For nearly a decade, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) has been taking steps toward developing a program to recognize work done by quality HVAC contractors.
After years of hard work, the ACCA QA Residential Service & Installation (RSI) program has finally been unveiled.
“It seeks to identify, recognize, and promote contractors who follow certain business practices and, most importantly, install HVAC systems that meet the industry standard,” said Wes Davis, vice president of quality assured programs, ACCA.
The ACCA QA RSI program is designed to be a contractor accreditation program for contractors that wish to show their customers in the residential replacement marketplace that they follow the acceptable guidelines for quality HVAC installation, according to ACCA documents.
“We went through a methodical, step-by-step process to get where we are today,” Davis said. “We first had to identify what is a quality HVAC system installation. Manufacturers’ installation instructions, code requirements, and good industry practices were rolled together, and a coalition of industry stakeholders was brought together to develop a standard that said, ‘If we’re going to install an HVAC system, then it should meet these minimum requirements.’
“Then we had several conversations and meetings with contractors, manufacturers, distributors, and the efficiency groups, where we received a lot of guidance and input. This information was reviewed by our QA steering committee, which is a governing body of contractors that provides oversight and direction for program development. All of the groups contributed to develop the best program we could using the industry’s standards.”
The main focus of the RSI program is positioning contractors to perform jobs that meet the ACCA 5 QI Standard, or a certificate-ready quality installation. Recognition is based upon two program documents: QA contractor elements and QA participant requirements. The guidelines used by contractors in this program are established in the national standard, ANSI/ACCA 5 QI – 2010, HVAC Quality Installation Specification.
To become accredited, contractors must go through an application process, submit necessary documentation, and prove their business is legitimate and meets certain business requirements. They also are required to watch a short video to orient them to the program, Davis said.
“We will also visit the company office to verify the QA Contractor Element requirements. Our site visits, or contractor compliance visits, we call six to eight weeks out and set up a date to go down and look at some of those quality contractor elements, the policies, and procedures that help support doing quality in the field. We want to ensure they’ve got those in place to help ensure quality is delivered in the field, and good operating procedures exist.”
The program, Davis said, has been well received.
“Like most businesspeople, contractors want to understand what’s in it for them, and that’s a fair question,” Davis said. “Even if this accreditation was free, they would need to see value. The value proposition is that this program adds third-party credibility to contractors who want to be recognized for doing quality work.”
Rob Minnick, CEO/president, Minnick’s Heating and Cooling, Laurel, Md., said one of the best things about this program is it holds contractors accountable for the jobs they perform. He said he’s seen many programs where you attend a few classes, get a certificate, and you’re accredited. The RSI program is different, as it requires third-party verification.
“It’s making sure they are doing their due diligence and making sure they install the system properly,” said Minnick, who was among the first contractors to become certified through the program.
“It’s a great thing to hold people accountable who care, and for customers who care about having a quality contractor.”
That verification is a big part of the RSI program, something that does help hold contractors accountable.
“We have a network of verifiers that is growing. They will be able to verify a system meets certain requirements and will be documented on a series of checklists that they use,” Davis said.
“Every job has some level of third-party oversight. Sometimes it’s actually visiting a home, taking some measurements and making observations; sometimes it’s a file review. When we see they’ve met the requirements of a field evaluation for three jobs in a row, then most of the designated quality installations receive a file review. There are a minimum number of jobs that must be done (two in the first year). If a contractor applies to be in the program and doesn’t complete any quality installations, those contractors will be cycled out. It is believed that if you want to participate in the program, you need to install some systems that meet the standard.”
Verification will be provided by third-party building science professionals who are accredited RSI HVAC verifiers. A verifier is someone who has passed the ACCA-administered test, or earned the NATE certification (pending), and submitted a complete application that has been reviewed by the QA program.
While the program is starting, an RSI contractor may have an impartial employee earn recognition as an evaluator in order to perform these duties. RSI contractors (who use an employee evaluator) must perform an in-field evaluation on 100 percent of all registered QI jobs and submit the QI job documentation to a verifier for an installation file review.
If there are at least two verifiers within 50 miles (one hour) of a QI job, the contractor must choose one of them to perform the in-field evaluation.
Gary Carmack, energy specialist, All Elements Mechanical, Orlando, Fla., said the RSI program will help get the industry to where it needs to be. “The biggest part is the education side,” Carmack said. “That’s what I really like about our industry. We need to get to that next level. Home performance is it, and RSI is a way to get there.
“When you turn over a system to a consumer, you want it trouble-free, you want a good reputation, and you don’t want to run callbacks or warranty calls. So it all starts with the installation: designing it right, putting it in right, QA’ing it, and commissioning it. I really pushed that because it would reduce our callbacks and warranty issues, and when I saw that Wes was working on this program, I was all over it.”
To maintain their certification in the program, contractors must do two quality installation jobs the first year, and five each year thereafter, with the hope being that consumers will become more familiar with the benefits of having a quality installation job done, making them more common.
Consumer awareness is going to be a big part of making the program successful in the long term.
“We would like to see program sponsors spend a significant portion of any support funding they have on consumer education, so consumers know they need to look for a quality installation,” Davis said. “We want contractors to meet the standard and we want homeowners to look for our certificate to know that key components have been checked and verified.”
But for Davis, getting the program up and running made him ecstatic. “Like a lot of things, the work is never finished,” Davis said. “We still have a lot of things we want to do. Now that the base is in place, we’re beginning to take the concept to other industry stakeholders who can be sponsors and work with them to promote these types of programs.”
Contractors are excited for what the future of the program brings, as well. “I think there’s a lot more to come from it,” Minnick said.
“I’m really looking forward to the adventure and the ride, and once they start getting the certificates out for us to show homeowners, once we really start moving forward, I think it’s a great thing and really holds people accountable for what they install.”
For Carmack, the ability to add this important accreditation to his business is important.
“For the past five years, every little accreditation we’ve added, both company-wise and personally, people hear about it,” Carmack said. “These accreditations make a big difference to the consumer.”
SIDEBAR: Six Steps for ACCA QA RSI
1. Download and review documents. This includes the QA Elements, which is a subset of business practices, participant requirements that outline requirements the company must meet, and participation agreement, which includes eligibility requirements, application procedures, and more.
2. Complete an online orientation class. This class can be accessed at any time by an employee of the company. You do not need to be an ACCA member to participate in the program. After taking and passing the class’s final exam, you will have the ability to complete the online application form.
3. Pay application and participation fees. Before submitting the final application, the fees must be paid (currently discounted at $550 for non-ACCA members and $475 for ACCA members). Companies already in the QA New Homes program can receive a significantly discounted annual fee and no application fee.
4. Complete the application form. The application is lengthy, so be sure to have all the necessary documentation to complete it, including license, certification, and insurance information.
5. Submit application and supporting documents. Submit copies of QA RSI application form, license and registration, certificate of insurance, NATE certifications, EPA cards, and QA RSI participation agreement.
6. Evaluator recognition. As an interim step until there are more verifiers, an employee may be designated to be an evaluator. They must meet certain requirements, and not be involved in any way with a specific installation.
SIDEBAR: Defining Quality Installation
ACCA says, “The contractor shall ensure that HVAC equipment replacements and new equipment installations comply with ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 (HVAC Quality Installation Specification), and shall specifically develop and comply with policies which ensure that the contractor is following all Quality Installation (“QI”) Specification requirements:
a) Ventilation requirements;
b) Heat-gain and heat-loss load calculations;
c) Properly sized HVAC equipment;
d) Ground heat exchangers;
e) Properly matched systems;
f) Airflow through the indoor heat exchanger;
g) Waterflow through the indoor heat exchanger;
h) Refrigerant charge;
i) Electrical requirements;
j) Combustion equipment is “on-rate;”
k) Venting of combustion gases;
l) System operational and safety controls;
m) Air ducts are sealed (cfm);
n) Room airflow;
o) Water flow;
p) Customer documentation; and
q) Owner and/or operator education.
To celebrate the program’s introduction, ACCA is running a special for contractors. Those who apply to the program no later than Aug. 1 will receive $200 off their participation fee for the first year. For more information, visit qacontractors.org.
Publication date: 7/1/2013