ACHRNEWS

California Utility Breaks Ground With Quality Installations

November 30, 2009
Participating contractors must be recognized by NATE as one of their C3 contractors, and they must attend SCE’s training, which walks them through the QI process.


Perhaps the greatest active proponent of Quality Installation (QI) guidelines has been Southern California Edison (SCE). The utility’s Energy Star® QI program helps make sure homeowners are getting the performance they expect, from a system that performs efficiently.

The program’s goal is to reduce or eliminate common installation problems such as low airflow, improper refrigerant charge, and duct leakage. Energy Star has adopted the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Quality Installation Standard as the basic guideline for its program.

SCE provides a rebate of up to $1,250 to customers, and additional incentives to the installing contractor, after the equipment is installed. Federal tax credits may be available for split systems that meet Tier 3 efficiency (SEER 16/EER 13). For all other equipment types, equipment must meet Tier 2 efficiency (see Table 1).

The core areas include:

• Equipment aspects such as building heat gain/loss load calculations, equipment capacity selection, and matched components (indoor and outdoor).

• Installation aspects such as airflow, refrigeration charge, and electrical requirements.

• Duct distribution aspects, such as duct leakage and air balance.

• Documentation aspects, such as proper system documentation and owner education.

The program began April 15 and already has 62 participating contractors, according to SCE’s Paul Kyllo. “In order to participate, contractors must be recognized by NATE as one of their C3 contractors (a minimum of 50 percent of their techs are NATE-certified),” explained Kyllo. “They are also required to attend our program training, which walks them through the QI process, as well as our documentation and verification processes.”

Table 1.

As of October, 23 installations have passed and 14 have failed, said Kyllo. “We have another 88 jobs pending.”

Of the 14 installations that failed:

• Nine failed the load calculations (they were oversized).

• Five failed on inspection, principally due to airflow issues.

The benefits of QI, said Kyllo, include better comfort and performance delivered by the customer’s system. “This is accomplished by ensuring that contractors follow industry-established design, equipment selection, and installation practices, plus the added quality control through SCE’s inspection process,” he said.

Energy savings haven’t been assessed yet, but “the potential impact would be much larger if you consider that we are seeing old, 10 SEER equipment being replaced with 17 to 19 SEER equipment, plus we oftentimes see equipment downsized by about 0.5 ton.”

Contractors may need guidance in creating a commissioning process: documenting that correct procedures and testing have been followed (above and below).

CONTRACTOR ADVISORS

SCE’s Chris Ganimian spends most of his days in the field, working with contractors who participate in the program.” I’ve probably been onsite with eight to 10 different contractors.” One area where many need guidance, he said, is in creating a commissioning process - in short, documenting that correct procedures have been followed and testing to ensure that correct system operating parameters have been achieved.

“Most don’t have the skills and tools to do complete commissioning,” said Ganimian. He guides them on what tools to use, how to get the values for superheat and subcooling for each manufacturer’s equipment, and how to reach those values from the information the manufacturer supplies to them.

“Currently we’ve been going to the jobsites on the work contractors are doing through the program,” he said. Other tasks he shows them include how to take all the measurements, fill out the forms, etc. “It’s not that complicated, but it’s not what contractors are used to doing. There’s some information they are not used to collecting.”

The utility is creating a form the installers can carry easily with them, along with an electronic form that performs calculations automatically. “Measurements that go outside of certain parameters will flash a warning,” he said. “Either they measured something wrong or something was wrong with the number. We’re trying to cut down on handwritten forms,” though the utility is aware that sometimes a piece of paper is preferable to carrying a laptop into certain locations, like attics.

The automatic warnings are important, Ganimian said. “When your tolerances are as close as they are in this program, one decimal point makes a difference. It’s easier for the evaluator too” - program verifiers who visit the jobsite.

A few major areas of misunderstanding, Ganimian said, include:

1. Lack of knowledge - for instance, system capacity and EER. “That’s pretty foreign to most contractors.”

2. Identifying the manufacturer’s charging procedures and how to identify superheat and subcooling.

3. Methodologies used to directly measure evaporator airflow. For this they need fan performance data from the manufacturer and appropriate tools. “It’s really a system-by-system evaluation,” he said. “We’re also finding that a lot of manufacturers are not providing good fan speed data, particularly for variable-speed furnaces.”

Contractors may assume that these systems can overcome variables, such as those created by leaky ductwork or air-cleaning systems that create high-static pressure drop, but “it isn’t necessarily the case,” he said. “Even if these ECM motors can overcome it, it still adds to higher electrical consumption and early motor failure due to overheating” - both of which defeat the purpose of the program.

Regarding tools, “We have published standards for the accuracy of tools, but there’s a wide price range,” Ganimian said. “I try to recommend that contractors spend as much money as they can afford on the highest quality tool they can afford, and check their calibration regularly.”

Old, inaccurate tools, he said, contribute to measurements that sometimes are way off. More accurate tools also improve system longevity and customer satisfaction. Even though the cost of the tools is higher, he said, they provide value in customer satisfaction and reduced callbacks so that they quickly pay for themselves.

“One thing I’m a stickler on is the resolution of the tools,” he said; higher is better. “Guessing between the numbers on a gauge is not acceptable.”

GETTING THE REBATE

The utility’s Website recommends that homeowners contact at least three contractors using the Energy Star quality installation checklist (www.energystar.gov), and ask them to provide a proposal to replace the system following the QI guidelines.

“Examine each proposal using the checklist and discuss the best installation options to meet the requirements for your home,” the Website advises. SCE advises customers to ask the bidding contractors to commit to providing a QI before the customer commits to buying the new system.

Pulling the necessary permits from the local building department is another requirement in order for customers to get their rebate from the utility. “A/c installations performed without proof that a permit was issued by the local jurisdiction will not be eligible for a rebate.”

Once the new system is installed according to program requirements, the contractor must provide the necessary supporting documentation to SCE. The utility may also conduct an independent verification of the installation to ensure that all the program requirements are met. “If there are any requirements still not met, SCE will inform the contractor to ensure they are corrected.”

Once the system passes inspection, SCE sends the customer an Energy Star QI certificate and rebate by mail.

Finally, the utility advises that “in order to maintain optimal operation throughout the life of the equipment, proper maintenance and servicing should be conducted as recommended by the installing contractor.”

Publication date: 11/30/2009