On The Job: Profiles in QA
Numerous contractors have already been through the QA program and are actively using its elements to ensure customers receive a quality HVAC installation each and every time. But they are not the only ones to benefit from the knowledge gained in the QA program — home energy raters and home builders also appreciate the program, noting that it will lead to better construction practices and happier homeowners.
Two contractors, a rater, and builder share how the QA program has benefited their business.
The Contractor Perspective No. 1
Cooper Heating and Cooling, Denver, is a full-service residential and commercial contracting firm that offers plumbing, HVAC, and electrical services. The sales breakdown for the company is about 35 percent residential new construction, 50 percent residential retrofit, and 15 percent commercial service. The firm has been involved with the Energy Star Qualified New Homes Program since 2004 and has installed mechanical systems in approximately 100 homes under the program.
Even though the new construction market has slowed down, it made sense for Joe Colburn, HVAC system designer and service manager, to become certified through the QA program. “I feel the Energy Star program will make better-quality homes, and if it starts to become more of a standard, we may be able to weed out some of the two-guys-in-a-truck-with-no-qualifications contractors.”
That being said, Colburn believes that homeowners have caused some of the problems associated with the construction industry, as they are typically looking for the biggest homes with the most features they can get at the lowest price possible. “Energy Star homes cost more to build and add value to the construction, but there are no tangible items that prospective homeowners see on a walk-through of a model home. They really won’t realize the genuine impact of an Energy Star-rated home until they have lived there for a year — this is when an Energy Star home shines in comparison to the standard tract-built nonrated home. If new homeowners would demand Energy Star-rated homes and be willing to lose some of the other frills such as fancy floor coverings and countertops to get it, the builders would provide the service.”
Colburn currently works with two homebuilders who will use Version 3 of the Energy Star Qualified New Homes Program, which is one of the reasons he signed up for the QA program. “These builders are in a slow market and trying anything they can to sell their product. Unfortunately, they are still competing against homes that are not Energy Star rated and are built for less cost. Until homeowners really understand the actual value of Energy Star labeled homes and start requesting them, or until the government drives the market to higher standards, Energy Star will have a tough road.”
While the new construction market has yet to rebound, Colburn noted that the QA program will allow his company to bid on projects where the builder is trying to sell an Energy Star rated home. “HVAC contractors are in the business to make money, so we will do anything extra to increase sales and profit margins. The rules state that you have to be credentialed to work on Energy Star homes, which is why it is necessary to sign up for the QA program.”
The Contractor Perspective No. 2
Advanced Air and Refrigeration, Fort Myers, Fla., specializes in residential and light commercial sales and service. Given the fairly depressed construction market in southwestern Florida, the company is not currently involved in any new construction; however, that could change as the economy recovers, noted company president, William Blaze. “In the past, new construction was a large part of our business — approximately 70 percent. If conditions do favor new construction, the QA program will ensure that we are positioned appropriately.”
Blaze signed up for the ACCA QA program as soon as it became available and completed the course in San Antonio. “After seeing the program, I had more confidence that it was something tangible, not simply some nice document to sign. The program’s processes and procedures were solid and well thought out, and it lays a solid foundation for quality work that is currently absent in our industry.”
The course was not too challenging for Blaze, as his company had already developed its own processes and procedures that fit the ACCA QA program. “We simply took our processes and improved them along the QA program guidelines. The difficult part will be to make sure everyone follows through — to ensure the ongoing training and accountability are maintained. It doesn’t matter how well you install a system if you don’t understand ACCA Manual J or how well you design a system if you fail to install it properly and check it after installation.”
Blaze is looking forward to Version 3 of Energy Star’s Qualified New Homes Program, as it requires all new homes to be systematically designed and installed so that repeatable results are achieved. “Should we re-enter new construction in the future, we will only work with builders demanding ES Version 3 or an ACCA QA contractor. This will ensure that we are competing on a level playing field and that a quality product is delivered every time, which are true benefits for the consumer. For the HVAC contractor, Version 3 results in a repeatable process that produces a quality product every time, which obviously translates into more profit, happier customers, and growth.”
Even if contractors are not involved with new construction, as is the case with Advanced Air and Refrigeration, Blaze said the QA program is worth investing in, as it pushes the HVAC industry to maintain high levels of quality. “This applies to whether you are in new construction or the add-on/replacement market. Implementing and using the QA program takes time and money, and the sooner you invest, the sooner you will see results.”
A Rater’s Perspective
Since 1999, D.R. Wastchak, LLC, Tempe, Ariz., has performed home energy ratings for new homes participating in the EPA’s Energy Star for New Homes program, LEED for Homes program, and other local utility programs. The company also provides ratings for existing homes, as well as home performance evaluations/audits, computer energy modeling for code compliance reporting for home builders, and energy-efficiency consulting for specialty projects on new and existing homes. In its 12 years in business, D.R. Wastchak, LLC, has rated over 20,000 homes for local utility programs, almost 55,000 Energy Star homes in Arizona, and approximately 1,000 Energy Star homes in Seattle.
Even though new construction is down, Daran Wastchak, president of D.R. Wastchak LLC, noted that certifying new homes for the local utility programs and Energy Star has remained the company’s bread and butter. “In fact, the changes and upgrades to the Energy Star for New Homes program this year and next are a key element of our company’s growth. That’s because Version 3 requires a reanalysis of every one of our homebuilder’s plans to establish compliance with the new floating HERS Index. As a result, our scope of testing, inspection, and administrative services per Energy Star rated home has increased by an estimated 25 to 30 percent. We have even started a new training company, Learning Edge LLC, which provides the Version 3 rater training that is now mandated by EPA for every home energy rater and field inspector.”
Wastchak is excited about Version 3 of the Energy Star program because he believes many of its requirements are long overdue. “I like the comprehensiveness of the checklists and that the EPA has finally tackled the proper installation of HVAC systems. In the past, HVAC system sizing and installation received a passing glance but not enough to make any meaningful change. However, the new HVAC Quality Installation checklists move the HVAC system to center stage, so not only do HVAC contractors have to know how to do their jobs right, they are forced to put it in writing, double-check their own work in the field, then be subjected to a rater’s verification that they did what they said they would do. This is a significant paradigm shift in how HVAC systems are installed in homes, and the buyers of Energy Star Version 3 homes will be the direct beneficiaries.”
While HVAC contractors who want to work on Energy Star Version 3 homes must sign up with an EPA-recognized program, such as ACCA’s QA program, raters are not required to complete the HVAC QA training. Wastchak went through ACCA’s QA program anyway, so he could share some of the information with the raters he trains for Version 3, and he was impressed by what he saw.
“ACCA’s QA program has made me much more knowledgeable about HVAC in general, and this will be the same for all raters who were not already involved in the HVAC design and commissioning side of the home building process. The result of the QA program is that we should see higher quality workmanship when we do our testing and inspections, which in turn should make our jobs a little bit easier.”
Even though the QA program is required for participation in Version 3 homes, Wastchak believes ACCA’s program will have a positive effect on the entire HVAC industry. “I think that the ACCA QA program, as it is embedded in the Energy Star program, is inevitably going to raise the bar on HVAC installation quality. HVAC contractors are being pushed further than ever before, in much higher numbers, to do quality installations. Those who participate will gain the benefits of operating at a higher level, and those who do not participate are going to find themselves falling behind, if not left behind.”
A Homebuilder’s Perspective
The Beazer Homes heritage dates back as early as the 17th century in England, where the Beazer family started as masons, and through nine generations, continues to build homes. Beazer Homes came to the United States in 1986 and went public in 1994. Currently, it builds homes in 16 states across the country: California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It is a top 10 production builder of single family, condominium, and townhome communities.
According to Jim Moore, vice president of QA, Purchasing and Construction Services, Beazer Homes, the company began building 100 percent Energy Star homes — at no additional cost to homebuyers — in 2011. “Several of our divisions have been building Energy Star homes for years, even before we started building it in 100 percent of our homes. At this point, we’ve built several thousand Energy Star homes, with thousands more being built every year.”
Moore noted that even though some buyers — particularly first-time buyers — do not fully comprehend the benefits of Energy Star homes, they do want energy-efficient features. “Once they start living in our homes, they soon realize how efficiently they operate and how that translates into lower utility bills every month. This is especially important in today’s economy.”
With Version 3, the focus is really on the design and performance of the HVAC system, which is the natural evolution for Energy Star and one that Beazer welcomes, said Moore. “We’ve been researching ways to improve HVAC efficiency for years, from the tight construction of the outer envelope all the way to the ductwork system. In implementing Version 3, our approach will be as it has always been, to educate our builders and subcontractors so they are up to speed on all the changes to the requirements and Beazer’s own processes.”
The QA program will help with that education process, said Moore, because “it will serve as a roadmap and reminder to our HVAC contractors that will help us ensure that we’re providing our homebuyers with HVAC systems that provide the greatest efficiency and performance. The HVAC system is a vital part of a home’s efficiency, and at the end of the day, we’re trying to provide the most efficient home possible at an affordable price.”
Moore added that the QA program will also reduce errors and ensure that the homebuilder is installing the right system, on schedule, and on budget. This allows homebuilders like Beazer to keep its costs down and pass the savings on to home buyers.
HVAC contractors should consider signing up for the QA program, because all homebuilders want to work with the best in the industry, said Moore. “Beazer is no exception. As we look to where the code is going by 2030 — to building net-zero homes — we have to be thinking about who we want to take with us. Partnering with the right HVAC contractors gives us the competitive edge. We’re a team.”
Publication date: 11/28/2011