Home-performance Contracting: Tools, Gauges, and More
Despite increases in the overall size of homes and the rising cost of energy, total residential energy consumption has remained stable, offset by improvements in heating and cooling efficiency, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Newer homes also have the advantages of better insulation, doors, and windows that improve the building envelope.
Additionally, the residential energy-efficiency market will grow to $84 billion per year by 2020, according to a report from Navigant Research.
There’s no question home-performance contracting is on the rise, and with it, manufacturers are focused on designing and developing tools to help contractors perform in this growing sector.
Scott Madden, co-owner, AAB Smart Tools, said, with home-performance contracting on the rise, the biggest challenge contractors face is understanding the control of airflow in buildings.
“Buildings are getting tighter and better insulated, though a lot more could be done with building sciences and home performance,” Madden said. “As buildings are tightened up and mechanical ventilation systems and higher-efficiency HVAC systems are installed, it’s important that contractors manage airflow. A lot of people don’t understand how to do that.”
Madden said that’s where his company comes in. AAB Smart Tools’ ABM-200 was released in July. The meter has all of the features and functions of the ABM-100, plus it measures temperature, humidity, and pressure, as well. The meter provides dry bulb temperature, wet bulb temperature, relative humidity, dew point, barometric pressure, air density, and more.
“What we’re trying to do is make it easier for every HVAC professional to apply building science techniques and understand how to control airflow,” Madden said. “We’ve taken a hand-held wireless meter and added on-screen guidance through an app that actually walks users through how to take accurate tests. It teaches them how to take the tests, and it gives them reports they can show their customers that displays what they found in the building.”
Earlier this year, General Tools & Instruments released its GoldPro line of Heavy-Duty Inspection & Retrieval Tools.
“General’s line of Heavy-Duty Lighted Inspection & Retrieval Tools consist of 13 different products that help professionals inspect hard-to-see areas and retrieve hard-to-reach objects,” said Peter Harper, vice president of strategic marketing and brand development, General Tools & Instruments. “The tools range from lighted telescoping inspection mirrors and magnetic pick-ups to a 24-inch flexible obedient non-telescoping lighted mechanical/magnetic pick-up with a 4-prong steel retrieval claw.”
Infrared cameras are also highly useful tools for home-performance contractors because they offer an easy way to engage homeowners in a conversation and educate them about what’s happening in their homes.
Dan Wright, communications manager, Fluke Corp., said the manufacturer’s new TiS Performance Series cameras deliver higher resolution and a 70 percent improvement in distance-to-spot than Fluke’s Ti1xx Series cameras.
“It’s a very good tool for entry into infrared imaging,” Wright said. “You can come in and find the hot spots, cold spots, and trouble spots in a very fast visual pass. It’s relatively easy to use. With a little more investigation and digging into the key features, you can also do some very detailed diagnosis, as well. It’s a very good performance tool that should increase the productivity of technicians in the field and do it on a fairly small budget.”
Another high-tech tool that will hit the market in December is The Energy Conservatory’s new DG-1000 digital pressure gauge. The tool will feature a full computer processor inside, according to Frank Spevak, marketing and sales manager.
“It’s much like a cellphone or a tablet, where it has an operating system, as opposed to most traditional hand-held electronic instruments that use very simple electronics. Most of these devices are called micro-controllers,” Spevak explained. “We wanted to be able to show users what to do and the various parts of the tests that are involved. All of the data required a lot of graphical power. A typical micro-controller doesn’t have enough power. So, in order to display the graphics and function in a way that is beneficial to contractors, we went all-in on a custom operating system.”
The gauge features a touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi compatibility. It also has the advantage of future-proof technology.
“We’re looking at ease of workflow, no matter who is picking up the gauge to perform a test,” Spevak said. “It’s also capable of Internet updates. When a new test procedure is developed to help a specific customer segment, the program can be uploaded to the DG-1000 and used by the contractor right away.”
INSULATION IMPROVEMENTS AND MORE
The home-performance market, once driven by Energy Star, is now being driven more by standards and codes, according to Mark Smith, business development manager, GreenSeam Industries Inc.
“The codes have started to implement a lot of performance measures that Energy Star initially promoted,” Smith said. “As codes have adopted things like duct sealing and the testing of air leakage in duct systems, those have become much more prevalent in the industry. Right now, it’s all about sealing the system and doing it at a reasonable price and cost. The GreenSeam Industries product line eliminates a lot of the sealing that needs to be done on the job because those products are sealed at the factory.”
GreenSeam’s new self-sealing snap-lock pipe, GreenSeam+, has a pre-installed gasket that seals the longitudinal seam and the transverse joint once snapped together. GreenSeam+ eliminates both material and labor costs of external sealing and taping. The pipe reduces leakage, which creates higher efficiencies, leading to lower energy costs.
Aeroseal LLC unveiled its HomeSeal PRO system earlier this year, which uses wireless technology and remote management capabilities to significantly increase the productivity of its dealers. The system cuts the number of man-hours required because it reduces the time it takes to complete a duct-sealing project.
“It’s really great from a consumer-engagement standpoint,” said Bryan Barnes, director, Aeroseal LLC. “Consumers can push the button to start the pre-test, seal process, and post-test and actually see what’s going on during the sealing process. It also allows dealers to become more productive because they can actually do all the safety checks and not have to worry about being down by the actual sealing equipment.”
The system allows dealers to monitor and control the process remotely using a tablet, which allows for more interaction with the homeowner, according to Barnes. “Consumers love it because they become part of the process,” he said.
IMPROVING HOME PERFORMANCE
Refrigerant leaks are never a good thing — they cut down on performance and efficiency, and they’re bad for the environment. Nu-Calgon developed its EasySeal Direct Inject product with the goal of making the contractor’s job easier, according to Mike Benack, product manager, Nu-Calgon. “We provide different products and solutions to make jobs easier — it’s really our function in life. It’s [home performance] growing because there are new ideas, solutions, and products out there.”
EasySeal Direct Inject features an injection method that takes seconds to install, eliminating the need to pump down systems. When injected, EasySeal travels with the refrigerant, searching for and sealing the smallest of leaks in condensers, evaporators, copper lines, and brazed connections.
EasySeal reacts with moisture or air that is naturally present at a leak, forming a secure seal. The product quickly finds and seals leaks, saving time and money required in searching for the smallest leaks. With EasySeal, the contractor is able to just add a can to the system and be confident the leak has been fixed and move on to the next job, Benack said.
One of the biggest challenges contractors face in home performance is they are not trained in the sales side of the business, said Dan Jones, president of UV Resources.
“The biggest challenge we see is the ability to educate and direct field technicians to take the whole-house approach and get comfortable offering [selling] solutions while they are with customers,” Jones explained. “The application of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation [UV-C] technology in the residential HVAC system is one piece of the overall home-performance solution.
“Evaporator coils provide a nutrient-rich environment in which mold and bacteria grow,” he continued. “Not only does this growth affect IAQ [via odors and airborne microorganisms], it can also decrease the system’s ability to remove heat by impeding heat transfer. By eliminating accumulated organic materials and biofilm growth, the use of UV-C significantly improves airflow and heat-exchange efficiency levels. In other words, the less gunk, the higher the rate of cfm, heat transfer, and overall capacity. UV-C offers contractors a solution that is affordable and relatively easy to implement.”
According to Jones, the application of UV-C in ventilation systems goes back to the 1940s, but the ease in which it can be applied in modern products, such as UV Resources’ Hornet 24V UV-C system, has brought its application to the forefront of HVAC system solutions.
The Purifier™ by Cliplight Mfg. Co. is based on UV technology, according to Jesse Homenuik, research and development engineer, Cliplight. The product creates a large amount of ozone to eliminate bacteria, mold, mildew, cigarette smoke, or any other odor that might be residual.
“Rather than using a technology that produces an electric voltage discharge to create ozone, it uses a UV bulb, which interacts with the air and causes the oxygen molecules to destabilize and create the ozone molecule,” Homenuik said.
The Purifier is energy efficient, consuming only 18 W of electricity.
“It’s a great up-sale tool,” Homenuik noted. “A lot of people in North America still smoke. People are renovating homes, apartments, or rental properties and want to get that smell out as soon as possible. It’s also good if you live in an area susceptible to flood damage or water damage, because mold and mildew will grow, and, instead of using chemicals, you can use the Purifier to create ozone and kill the mold or mildew inside the basement, crawlspace, or wherever it may be growing.”
Another product designed to remove unwanted odors and harmful chemicals is ClenAir Mfg. Inc.’s HVAC Carbon Block filter, which contains a combination of activated carbons and potassium permanganate designed to remove formaldehyde and other hazardous chemicals from the indoor air. These chemicals can be emitted from home building materials, flooring, wallboard, furniture, and other household products. They can build up in the indoor environment without specialized filtration or ventilation to remove them.
“Our odor-neutralizing HVAC Odor Blocks provide economical odor removal and help reduce some indoor pollutants. They can be inexpensively installed in any central HVAC system,” said Jim Cunningham, sales manager, ClenAir. “This filter is unique because there is no need to buy custom-pleated carbon filters to fit every different size of filter housing. Also, carbon-impregnated pleated filters have very limited capacity because they can only have minimal amounts of carbon in them or they will create too much resistance in the system. The HVAC Carbon Block is not restrictive and has been tested and shown to add only minimal resistance to typical systems. The versatility of this type of installation enables the HVAC contractor to stock this one carbon filter and be able to quickly install it without any tools or modifications on almost any job.”
Cunningham believes home performance is still in its infancy. “While sales of IAQ products have grown significantly over the last 20 years, the majority of homeowners and many contractors still do not see the HVAC system as a complete comfort system. Most HVAC systems installed today do not include enhanced filtration or other options to improve the overall quality of the air in the home. As people become more aware of the pollutants and contaminants in their indoor air, they will be much more receptive to, and demanding of, products to clean their air.
“Many people are not aware furnishings, carpet, and other building materials in their homes can release hazardous chemical gases into the air,” Cunningham continued. “Formaldehyde is a VOC [volatile organic compound] that can off-gas from common building materials and other household items. It’s a known carcinogen that has also been blamed for causing formicary corrosion and the resulting small refrigerant leaks to a/c evaporator coils. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are another common outdoor and indoor air pollutant. PAHs are caused by the burning of fossil fuels and have been linked to lower IQ and learning problems in children. Both of these contaminants can be removed from the indoor air with ClenAir’s HVAC Carbon Block. Years ago, as people became aware their drinking water could contain hazardous contaminants, they began drinking bottled water and installing carbon filters on their taps. The same thing will happen with carbon air filters.”
Publication date: 10/12/2015