilation design calculations.

This is not the contractors’ responsibility, nor should it be. Why should they be required to provide this service at no cost to clients who may or may not accept the proposal? If contractors want to offer design-build services, they should be paid for this service.

Let’s face it; contractors get calls every day from consumers requesting equipment and installation quotes. To make matters worse, they want the quotes immediately. My company spends hundreds of hours each year trying to educate consumers on why we cannot provide them with an immediate quote. We explain the need to have a home energy audit done, along with the need for a heat loss/gain calculation and, depending on the scale of the renovation, maybe even a new duct design.

This often makes callers angry, causing some to shout vulgarities and slam down the phone. What these consumers don’t understand is that their actions actually saved me money. Most likely, these customers will wind-up with a company who will give them exactly what they want at the cost of never fully realizing the true energy savings and full life expectancy from their new system.

Another big problem is that too many homeowners are acting as their own general contractor. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that many don’t fully comprehend their role or responsibility as a general contractor. Further, when consumers encounter poor quality workmanship or jobs that have gone bad, they often scream that they have been taken advantage of even though it was they who did not do their homework.

It is also time for the trade to think about the following: Even if we take the time to conduct an in-home heat loss/gain calculation in the retrofit marketplace, we still find ourselves having to guess insulation values, wall construction, and air leakage. The air leakage number could make up 60 percent of the total heat or cooling required for the home. During my 34 years in this industry, that kind of in-home sizing is archaic and has no place in our high-efficiency world, especially when we have in-home energy audits being performed that can more accurately determine the heat loss/gain of the home.

IMPLEMENTING SERVICE

Let’s be clear, I am all for conducting heat loss/gain calculations and duct and ventilation designs, but for a fee. Why are we not implementing these services? As far as duct designers are concerned, the industry is in need of young people to take the reins and offer these specialty services to HVAC contractors. Given that a vast majority of HVACR contractors simply do not have the time and resources, there is a demand and a market.

By no means am I suggesting that I have all the answers, but as an industry, contractors are long overdue to have this discussion and further debate the issue. The time has come to stop beating ourselves up and accepting responsibility for everything under the building envelope.

Publication date: 05/25/2009

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