According to multiple studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), four out of 10 homes built in the U.S. contain improper HVAC designs and equipment.
That is why ACCA elected to create a quality installation standard, ACCA/ANSI Standard 5, which describes the industry-specified steps a contractor must take to ensure a quality HVAC installation.
“ACCA’s Quality Installation [QI] Specification is an industry-endorsed and ANSI-recognized standard that details the minimum steps a contractor must take to ensure an HVAC system functions properly,” said Todd Washam, director of industry relations, ACCA. “For each QI element, the standard identifies the specific metrics, tolerances, approved measurement procedures, and acceptable documentation for confirming that HVAC equipment is properly sized, selected, and installed for residential and commercial applications. The consensus standard was developed by a broad coalition of industry stakeholders, including contractors, manufacturers, utilities, government officials, varied trade associations, and other interested stakeholders.”
So, how important are quality installations to the industry and what steps can be taken to distance HVACR contracting from the efficiency ratings on the box?
Most consumers and building owners recognize better installations mean better costs savings, comfort, occupant productivity, and safety; however, cost is always a concern for HVAC contractors.
“There is a lack of focus on quality installations because, most of the time, the easiest way to sell customers on something is on price, and when you sell on price with thin margins, you can’t afford to do more than is required,” said Matt Bergstrom, president, Thornton & Grooms, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Contractors who sell solely on price tend to lack a focus on quality installation, which makes it difficult to set an overall industry standard.
“There are always low-cost competitors who are going to ‘slam in’ an installation and not worry about its quality,” said Butch Welsch, owner, Welsch Heating & Cooling, St. Louis. “Their prices are typically cheaper and, as a result, it takes some selling to overcome them. Some contractors and their salespeople don’t want to go to the extra effort to sell a quality installation.”
Full observance of the quality installation elements may increase the initial first cost to the residential or commercial building owner; however, an increased value resulting from improved energy efficiency, better comfort, enhanced IAQ, strengthened equipment reliability, longer equipment life, etc. is expected to far exceed any added upfront price.
An increased awareness of quality installation is important for contractors to highlight to customers, especially to the longevity of their HVAC systems.
“Consumers are guilty of just going with whatever someone tells them to fix immediately without being as knowledgeable as we need them to be,” said Barton James, senior vice president of government relations, ACCA. “People need to know if you plan more and service the system over time, the system will ultimately be less expensive down the road.”
Systems that require an immediate fix or replacement do not stand true to the quality installation standard. Quality installations include a survey and diagnostic testing of the entire system’s performance. Afterward, there should be a proposal to the customer that includes upgrades that are necessary for the unit to perform at its best.
“We need to make a difference on energy efficiency,” said James. “Not just having customers having to purchase more and more things for an existing unit. A contractor plays a big role in the energy efficiency and lifespan of HVAC equipment. We need to help people understand the importance of quality installation.”
“There is a lack of focus on installation because there is very little downside in not doing things by the book,” said Jon Melchi, vice president, government and external affairs, Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI). “Enforcement at the state and local levels is non-existent or overly burdensome in a way that encourages noncompliance. Unless there are red flags, such as large numbers of warranty claims and call backs, it’s challenging to know who is or isn’t focusing on quality.”
A quality installation can impact a home’s comfort level. According to the National Comfort Institute (NCI), “Sufficient data is now being gathered that documents that the typical code-compliant system only delivers about 63 percent of the equipment-rated heating or cooling capacity into the building it serves. This includes systems in most government- and utility-sponsored energy-efficiency programs as well.”
This 63 percent figure means that most systems are actually operating nearly 37 percent below what is being promised by contractors, government groups, and utility program administrators. What if consumers were aware of this deficiency in their new systems? This is the very reason why quality installation without performance measurement is being considered a bit of a hoax by informed American consumers.
So, what are contractors doing to make sure they are truly fulfilling their promise of delivering a quality install to the customer?
“We are doing quality control inspections, permitting every job, and including maintenance contracts on most every job for one to three years,” Bergstrom said. “This allows us to see how the equipment is running and make adjustments. We work to get better as a team every day and every season.”
Welsch makes sure the right personnel is in place to ensure installations are of the highest quality.
“We have a replacement system foreman who is responsible for our replacement crews and their work,” Welsch said. “This foreman is extremely aware of the wording on the white board in our conference room, ‘Quality, quality, quality.’ He’s aware that neither he nor his people will ever be criticized for doing too much to ensure the work they perform is of the highest quality. He is especially close to his crews and makes them aware of the fact that there is work ahead for them as long as they do quality work. We frequently get unsolicited emails and letters from our customers thanking us for the job the men did, how professional they were, and how well they treated everything.
“The quality of the installation has two major effects,” continued Welsch. “The most important aspect is the comfort level achieved by the customer. The second has to do with the life of the equipment. An installation with inherent ductwork restrictions, a difficult filter to change, etc. almost always ensures that the equipment will have to work extra hard to provide comfort to the home, which ultimately reduces its life expectancy.”
According to Neal Kearney, vice president of marketing, Scientific Environmental Design Inc. (SED), homeowners have a right to request to see installation plans for their HVAC systems, which should meet the minimum standards established by ACCA.
“Homeowners should ask to review and approve a design that properly sizes the HVAC equipment,” Kearney said. “They need to know that the thermal envelope of the home will be sealed correctly and provide an air distribution system that is clean and stays that way.”
Publication date: 8/28/2017