“Due to a poor understanding by building owners/operators of the value that professional contractors and quality installations offer, there is a consumer market for an unlicensed, or poorly trained, or otherwise unqualified individual or business to install HVAC systems,” said Ray Isaac, 2008-09 chairman of ACCA and owner of Isaac Heating and Cooling, Rochester, N.Y.
“Uninformed consumers are left to experience the inevitable inconveniences and expenses of a poorly designed and poorly functioning HVAC system,” he continued. “Manufacturers experience higher warranty costs, and utilities face escalating demands for power.”
These circumstances are fueling a groundswell of support for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) HVAC Quality Installation (QI) Standard among educators, utilities, federal/state/municipal entities, and the general trade. Whether improving an existing system or installing a new one, the QI Standard details performance levels, approved procedures, and documentation requirements.
CONTRACTOR ACCEPTANCE“The QI Standard focuses on the actual installation: how well the equipment is selected and installed,” said Isaac. “You know that a high-efficiency installation is more than just using high-efficiency equipment and systems,” he told a group of high school counselors and educators during an Isaac-sponsored lunch to inform them about the HVAC industry. “You want your students to recognize all the factors that have a large impact on occupant satisfaction, our environment, and energy conservation.”
Core areas addressed by the specification include equipment (building heat gain/loss load calculations, proper equipment capacity selection, matched split systems), duct distribution (duct leakage, airflow balance), equipment installation (airflow across the indoor coil, refrigerant charge, electrical requirements, on-rate for gas-fired equipment, combustion venting system, system controls), and system documentation and owner education.
A key to getting the QI Standard supported by those who will implement it - professional HVAC contractors - is to make sure they understand the benefits involved by following it. Adam Stamp, production manager for Stark Air, is completely sold on it. He recently told the audience at the Affordable Comfort Institute’s conference that after implementing QI the company’s callbacks went down to zero.
He said the firm began following the QI Standard as part of the Oncor pilot program for EnergyStar™. He said it began using a warranty technician to ensure that the system replacements met the QI Standard, followed by Paul Wieboldt, Tradewinds Appropriate Technologies, coming out to verify the installations.
Pretty soon there were no more warranty calls. He said they have almost completely eliminated their warranty costs, they have improved their installation crew’s performance, and Stark Air has a rock-solid image in the community.
“The QI Standard is a key step in raising contractor professionalism,” said Richard Dean (chair of the Verification Protocols Committee and past ACCA national chairman). “The QI establishes the bar by which HVAC installations will be measured. ACCA believes in the QI so strongly that it has made the QI Standard available for free download.”
CONTRACTOR SUPPORTSpeaking of free downloads, the ACCA QI Webpage also contains other free downloadable QI-related information, like consumer-oriented checklists. These checklists are aimed at helping consumers identify and select contractors who follow the QI Standard. They offer questions for each stage of the installation, discuss the importance of each QI aspect, and the benefits of doing each one correctly.
Another supporting document for the QI Standard isThe Technician’s Guide for Quality Installations, which is available from the ACCA bookstore.
This guide was written for those contractors and technicians who are unfamiliar with the procedures available to take the necessary measurements required in the QI Standard (e.g., measure airflow, refrigerant charge, combustion rate). This compendium document describes the different procedures in sufficient detail that contractors can decide which procedure would best suit their needs.
After the HVAC system is installed correctly, it is also necessary to ensure that it is properly maintained. The national standard for residential quality maintenance (QM) is ACCA 4 - Maintenance for Residential HVAC Systems.
This document was written by a diverse group of contractors, manufacturers, and other industry professionals. It was reviewed by over 40 contractors and industry stakeholders and is selling like hot cakes. For commercial HVAC systems, the ASHRAE/ACCA Standard 180 is expected to be released later this summer.
VERIFYING INSTALLATIONSBillionaire businessman Warren Buffet said, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you discover who’s been swimming naked.” A recent straw poll of ACCA members showed that 93 percent of contractors believe some sort of verification should be performed to ensure everyone who claims to meet the QI Standard actually does.
Some level of verification is necessary to transform the HVAC marketplace, contends Glenn Hourahan, ACCA vice president of research and technology. “It is also recognized that the primary drivers for a quality HVAC contractor to participate in a voluntary QI program is the desire to differentiate him from other HVAC contractors and to maintain profit margins in line with higher-quality work effort.”
He continued, “A spectrum of possible compliance options range from self-verification by the installing technician to 100 percent in-field inspection by a credible independent party.” With this in mind, ACCA has begun developing the protocols for verifying an HVAC system installation has met the QI Standard. These protocols would serve as the framework for a program administrator to build their verification effort around. With the QI Standard and the verification protocols, a program administrator should have what is necessary to build a successful QI program.
Earlier this year, the EPA released an EnergyStar® program based on the ACCA QI Specification. Participants in the program will be required to meet some level of verification; either a job-file review or a job-file review and an in-field verification. Texas utility Oncor is the first program administrator to sign on. Its success in the 2007 pilot program has fueled a renewed interest in ensuring compliance with the QI Standard. EPA EnergyStar program administrator Ted Leopkey said, “We welcome more programs, the field is wide open.”
HERE TO STAYThe QI Standard was developed by the HVAC industry for the HVAC industry. The standard is gaining acceptance by professional contractors as they compare increased benefits to the small changes in business operations. This is the new standard that interested parties are examining as part of verification programs; programs which may lead to contractor accreditation. The standard of care is driving change and recognition for professional contractors. The QI Standard is here to stay.
The QI Spec is available for free download at www.acca.org/quality. Contact Chris Hoelzell at 703-824-8851 or firstname.lastname@example.org for special quantity pricing for printed versions.