MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - It was named the "Inspector's Panel Discussion," and the program gave attendees the opportunity to discuss code changes and enforcement issues with a panel of leading mechanical inspectors.

It turned out to be a very eye-opening meeting. The discussion took place at the Michigan Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (MIACCA) Spring Break meeting, which was held at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant.

The panel included Tennison Barry, chief of the mechanical division for the State of Michigan; Bill Paquette, president of the Mechanical Inspectors Association of Michigan (MIAM); Mark Riley, city of Troy inspector and member of the Board of Mechanical Rules; Terry Carolan, Emmett County inspector; and Phil Forner, national ACCA treasurer.

Inspectors Bill Paquette (second from right) and Mark Riley (right) discuss code issues with MIACCA contractors.

Establishing Jurisdiction

One of the topics discussed involved how codes varied between jurisdictions, a problem common in Michigan and across the United States, especially for contractors who do work in neighboring states.

"Contractors will call us about problems they are having with their jurisdictions," said Carolan. "There is a lot of room for interpretation in the code laws. I ask contractors to get their inspector to cite the specific section of the code in question, which sometimes solves the problem.

"If an impasse is reached, I advise them about the appeals board process. An appeals board has the opportunity to make a one-time change to code, whereas an inspector does not have that power."

Forner said, "Contractors look at the code as something they are forced to do, rather than seeing it as their right to do something. You have to do what the code says to do in your jurisdiction. You can't assume that something you've done in another jurisdiction will be the same."

Barry emphasized that contractors should understand that there is a difference between codes that apply to residential and commercial buildings. "We sometimes mix up the codes between residential and commercial," he said. "For example, in residential code the language says that ductwork has to be substantially airtight. There is no such language in the commercial code.

"You need to identify where you are working when communicating with an inspector. You need to be on the same track."

On the topic of ductwork, Riley said, when in doubt, ensure that ductwork is properly sealed. "If there is leakage, you seal it," he said. "If there is no leakage, you don't seal it. But we need to make sure we are sealing ductwork as required to ensure proper air balancing."

Paquette said, "A decent duct job should not require any taping. I'm not sure you need to tape a joint in order to cover a half-inch crimp."

Contractors also discussed the problems that occur when a home or business owner asks them to do other work, such as hooking up a water heater. The consensus response was to only do what the contract called for and leave the responsibility of getting other work done and inspected with the homeowner or business owner.

"Make sure you tell the inspector about the work you didn't do," said Barry. "An inspector can do a sign-off noting that some of the work had not been approved."

Carolan said it is very important to identify who is responsible for every item in a contract, including who is responsible for venting the equipment and who is responsible for combustion testing. "Is it the responsibility of the plumber who installed the water heater or the installer who ran the gas line to the heater and installed the vent?" he asked.

Riley addressed the question of requiring carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in new construction, which is required in some parts of the country. "I would like to see a requirement for CO detectors in the mechanical code," he said.

Sidebar: NATE Sends A Message

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Pat Murphy has been over this ground many times before. As vice president of certification for North American Technician Excellence (NATE), Murphy has talked with would-be HVACR technicians, experienced technicians, and business owners across the United States about the importance of NATE testing and certification. It was no surprise that he gave a similar pep talk at the Michigan Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (MIACCA) Spring Break meeting held at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant.

Murphy delivered a simple message: "If you don't train your tech, he is not going to get any better." He reminded contractors that technicians are assets for their businesses. "We have statistical evidence of how well the technicians did on their tests," he said. "By knowing this, you can make your assets more valuable by improving and upgrading each technician's knowledge of products and services. Your assets are critically important to making you more money."

Murphy said it is one thing to know that technicians are proficient at their work; it's another thing to prove it. "That is NATE's function," he stated.

Murphy pointed out some other benefits of NATE certification, including:

  • NATE testing acts as a screening process when hiring technicians.

  • NATE testing includes critical soft skills knowledge.

  • Having NATE-certified technicians can be used as a marketing tool for contractors.

  • Utilities can be less concerned about brownouts during peak demand times because equipment is properly installed and maintained by NATE-certified technicians.

    Murphy noted that the Veterans Administration reimburses contractors who pay for testing of veterans. He also said that NATE plans to add more specialty tests soon, including a hydronic equipment test.

    Murphy realizes that the tests are difficult and that many people taking the tests are not likely to be happy with their scores. He said there is a formal review process that people can apply to if they are not satisfied. But he stressed that testing is not a one-time deal, and that the process is ongoing. "We have continuing education built in as part of the recertification program," Murphy said. "You need 60 hours of continuing education over five years and then you need to test again."

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    Publication date: 05/16/2005