Accurately measuring and verifying energy efficiency not only ensures a job was done correctly, but it also shows customers they’re getting exactly what they paid for. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), providing evidence of real and reliable savings is essential to assuring funding and public support for energy-efficiency programs. Evaluation, measurement, and verification demonstrate the value of energy efficiency by providing accurate, transparent, and consistent assessments of methods and performance, the organization stated on its website.
“It’s actually one of the biggest ways the industry has gotten itself into the predicament that it’s in now — assuming savings instead of actually measuring, quantifying, and verifying,” said David Richardson, curriculum developer and instructor, National Comfort Institute (NCI). “There’s a big difference between what the reality in the field is and what’s assumed.”
According to Richardson, a lot of HVAC contractors may be put off by testing and verification because they’re forced to do things such as duct sealing and duct leakage testing.
“There are guys who know how to take it and capitalize on it. They thrive on it because they’re using it as a means to differentiate themselves. They will actually use testing and verification as a way to separate themselves from the rest of their competition and to ensure their customers are getting exactly what they’re paying for.”
There’s the assumption that if contractors install tight duct systems with high-efficiency equipment, then they’ve reached peak performance, Richardson noted. “What we’re finding is that, oftentimes, those assumptions are creating more problems than they’re solving. There are other parameters that performance testing can quantify to let contractors know if they can seal a duct system and if the results will be positive or destructive. It’s the low-hanging fruit that nobody seems to know exists because they’re not taking proper measurements.
“Contractors should be testing their own work,” he continued. “It comes down to verifying your systems are doing what they’re supposed to do. I know we talk about home performance a lot, but one of the greatest steps any HVAC company can take is to verify the performance of their systems. That is the biggest step toward home performance without actually getting into it.”
John Boylan, general manager, Lakeside Service Co. Inc., Brighton, Michigan, said verification and testing is all about accountability.
“It’s about showing the value of our work and ensuring the customers get what they paid for,” he said. “And that gives piece of mind to the homeowner. How we go about doing it, that’s where everybody has different opinions. I believe every customer deserves to get the efficiency they believe they’ve paid for. Somewhere in this testing and verification, we have to find a way to make it simple enough that everyone can do it, yet accurate enough to do what it needs to do, which is to ensure we’re actually accomplishing our energy goals.”
Additionally, validating efficiency makes the HVAC and home-performance industries look better, Boylan noted. “Customers deserve to know what they’re getting. We owe it to them, and that’s accomplished through testing and verifying.”
All that said, Boylan acknowledges selling energy efficiency can be somewhat difficult, at times.
“Customers want to buy [energy efficiency] like they buy televisions,” he said. “They want to go online, do the research, and know they’re getting the value they read about. The truth is, there are all these variables the customer’s expectations don’t include, like the layout of their house, the duct design, the insulators, etc. — they’re all different compared to other homes. If we’re going to be good at this, if we want customers to get what they expect, it’s up to us to set those expectations at the start. Part of it is training our sales professionals how to tell the customers the truth.”
If you educate the customer, it builds value in the test at the end, because, all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘So, if I don’t look at these things, too, I’m only going to get 70 percent of what I pay for?’” Boylan continued. “That would be like ordering a large 10-piece pizza and, when it shows up, there are three pieces missing. That would not fly in any other industry. So, we have to set that expectation that if you want to get the whole pizza — which is what you paid for — we have to build the pizza this way. Somehow, we have to correlate that so everybody understands that from the beginning it starts with the way we talk to our consumers,” he added. “This isn’t just something we’re trying to sell you. We’re doing this for the right reasons. This is value; this is energy efficiency.”
Eric George, owner, Building Performance Group, Louisville, Kentucky, approaches measurement and verification slightly differently as his company is an independent third party for the homeowner. Building Performance Group acts as a project manager and coordinates the work they recommend with other contractors. According to George, his company is on-site when the work begins and, on the day it finishes, they test and verify the work before the contractor leaves in case there is a mistake that needs to be fixed.
“It’s [testing] one of those things where you can make a bunch of recommendations and have those recommendations completed, but if they’re not inspected afterwards — if the house is not inspected to verify the improvements — you’re kind of just throwing money away, because you don’t know if it’s going to save energy or if it’s doing any good until the homeowner stays in the house another year and experiences it.”
After completing a bunch of work, testing and verification lets contractors know what type of impact they made, George said. “We go through a house, and, after doing the whole inspection, we’ll give the homeowner an estimate as to how much tighter we think the house could be based on our experience and the areas of leakage that we found. That’s one way for us to gauge how well we did on the backside. So, if we fix it so the homeowner can reduce his or her air leakage by 1,000 cfm, and we retest at the end and get to 1,100 cfm, then that’s great. If we only get 500 cfm, then we might want to go back and look and see if we missed something.”
Additionally, George said he never puts a dollar figure on how much homeowners might save if they follow his recommendations.
“We find it can be problematic when you put a dollar figure out there,” he explained. “Typically, we get called into a situation not because their utility bills are high, but because they’re uncomfortable or there’s some kind of IAQ issue. Something like that is usually the main driver, and saving electricity and gas is the second driver. So, we tell them these are the things you need to do to make your house more comfortable and more efficient. We’re not saying you’re also going to save $300 a month on your utility bill or anything like that. I just don’t put those promises out there and then have them come back to bite us later.”
George also agrees with Richardson’s views that duct sealing and air-leakage sealing without testing could cause more harm than good.
“It’s almost a waste of time if you’re not testing,” he said. “What’s the point of being there trying to fix the problem if you’re not using the tools necessary to discover what those problems are? If an insulation company comes in and proposes to blow more insulation in the attic without testing the house, checking the combustion appliances, and making sure they’re not backdrafting — that could lead to problems. There are health and safety concerns you have to be aware of when you start air-sealing houses, insulating them better, and sealing up ductwork. It’s going to affect other things that may not have been taken into consideration before by the homeowner. Sealing up the house could easily cause the water heater to backdraft, which could cause the carbon dioxide in the house to go up, or a small gas leak somewhere in the basement that wasn’t noticeable before become a lot more noticeable after they’ve sealed off the crawlspace in the basement. It’s important to test before and after.”
Publication date: 7/13/2015