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Why BPI? Where is NATE? Where is HVAC Excellence?

May 17, 2010
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Mike Murphy

Home Star is a proposed new national weatherization incentive program, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on May 6. It must now pass the U.S. Senate before becoming law. This initiative establishes a $6 billion rebate program to help homeowners invest in improving the energy efficiency, comfort, durability, and safety of their homes.

It is a great effort, with a strong tailwind because it is touted as a jobs bill that will create jobs in both construction and manufacturing in local communities across the country. Legislators are ripe for creating jobs in their home districts, and might get in a hurry to vote on this one. They need to be slowed down.

There is one issue associated with the wording of the bill which troubles me, and no disrespect intended to the Building Performance Institute (BPI), but where are the other certifying and/or accrediting bodies such as North American Technician Excellence (NATE), HVAC Excellence, Green Mechanical Council, or the input from higher learning institutions such as Ferris State University, or testing experts such as National Comfort Institute?

BPI has been able to create a tremendous amount of good publicity for the Home Star program and is to be commended for that effort. However, the language of the House bill only allows for “an approved equivalent” regarding providers rather than specifically listing others in the HVACR industry, in addition to BPI, as being able to provide certifications or accreditations required in the bill.

BPI was first at the dance, lobbied Congress well, and has done a lot of work on regional utility programs with good results. However, this proposed legislation is of national impact. Currently, 92 percent of BPI-accredited contractors are located in only two states, New York and New Jersey. Thirty-six states do not have any BPI-accredited contractors currently located within their borders, according to information from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

The Senate version of this bill must be passed without an “exclusion of other industry bodies,” said Jerry Weiss, executive director, HVAC Excellence. “Innovation and improvement disappear when things become exclusionary.”

“Because of serious problems with the proposed legislation, ACCA cannot endorse the Home Star legislation as it is currently written,” read a prepared statement from John Sedine, ACCA chairman, and Paul Stalknecht, ACCA president and CEO.

The Senate vote is scheduled for mid-June, so now is the time for your voice to be heard.

NUTS, BOLTS, AND LIMITATIONS

Home Star will offer two different incentive levels - Gold Star and Silver Star. The Gold Level has indications of exclusionary language, which would limit involvement of contractors, and even provide for the possibility that one party could provide the energy audit, make the recommended improvements, and then perform the final test-out inspection.

According to information from the BPI website, “The $1.7 billion Gold Star level is a two-year program that features the highest incentive amounts offered and will be available only for whole-home improvement projects. A BPI Building Analyst Certified Professional or a Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) qualified rater (or an approved equivalent) can perform the test-in/test-out energy audit assessments and comprehensive home performance assessment before work begins, then develop and prioritize improvement measures specific to the needs of the particular house. And only BPI Gold Star Accredited Contractors (or another accreditation approved by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy) can implement energy efficiency improvement measures.”

When the work is complete, the same certified analyst or rater returns to the house to conduct the test-out energy audit.

The program provides up to $3,000 in incentives for a 20 percent improvement in a home’s energy performance, and an additional $1,000 for each additional 5 percent improvement. Up to 50 percent of the entire project cost (capped at $8,000) is available to homeowners.

ACTION NEEDED

Currently, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) are working on behalf of the industry to change the Senate version of the bill, and several industry associations are lobbying to seek changes in the language. There is a reason for this activity, not the least of which is the exclusionary language can end up being divisive in the industry and destructive for the eventual Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010.

Publication date: 05/17/2010
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