Combustion Safety Testing is one of the most important components of the HEP QCI exam. Because it is linked to the safety of the occupants, it has been a fundamental element of BPI exams since the inception of the organization. As we make homes tighter and more energy efficient, we cut back on the supply of combustion air which can cause appliances to malfunction. Since traditionally the combustion appliances rely on the buoyancy of warm air to function, as appliances get more efficient, their smaller chimneys and flues take less back pressure to fail. More efficient systems use fans or blowers to force the air up the flue and out of the house, but it is the older, naturally drafted appliances (Category I gas appliances) that fail. Testing has to be done to be sure that won’t happen under any circumstance.
There are a number of combustion testing protocols for the combustion appliance zone or CAZ. BPI has been refining their standard for a number of years now. If you are going to get Home Energy Professional (HEP) QCI certification, you want to be sure that both you and your proctor and working from the same standard. Although the BPI 1200 Standard is now used for Building Analyst, Envelope, Heating, and AC & Heat Pump certifications, the HEP certifications still use the Building Analyst Professional Standard. It would be a good idea to make sure that your proctor knows that before you start the testing.
Take that and turn it in to a logical, sequential list. Since the field exam is open book, you can refer to this and check it off as you go along. Now, as an experienced auditor or building science professional, you may feel like you don’t need to check it off. You’ve done it a thousand times! Well, consider a pilot. They may have flown that plane a thousand times, but I for one, hope that they never skip items on their checklist! If you leave anything out and it cause you to fail, you will regret it. Oh, and make sure when you are finished, you go back over the list and put things back the way they were. You don't want to be fifty miles away and get a call from the homeowner about not having any hot water!
When you assemble your CAZ checklist, make sure that you combine other elements of the HEP QCI Field Guide. For example checking the chimneys to be sure that they comply with the 10:2 rule (chimney terminates two feet higher than anything in a ten foot radius) and have a 1/4" slope rise per foot of run. All that stuff should be on your checklist.
During the field test you want to be efficient and you want to talk all the time, telling your proctor what you are doing and why you are doing it, explaining everything. But don’t look for confirmation. If you say, “I’m putting my manometer probe in this hole I made in the flue. Right?” the proctor should not give you any indication of whether you have completed the task successfully. The proctor and his/her camera should be mute and effectively invisible.
This may sound basic, but make sure that the appliances in the test house will fire when you want them to! Some water heaters may be full of hot water and turning the thermostat up won’t get them to fire. You may have to run the hot water. (I have had candidates under the pressure of testing, fling on the cold water tap and wonder why nothing is happening! Testing does weird stuff sometimes.)
Also make sure you are familiar with your tools – particularly if you are borrowing them. You want to know how to turn them on and set them up to take the readings that you need. You want to make sure that the batteries aren’t dead. Some combustible gas leak detectors and other tools time out after a while, for example. You don’t want to be running downstairs and outside to restart the tool in the middle of the test. (This is true whether it is for a certification test or just a regular, run-of-the-mill audit!)
Just to be allowed to take the HEP QCI exam means that you have a lot of experience. You’ve done most of these tasks hundreds of times. But it may have been a while since you did your initial BPI training. Be sure you take advantage of all the resources available to you and don’t take the testing too casually.
If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful. Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015. For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.
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