Commissioning Grows in Two Sectors

June 15, 2009
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On the commercial side, third-party professionals are needed to verify that commissioned, recommissioned, or retrocommissioned buildings achieve their intended goals. (Photo courtesy of NEBB.)


The trend towards quality control in HVAC installations might be opening up a new opportunity associated with the market, on both the residential and commercial-industrial sides: the inspection professional.

On the residential side, utilities and municipalities require third-party verifiers in order to ensure that installations meet standards set by guidelines (for instance, ACCA’s Quality Installation [QI] specification and NEBB programs). On the commercial side, third-party professionals are needed to verify that commissioned, recommissioned, or retrocommissioned buildings achieve their intended goals.

In order to give uniformity to its QI inspections, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) created - what else? - a standard for the inspections.

“This is an entirely new standard,” said Glenn Hourahan. “The ‘HVAC Quality Installation Specification’ details what needs to be done when sizing, selecting, and installing HVAC equipment to ensure that a quality job was effected.”

OPPORTUNITIES

There are big opportunities for this type of work, due to incentives such as those in the government stimulus package. According to Mike Dolim, executive VP of the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB), “a large chunk will go to the General Services Administration for new construction and existing facilities retrocommissioning; a lot of that money coming down will require commissioning [Cx] or retrocommissioning [RxCx].”

NEBB certifies companies that perform commissioning. “They are third-party people,” Dolim said. “They get involved in the process very early. We’re also there in the post-construction warranty phase. We’ve been involved in this since 1992; with the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) requirements that buildings will be commissioned, our guys are taking up a lot more business.” As of now, he said, 120 have been certified.

The residential side is starting to certify its post-construction inspections. “The QI Verification Protocols (QIvp) defines how third-party efforts are to verify in the field that the QI Spec was actually obtained,” said Hourahan. “The QI Spec is a roadmap for installing contractors, and the QIvp is the roadmap for program administrators (e.g., utilities, municipalities, etc.) and third-party verifiers (e.g., ResNet, HERS, etc.).”

Contractors and others can use the QIvp as the basis for their own in-house quality efforts, he said.

Does this have the potential to create jobs? “Absolutely,” said Wes Davis, ACCA’s manager of technical services. “At least it could offer a shift in career. If I’m a technician and I don’t want to go on the roofs or the hot attics, but I don’t want to start my own business, maybe I could start as a verifier. You’re still taking those measurements, but you’re not spending as much time there.”

RESIDENTIAL SIDE

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has incorporated the requirements of the ACCA QI Specification into its QI Energy Star program, which a number of utilities around the country are adopting. Energy Star (and hence the utilities) will be using QIvp as the basis for their QI Energy Star verifications.

The QIvp helps determine whether or not an HVAC system has been installed properly. It has been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as a national standard. It explains how to conduct an installation verification and establishes the minimum requirements to evaluate HVAC system installations.

The standard’s requirements include minimum sampling rates, evaluation procedures, and documentation. It also defines the primary roles and responsibilities for the main participants in the verification process - contractors, verifiers, and administrators.

According to ACCA, QI verification efforts may be implemented by trade associations, municipalities, utilities, equipment manufacturers, or groups of HVAC contractors seeking to differentiate themselves.

The verification is “a necessary part of a good QI verification program,” said Davis. “If Davis Heating and Air is in Podunk City, there may not be a third party in the area to make sure I’m following the QI program. In larger metropolitan areas, there are other people sponsoring the program. It helps guide them, if you will.

“It’s one more step in leveling the playing field,” he said. “There are roles and responsibilities that each player has. It expounds much more on the verifier and administrator. The QI standard itself is the installer’s reference.”

USED AS A TOOL

The new specification has benefits beyond their use as verification for compliance with various programs. For example, “Resnet and the others look at the whole house,” said Davis; “with this tool they could look beyond the duct leakage and the efficiency rating on the equipment. They can look at how well it’s performing,” because the verification protocol goes beyond measuring duct leakage and combustion efficiency.

“Let’s imagine that in your house your ducts have been sealed to the nth degree, but they were too small,” said Davis. “It affects the refrigerant charge and the temperature rise. It would have a big effect on your comfort, which could effect how you operate your thermostat.” The ducts might be tight, but they’re only effective if they are in proportion to the rest of the system.

Evaluating system performance using the verification protocol may turn up problems that the consumer isn’t ready to address immediately, but they may appreciate knowing about. “You may not be able to address it right now, but you would want to know so that you could start saving your nickels,” said Davis.

“The QI is the best troubleshooting tool,” he added. QIvp “is the best tool in the hands of the third-party verifier.”

The benefits to contractors having jobs verified through this program, he said, is being able to substantiate the quality of work they provide, and possibly debunk the wild claims of others. “In my opinion, there are a lot of folks who make great claims about their performance,” Davis said. “This settles it. Let’s measure it. Some people make claims and the system doesn’t perform. This separates the posers from the real installers.”

Some program administrators are starting to point to those contractors that have proven their skills in installing HVAC systems. “They’ve verified enough of these systems to know that they have a competence level,” Davis said. “That gives customers a way to differentiate between those that do perform.”

There is no rating for verifiers yet. “The protocols outline skill sets that the verifiers should have,” he said. “We list the documentation that they should have, documentation that would demonstrate that they know what they’re talking about.”

COMMERCIAL SIDE

There are similarities to commissioning on the commercial side, but the verification to be provided by the Cx authority needs have been established, said NEBB’s Dolim.

“The Cx authority can be any number of different parties,” he explained. “Within NEBB, a lot of our balancing authorities become Cx agents.

“It is heavily steeped in the concept that you have to be technically sound,” he said. “We’re calling ourselves the technical Cx.” Some commissioning agents may use a lot of forms, “but where the rubber hits the road for us is to be able to test the systems,” Dolim said. The required knowledge base may include controls, construction experiences, how things should operate, and more. “These systems are very complex. There is a great deal of subsystem interaction.

“We’re moving towards the whole-building Cx approach,” he continued. “We started in HVAC, then added electrical, special electrical, plumbing, and building envelope. Total building Cx is where the field is moving.”

Problems uncovered during Cx and RxCx often lead to energy savings, but not always. “More often than not we do save energy,” said Dolim. “In RxCx, nine times out of 10 you will go through the buildings and you will save energy. You will find cases where people are not comfortable, but the objective is to help the building meet current building requirements.”

RxCx or recommissioning (RCx) is especially important for buildings that have gone through space reconfigurations to meet changing tenant needs. “So many buildings out there have gone through multiple uses, multiple tenants, and have been reconfigured, and you walk in today and you need to go in and examine how the building is used and who the tenants are,” Dolim said. “You may now be overcooling some areas of the building, and you find that you really are not meeting the current needs.” RxCx can give building owners a competitive advantage in today’s market.

Cx authorities need to be recertified, he said. The process includes documentation of past experience, and taking a series of exams (such as air and hydronic systems and the basics of Cx). “Through that process a company becomes NEBB certified.”

Whether in the residential or commercial market, contractors can benefit from having their quality work commissioned and verified. Or, they may want to learn more about how to commission systems. It keeps propelling the industry in the right direction, and gives contractors a competitive edge.

For more information, visit www.acca.org/quality and www.nebb.org.

Publication date: 06/15/2009

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