90% of all my new energy audit customers now expect reduced or 'free' service. BPI has sites listing participating contractors who offer free audits. BPI has advertised rates of $250 for a whole house assement and audit.

As a professional who has been in the construction business since 1972; I feel this is an attack on the industry from administrators who are micro mannaging the industry. A blower door with all diagnostic equipment now costs around $6,000. Level 1 IR training and a 120 x 120 pixel IR camera, (one that meets the anticipated RESNET standards0, is approaching another $10,000. Add insurance, advertising and overhead; the $250 audit fee is a major income loss.

Perhaps the audit/sales/install business is what is pushing out the independent auditors. That spells loss of competiton and more expense for the home owner. Handy men and home owners who want to do their own retrofits will be out in the cold.

As with any government run enterprise; This business is going to be over influenced, controlled and limited to the big players at the independents and consumers expense.

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As a contractor, when we start working on a bid for a large project, we will use rules of thumb to estimate costs.  This is a very handy tool that helps catch mistakes and provides direction.  We would never give out a proposal based on those projections.  This program seems a little like that kind of tool.  It provides a rough estimate and a baseline from which to start.  While sizing mechanical equipment based on the output of this program would be asinine, it may be helpful in determining if that is a general direction that you should be looking.  I like the program's ability to make site specific adjustments.  There are significant components that seem to be missing such as the ability to deal with solar heating and energy.  Also I could not find operational docs.  There is a good deal here that I would need a better understanding of to be able to make use of the program.  While it seems significantly off base to suggest that  this program can provide is an audit or anything close to it, it does seem to possibly be a good tool.  Then again I am unaware of what else is available.

So: I just returned from a frustating day meeting with a home owner and heating contractor on Friday. The home owner had purchased the property 2 years ago. The heating bills were very high. The owner contacted a local hvc company for advice. They sold her on replacing the 80% efficient hot air furnice for a 92% one with a complicated wall thermostat that 'controls' all the operations. No draft test, duct leackage or air infiltration was done. Needless to say; the heating bills actually incrdeased last winter, after the installation, due to the unusually cold weather pattern.

I was contacted through a referral to do an energy audit with blower door and thermal IR. The ducts hasd tremondous leaks and an actual 12" xy 18" chunk cut out of the top. After air sealing the sill plates with foam and sealing all the ducts; we still had insufficient heat for the 2 opposite far end bedrooms.

The home owner asked me to be present for a meeting with the hvc contractor. Seems the unit cycles off alot and the blower comes on immediately when the thermostat calls for heat, sending cold air into all the rooms.

My first mistake was asking a question of the installer concerning theoperation of the thermostat. He looked at me and questioned who I was. I simply stated I was there to help the homeowner after performing an audit and doing some retrofit. After that; all conversation was targeted to the home owner with little me being completely ignored.

After the tech quoted an additional $4000 to the home owner to replace all 'incorrectly' installed 12 year old ducting that should never had been sealed, a waste of money, I spoke up. Didn't mention why this issue was not addressed when they sold her a new $4500 unit just questioned that perhaps the dampers could be manipulated on the ducts and a pressure test performed.

I was asked where I got my ASHRA certification to install heating equipment. I stated I was a BPI/RESNET auditor with 40 years building and was only opining. He never heard of BPI or RESNET. Just spouted off the organizations he had familiarity to. 

The meeting ended with the installer belittleing me as 'a one man operation' and his being part of a large organization. The customer was visabily upset that I may have given her some bad advice and taken money for an unnecessary job. I should have left this to the 'experts' and advised her to do what the heating company advises.

Soo! Why am I fighting HVC companies that don't care about alternative measures to perhaps save the customer money. Sell Sell Sell.

Where is BPI advertising the training, experience and knowledege of their members? I am at a real loss as to what I should do next. I will try to adjust the dampers my self, which is not part of my sop. There are 18 warm air ducts and 9 returns that all measure 6".

Allen:

I don't think you did anything wrong, and this is the reaction I get 1/2 the time too.  And I don't think you need any ASHRAE cert to help out.  In your 40 years, I am sure you have successfully fixed some of these problems and may be able to come up with a plan - In fact that is my suggestion.  Have a plan in mind with reasons for each step of your proposal before you talk tot he HVAC contractor, and have enough tests under your belt that you can back yourself up.  Insist that he have a plan, let him lay it out, then see if it maybe matches yours. 

I like to have a building leakage number and a scan (when possible) done , but then I add these tests before talking to an HVAC contractor:  Flow hood of all registers, floor by floor CFM totals, total CFM, temp rise over coils, analysis of thermostat location (one of the big ones!), visual check of all accessible ductwork, but duct tightness testing only if the customer is willing to pay for it - 95% are not.

I might say something like this:

The first floor to second floor ratio of air is wrong for A/C  season - we need to switch another 20-30% of the first floor air to the second floor.

Or:

The second floor total is good, but those two back bedrooms are not getting their share.  We need to balance away from the high-flow rooms and towards the low rooms.

Or:

The thermostat is in the master bedroom suite and it is getting 45% of the air from the system but has only 30% of the second floor area.  It is shutting off the system prematurely for the other rooms on the floor, so we need to close down the master bedroom some.

What you describe is the hardest thing we find to deal with - a house with all 6" round duct to both of 2 floors will heat fine, but not air condition at all.  

Ed Minch

Sounds like adjusting dampers is a good start for getting better airflow to those rooms. I wonder if a cfm test was ever performed? If the furnace is a variable speed, the air flow can be adjusted for more cfm.  

 

Jeffrey

Don't adjust dampers without a flow hood measurement - it only makes things harder for the guy who has to start over after you are unsuccessful.  And don't just turn up (or down) the fan speed, as this may spoil the temperature rise.  You have to look it at all together - total flow, flow to each floor, flow to each room, and temperature.  This, of course, after you have eliminated other possible sources of discomfort (Cape Cod Syndrome, Room Over Garage, Return in Block Party Wall Cavity, etc).  It ain't hard, but you have to be thorough.

Ed Minch

Agree

Phil:

If the Keystone Program offers financing 

"making it easier than even to finance whole house improvements done by a BPI Certified Contractor"

doesn't that mean that there has to be an actual audit done?

Ed Minch


As PJ says, AFC First has some great programs.  Last month I went to the formal announcement/celebration where they became the first private company to be allowed to sponser a statewide (PA)  Home Performance with Energy Star program. Although located in southeastern PA, they operate energy efficiency loan programs in several states.   The lowest rates (0.99%) are only available in the city of Allentown and in the five county area (south of Allentown into Phildelphia) served by EnergyWorks, a program run by the ECA of Philadelphia.  These rates require a REAL energy audit, with real testing, by certified auditors and follow up test out.

There is great progress going on now. More and more HVAC contractors are getting involved in whole house performance. We do not live in a perfect world. The work we do does not have to be perfecto. Homeowners have budgets.

All Great Stuff; thanks guys.

I will let you know how I make out.

Amen PJ.

I think you came down a little hard on the building scientists. The all-day audit may always be a niche market, but it's still a market. The 2-3 hour audit, with a report generated on the spot, is my bet on what will emerge as the winner on a more broad scale.

I offer a FREE audit to folks. A FREE audit with a quality report to folks that come to me as referrals, and a simple audit and report to folks who just barely were coerced to say yes to me and my guys trampling through their house for a couple of hours. Very few folks are willing to pay for an audit. I know this is old news, but I wonder how many of us have come to terms with this. Audits, for most, are nothing more than a loss leader (i.e. you provide the audit for free knowing that some work will come from it). I'm okay with this as long as those out there performing audits are individuals with the right knowledge and at least some integrity. Good luck, right?

Back to PJ's main point: I began on the weatherization (i.e. air sealing & insulation) side of things. I quickly realized that it was only the HVAC outfits that could marshall the potential client bases and financial resources necessary to create sustainable models for HP companies.

Having said this, I begin a partnership with an established HVAC firm today, where I will continue to sell the pants off of homeowners on measures that make sense, and the HVAC folks I will be partnering with will bring their techs and client lists to the table so we can work on whole-home performance measures (get in there and air seal the p*ss out of the house, insulate like you read about, ensure proper air exchange rates, upgrade windows and major appliances, and then pop in that super sexy and super efficient condensing boiler or furnace (matched properly to the load).

I will keep y'all updated on where this relationship goes. But, if this one "fails" I guarantee that I will be right back on the horse.

I'm working on making sure our collective s*it only stinks when we're on the hopper after a long day of making American homes more efficient and healthy. 

Patrick

I am throwing in the towel. 10 calls this past week all looking for 'free' audit. I can not honestly sell windows or a new heating system to people after watching all the scams that are perpetuated under the Home Peerformance guise. BPI wants to cater to to the HVAC industry, Great for them. Now that the training is becomming more intense and costly; the return is almost nill.

My first attempt at this business was back in 1979 also. I took several 'insulation and weatherization' and 'energy savings' courses at Union College, (the same school Jimmy Carter attended). The instructor actually advised to wrap the homes exterior in plastic to keep the cold out. The big word was 'insulate, insulate and then insulate'. That was the era of Thromb walls, massive solar heat collectors and south facing glass walls.

I spent a lot of time and money trying to build an honest business only to have President Reagon kill it after his election.

Now I fear that inside forces are against us. The major players are making alot of money selling 'The Dream'. Sellers of blower doors, thermal imaging cameras, test equipment and certifying testing agencies are making money while my bills continue with out income being generated.

I didn't start this business yesterday. I am now well over 5 years into it.

Allen @nyinfraredscan.com

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