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California Contractors Find Ways to Avoid Title 24's Regulations

April 10, 2006
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Title 24 continues to baffle me as it twists and turns from the San Diego dunes through the Silicon Valley to the great Redwoods of Northern California. The program has many facets, most of which are intended to reduce energy usage in the state. The portion of the program that pertains to HVAC falls under what is known as Title 24, Part 6. It could be a good program, but currently it is not.

If you don't live in California why should you care or bother to read the rest of this indictment? Much of what happens in California often comes to a neighborhood near you.

There are 16 climate zones in the state according to the California Energy Commission (CEC), and gaping loopholes for nearly every one of them with which contractors can escape the commission's regulations. In fact, if one bothers to do the math, there are dozens of ways in which to avoid the jaws of Title 24. It more nearly approaches the number of combinations one can order a burger from Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers - 256 - and I tried every one of them from 1980 through 1982. I could dog a triple in less than two minutes. It wasn't the healthiest of my formative years, but I survived.

I'm not sure how healthy Title 24 will be for California HVAC contractors, and I don't know that it will survive in its current form.

THE PROBLEM WITH REGULATIONS

In a world governed by suggestions, recommendations, codes, rules, regulations, mandates, and laws, it's no wonder that compliance is often helter-skelter. It's also no wonder that there is a lack of enforcement for so many bizarre variations of governance - the underlying reason why compliance is so rare.

In effect, Title 24 acts more like a voluntary program for HVAC contractors than the mandatory proposition that it really is. How so? According to the CEC itself, fewer than 15 percent of the 14,000 California HVAC contractors currently apply for building permits. Therefore, 85 percent of them can't be effectively tracked for Title 24 compliance. Of course, failing to pull a permit is against California law and punishable by a $500 fine. Evidently, a lot of contractors have already determined it is worth the risk. Now that Title 24, Part 6 has begun (October 2005) for the California HVAC industry, it will be interesting to see if the number of permits pulled on jobs increases or decreases.

The 15 percent of contractors that are playing by the rules are already being penalized in the competitive marketplace. Title 24 throws another hurdle in their path with the additional requirement of duct sealing. The other 85 percent of contractors are likely to continue with their avoidance tendencies. Will the good guys remain good through all the disadvantages?

THE LOOPHOLES

There is no doubt that reducing duct leakage is one important aspect for ensuring the efficiency of a comfort system. However, it doesn't ensure proper airflow which is an area that is given short shrift in Title 24. Be that as it may, the CEC could have created a more effective means for enforcing the duct sealing aspect of the program. Instead, nearly all 16 climate zones have exemptions from the residential requirement including no reason at all, to the installation of expansion valves, 92 percent AFUE gas furnaces, or 13 SEER products. All of which have very little to do with preventing duct leakage.

In the jargon of political negotiations: There appears to have been some pork in the California barrel.

Regardless, California will make some progress with the Title 24 program, and you can all hope that by the time it makes its way to your borders many of the bugs will have been worked out. In the meantime, California will struggle with permits, licensing, and even with homeowners who might not really understand why one contractor promotes duct sealing and another does not. This puts a new twist on the Pareto Principle also known as the 80/20 Rule; in California it might come to be known as the 85/15 Rule, or eventually as the 95/5 Rule.

To compound the frustration, a sample of contractors' work will be checked by third-party verification companies, Home Energy Rating Service (HERS) raters, for those jobs that can be tracked. However, the prerequisite to become a HERS rater in the state is suspect. When asked about the requirement a CEC official replied, "Can you breathe?"

The California Energy Commission might want to reconsider how their actions are reshaping the HVAC landscape in their state. The vision may have been laudable; the outcome is potentially horrendous.

Mike Murphy, Editor-In-Chief, 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), mikemurphy@achrnews.com

Publication date: 04/10/2006

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