Getting Schooled on Home Performance
Learning How to Address and Sell Home Performance
DETROIT — A wide-ranging educational agenda for home-performance professionals was on display at the 2014 Affordable Comfort Inc. (ACI) National Home Performance Conference & Trade Show, held April 29 to May 1 in Detroit. From system fundamentals to educating customers about home performance to the smart home, attendees had the opportunity to expand their knowledge base and to network with like-minded individuals.
Fixing Forced-Air Problems
“Identifying and Correcting Forced Air System Problems,” was presented by Tom Downey, chief technical officer, Proctor Engineering Group.
Downey said his company has collected system performance data for more than 200,000 existing HVAC systems in its CheckMe!® database. Reviewing existing system characteristics, he said 79 percent have a non-TXV metering device, 96 percent use R-22, the average system size is 3 ton, and 73 percent are split systems. He noted the average system is 16 years old, yet noted those numbers may be skewed because the study aimed to locate older systems in need of replacement.
His firm found that refrigerant charge problems are widespread. Fifty-eight percent of existing a/c systems are operating with an incorrect refrigerant charge. More systems are undercharged than overcharged — almost twice as many.
Airflow problems are also prevalent. Fifty-two percent of existing a/c systems show low airflow.
In addition, duct systems are leaky. Average initial duct leakage is 37 percent of nominal system flow.
New forced-air systems also have problems. In two new construction studies, only 19 percent of new houses registered the proper refrigerant charge and 52 percent had low airflow.
“Trust, but verify,” emphasized Downey. “Feedback is important to people in the field so that they may maintain quality.” His firm did 739 new installation furnace inspections in 2013. Even though the installers knew they would be inspected, 13 percent of venting systems were still not put in according to manufacturer’s specifications.
He stated, systems deliver high efficiency if: all the specified equipment is installed, the indoor coil is matched with the outdoor unit, the duct system is properly sized for the airflows needed to each room, the duct system is well sealed and tested to verify leakage, and the unit is properly installed and commissioned to verify correct refrigerant charge and airflow.
He added, for proper installation, install the duct system, seal it, and test it for leaks and flow; install the outside unit with adequate clearance to any obstacle; braze the lineset while purging with dry nitrogen; evacuate the system using a micron gauge; measure and adjust airflow; and release the refrigerant into the system and adjust using subcooling and superheat.
Rick Karg, president, Residential Energy Dynamics, and a member of the ASHRAE 62.2 committee, began “Indoor Air Quality 101” by noting there are more pollutants than we thought, and ventilation rates may not be high enough for homes.
For IAQ management, source control is very important, he said. First, keep pollutants out of the house; then, manage those that are in the house. Utilize filtration and air cleaning. Ventilate at the source; kitchen and bath ventilation are important.
Moisture can be a hazardous pollutant, said Karg. You should look for any wet materials, peeling paint, water stains, condensation, and mold. You should examine exterior drainage, roofing, flashing, siding, as well as the attic, basement, and crawlspaces.
Other pollutants that are priority hazards are acrolein and PM2.5, which is particulate matter (PM) with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller. Acrolein is a colorless liquid with a piercing acrid smell. Karg said 500,000 tons are produced annually in North America, Europe, and Japan. It is produced when we cook, and it’s also in perfumes, food supplements, and resins. Acrolein is toxic, and you don’t know if what you’re cooking is producing it, so it’s a good idea to use a range hood to ventilate when cooking. PM2.5 can get beyond the body’s filters and lodge deeply in the lungs. It comes from such things as vehicle emissions, burning fossil fuels, and even candles emitting soot. “This is the big one as far as health effects,” said Karg. We need to clean up auto emissions, have less vehicles on the road, and clean the air with high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filtration.
Let’s think of the issue of IAQ management as controlling airflow, Karg said. “We need to seal leaks and add mechanical ventilation.”
So what do we do? “Follow ASHRAE 62.2 for acceptable IAQ,” he said. Provide local exhaust ventilation — 100 cfm for the kitchen and 50 cfm for the bathroom. “More ventilation is better than less,” he added, but when cost is considered there is a point of diminishing returns.
Understanding Home Performance
In his session, “Helping Home owners Understand Home Performance,” Drew Cameron, president, HVAC Sellutions, began by outlining what homeowners want. Cameron said they want new perspectives and ideas, they are willing to collaborate, to listen, to understand their wants and needs, to craft a compelling solution, to connect personally, to provide value, to save them time, and make it easy and convenient to do business with them.
The customer’s mantra is, “I know it when I see it.” You need to show them the solution and they’ll get it, said Cameron.
When it comes to comfort, customers want even temperatures, controlled humidity, elimination of odors, set it and forget it, and a contractor they can trust.
Contractors, however, tend to focus on the equipment. Cameron said you have to solve the customer’s comfort-compromising, energy-wasting problems. “Don’t sell what it is. Sell what it does.”
Don’t use the word “recommend,” he said. Instead say: “‘You may want to consider …’ Make the customer aware of issues in the home.”
The elements of home performance include an energy audit, load calculation, and airflow analysis. But the customer’s interests are: “How will this solve my problems? How will this benefit me?”
As a contractor, you need to illustrate what you can do for the homeowner, not how you do it. You need to tie the benefits you provide to their home’s shortcomings. You need to emphasize your people, your quality, and your service. You also need to highlight service after the sale.
“When the customer called, they already decided they were ready to write a check,” Cameron said. It’s a matter of who and how much.
The Smart Home
The session “The Emergence of a Smart Home: Integrating Smart Grid Technologies” provided perspectives from four different speakers. Kara Saul Rinaldi, vice president of government affairs and policy, Home Performance Coalition (a newly formed organization announced at the conference combining the ACI and the National Home Performance Council [NHPC]), discussed a white paper that she co-authored that pointed out how the smart grid and home-performance industries could mutually benefit by working together.
She highlighted five recommendations from the paper. First is to “develop strategies for using energy-monitoring devices to promote implementation of whole-house upgrades.” Second is to encourage partnerships between home-performance contractors and the telecommunications and security industries to market home-performance upgrades. Third is to “develop strategies to link demand response and home-performance programs.” Fourth is to develop protocols for energy-efficiency upgrades that use smart grid technologies to accurately measure savings from upgrades. And, finally, utilize smart meter data to make the case for energy efficiency.
John Bosse, director, energy services, Earth Networks, noted, “Weather is a large driver of energy use.” WeatherBug, which is owned by Earth Networks, has its own network of weather stations, approximately 10,000 clustered in high-population areas.
Bosse said 75 percent of customers get little benefit from using a programmable thermostat. WeatherBug wants to use its collected data to hit homeowners’ desired set points for comfort while optimizing for energy use. He said the company can save 4 percent of home energy use with its optimization program.
Pulling information from a smart meter along with its own weather data, WeatherBug can do a virtual energy audit. It rates the home, showing how weather impacts energy use and indicating in general why that home is using more or less energy than its peers.
Matt Plante, vice president of sales, Bidgely, said his company performs “energy disaggregation,” breaking out energy used for heating and cooling, refrigeration, pool pumps, and other specific uses. If a home is demonstrating high pool pump energy use, that indicates the homeowner is using a single-speed pump as opposed to a variable-speed pump.
Through its analysis, Bidgely can determine who is a good candidate for a smart thermostat and demand response.
Home-performance contractor Dan Kartzman, president of Powersmith Home Energy Solutions, Copiague, New York, said, “If you can measure savings, you can procure those savings.” He stated that contractors need to educate the consumer about what whole-home performance is about.
He said younger people accept what technology can do. He sells Nest and Honeywell smart thermostats. Those young customers show their friends, “Look, I can control my house.”
SIDEBAR: Van Jones — We’re Better Together
At the 2014 Affordable Comfort Inc. (ACI) National Home Performance Conference & Trade Show, keynote speaker Van Jones, co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, author of The Green Collar Economy, and a former green jobs advisor to the Obama administration, gave a rousing speech on the importance of all those working in the home-performance and energy-efficiency arena of working together to achieve their common goal.
Jones began by expressing “how awesome this field is” and “how awesome it’s not.”
He said his father once said, “You can never give a poor person anything that’s going to stop him from being poor.” You can give him money to stop him from being broke. Or you can give him a ladder to help him climb out of poverty. The home-performance industry gives people a job. It gives them a career. It gives them an opportunity to advance.
As for what the field is doing well, Jones said it has the most effective strategy. “One dollar for energy efficiency works harder than any other dollar. A dollar for energy efficiency cuts your energy bill, cuts unemployment, cuts asthma, and saves on medical bills.
“The home is a big deal,” said Jones. “Real folks understand it. It’s the bedrock of the middle class.”
Closing the Gaps
But the home-performance industry doesn’t take its own advice, he said. “You tell customers to close the gaps,” Jones noted, referring to duct sealing and sealing the building envelope. But, in the home-performance arena, HVAC techs, plumbers, remodelers, builders — everyone is separate.
“We all get in our own silos,” he said. “We create gaps.”
That’s why the Home Performance Coalition, an organization introduced at the conference that combines the ACI and the National Home Performance Council (NHPC), could be a game changer.
Too many good people are not united, he asserted. “You’ve got to deal with the whole alphabet in Washington to get anything done.” There’s the DOE, EPA, OSHA, not to mention sub-agencies like the EERE. Working together, the industry can carry more weight to cut through the red tape.
The industry needs to stand together and go to Washington and tell them, “Give our industry a shot. Get all these rules and regulations out of the way.”
Jones said he started the Green Jobs Corp. in California because “tax credits don’t put solar panels up; people put solar panels up.” We need to provide training to teach people to be solar installers and create green jobs.
Former President Bill Clinton said the home-performance industry could create a million jobs. “Opposing that idea should be political suicide,” said Jones.
Talk about a million jobs when you talk to the government, he said. Tell them, if you don’t support us, you don’t support real job creation. And not only is it about job creation, the home-performance industry, he said, is about “turning wasted energy into wanted work.”
Publication date: 6/16/2014