I'd like to begin by saying that I feel like I've found a niche of the construction industry that I'm excited about. I've worked for over twenty years as a builder in different disciplines, the most recent being in the HVAC field. It was while doing this work that I discovered the world of energy efficiency and the people that are trying to address this world's energy waste.

The only thing that I can't get excited about is that here in California there is no mechanism in place to ensure that energy efficiency improvements are being made or verified as prescribed by law.

I have worked relentlessly to contact heating and air contractors, sit down with them, have them add me as their rater in the registry, and then never hear from them again. (I'm sure that a percentage of them have decided to not use my services after agreeing they would. But I know for a fact that most of them are not pulling permits and therefore, not triggering HERS verifications). Some of these contractors employ a dozen installers and claim to pull permits on every installation, yet never need testing. One of my good friends, who I also test for, explained that he is competing against droves of contractors that don't pull permits. In response, he doesn't either.

I can say this, homeowners think they are receiving a good deal by going cheap, but I have tested 100% change-outs that required duct leak verification on homes that the contractor didn't pull a permit and didn't expect too. The ducts in one home had 28% air loss (it should have been less than 6%). The home owner is beside himself because the contractor is less than willing to correct the problem.

I guess my question is if anyone has had a similar experience and what you did to stay in business? I've change my game-plan and have continued my education to offer more services. I just get a feeling every once in a while that this business may not be as in demand as I thought it was. I continue on, as I'm too invested not too......I hope that CA decides to tie equipment to permits....

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Hi Matt,

I have been a HERS Rater (and CEA) in CA for many years now and I have found that to be the standard, contractors are not pulling permits because they know their competitor. There are estimates that the compliance rate for residential HVAC change-outs and alterations are less than 10%. There was a recent survey conducted by the Western HVAC Performance Alliance (WHPA) Compliance Committee to assess the risks of not taking out a permit. They asked 268 contractors Would your competitor get caught for not taking out a permit?” the response was nearly half saying “Probably Not” about a third saying “No” and the rest responded with either “Probably, Yes, or Don’t Know”, indicating that there is a relatively low expectation of risk of not pulling a permit on a project. The next question “What would happen to him if he got caught?” was equally as revealing as the first. The majority of the responses were minor consequences like; “have to get a permit, minor fine or get a warning” seemingly not enough to motivate a contractor to obtain a permit. The third question asks, “Why would you take that risk?” Over 35% responded with they would lose the bid otherwise.

I am currently in the process of researching energy code compliance and enforcement efforts in CA and I’m looking for input from Raters and Contractors, please let me know you are interested and we can talk.

Hi Brian,

Thanks for the reply. I would be interested to be more involved the code enforcement conversation.

Apart from making it extremely difficult to start this type of business with limited certifications, it is also maddening to see the unethical work that is being done out there. It took about a dozen jobs, through several contractors to realize that many of the installers that sought me out were trying to see how much they didn't have to do and what I'd let slide. I had one contractor tell me that he would consider using my services if I could beat the price of his current rater AND guarantee that all of his work would pass (like his current rater does). He went on to say that he went through many raters until he found one that was willing to make any number work. I was informed by this guy that he has saved a lot of money with his current rater. How do I compete against that? (this particular rater also has the north bay area pretty much locked-up. The majority of installers use him).

I know that permits are not a silver bullet, as there is little enforcement by either building departments or even my provider. It would be nice to see that at least an effort is being made. As I see it, most of the laws regarding our industry are just for show. It's a shame, as these measures could really make a difference....How the state plans to have net-zero structures is beyond me....

Do you have any advice for a guy like me? As I said, I'm continuing my education (I hope my certifications don't sit idle, like my teaching degree....). I've also started expanding my focus beyond HVAC contractors and will concentrate on real estate/property management firms and try to pick up work that doesn't require a contractor's license, which I'm in the process of obtaining....

The bottom line is that California has a culture of not pulling permits in almost every trade.

Customers will sometimes request a permit it and sometimes will request not to have a permit.

The focus should be on marketing toward contractors that always pull a permit, they are out there. They also will want to comply with the rules and not bend them. Price yourself competitively ie match or beat the price of the "locked up" Rater Offer no guarantee

A guarantee pass is odd. I think that is a red flag and makes no sense. The system must pass to complete the permit process but there will be failures and second trips in some cases.That sounds like a question for QA

Enforcement is for Government agencies, I choose not to beat my head against that wall.

Equipment will not be tied to equipment anytime in the foreseeable future in my opinion. To hard to enforce and comply and will hurt California businesses such as supply houses. Equipment can be purchased over the internet and across state lines

Like any business it takes time. Good luck

Hi Matt,


I have over 25 years working with an insulating coating.  One of the first things I started coating was rooftop AC units and exposed ducts.  Had fantastic results.  Got a few statements from small business owners and then I made appointments with a few AC cintractors in my area. 

Showed them what I had and they were all impressed.  Unfortunately, I learned the hard truth about their industry at that point.  I was given some leads by the contractors to customers.  I contacted and met with some of them. 

What I learned was the contractors did NOT give me any leads to any of their current customers.  They gave me leads to FORMER customers that another contractor had stolen from them with a cheaper maintenance contract.


AC contractors do NOT want to improve the energy efficiency of the equipment, the building or anything else for that matter,  One contractor was straight forward and told me that they want the AC equipment to watk as hard as it can and give up the ghost.  They are in the business of repairing and changing out the ubits for bew ones or larger units.


That turned out to be the case with the ones I met with 20 years ago.  I hope the frame od mind for their industry is a little different now in regards to improving efficiency in their systems.  However, I have not seen any evidence of that.


Several of them told me that if I could do ANYTHING that would cause the AC unit to start cycling on and off, where it did not do so before, I just extended whatever life it had left by `00%.  I have done that more times than I can remember.


Maybe you are running into that same frame of mind that I ran into so many years ago.


Our people also go into attics and coat the attic AC units, plenum and all accessable metal / flex ducts.  They inspect them and repair any damage and loose conections before that coating.  They have yet to find a home that does not have tears or leaks, usually several.


We keep pluggin away.  I had a few contractors back then that pretty much spit on the f;loor when my name got mentioned.  I had coated the rooftop equipment of one of their customers, a customer they had told needed a new and larger unit to meet the cooling requirements.  After I was done, the units did meet the load and they said no to the contractor.


Oh well.  Such is the nature of my end of the energy efficiency world.  Energy efficiency and AC contractors do not seem to mix well at all from my experience with them.  The AC manufacturers even seem worse.




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