HERS ENERGY COMPLIANCE TESTING AND REGISTRATION

Building Energy Compliance Testing’s qualified HERS raters offer a variety of energy efficiency services. We serve the San Francisco Bay Area building industry for both commercial and residential buildings. Our services include: duct leakage tests, blower door tests, room by room airflow tests, refrigerant charge tests, total airflow tests, and fan watt draw tests. We also provide verification of existing conditions reports, registration, consulting and assistance with building healthy, comfortable and high performance buildings. We are fully qualified to provided Home Energy Ratings, Green Point Ratings, and California energy code and Calgreen. Which are required HVAC load calculations, Manual J, duct design Manual D and equipment selection Manual S.

Green Point Rating - BECT

CalGreen 2016 Non Res

CalGreen 2016 for Homes

Energy/Fire Update

Single Most Cost Effective Energy Upgrade

HERS TESTING – DUCT TEST & REGISTRATION

We provide the full range of state required testing and registration for alterations. These alterations include new HVAC as well as additions, new construction and duct testing.

BUILD IT GREEN – GREEN POINT RATING

Green Point Ratings (GPRs) are similar to LEED rating systems but most Bay Area Cities choose GPRs. GPRs verify a level of green construction measures such as: resource conservation measures and proof of use of materials without formaldehyde, VOCs and other unhealthy compounds.

``Like Italy in the 1960s`` 10/31/2017

A lovely guest house in the country. Brand new, white, gleaming and beautiful. The owner is British. I tested the performance of her new HVAC system. It failed three HERS tests.

I explained to her each of the tests and why the system failed. The ducts leaked too much air. The system did not move enough air for the size of the air conditioner. Why? The return ducts are either too few or too small. The MERV 8 filter installed is restricting air flow so it should be bigger or perhaps there should be two of them. The 2017, airtight, well insulated 1500 square foot house with low e, argon dual pane windows doesn’t take much to heat or cool. How did it end up with a 3 ton AC and restricted, leaky ducts?

The homeowner told me that it was “like Italy in the 1960s.” A top-heavy bureaucracy well insulated from those doing the actual work or needing to get things done. The individual people are often brilliant, but people are not working together. Some were also incompetent.

We have a real problem in the SF Bay area with HVAC contractors installing air conditioning systems without following the CA energy code’s “Mandatory Measures”, nor CalGreen. Every day I test new systems that have not been sized and designed as per code requirements. This yields systems that use more energy and provide less comfort. This has a real effect on energy use in the SF Bay Area. These improperly designed system can last 30 years or more and will waste energy daily ’til near 2050 when they will fail.

California Title 24 Energy experts say that 1% of residential HVAC systems are properly calculated for sizing and have their ducts designed per the specs in Title 24. Only 10% get permitted and tested.

Of course, the Energy Commission did not make up these design specs. They use the Air Conditioner Contractor’s of America Manual J, Manual D and Manual S sizing, duct and register grill design specifications.

Sadly, there is no continuing education from the Contractors State License Board for HVAC contractors. Hence, they have no idea of what is in the California Energy Code or how to build comfort system that conform to it.

We are now in the 2016 energy code. Builders and HVAC contractors are nowhere near understanding what is in the current code or how to meet it. At the same time we are nearly 2 years away from the 2020 energy code when new buildings will be “Zero Net Energy”, meaning that houses will generate as much energy in a year as they use in a year. We have a lot of work to do to educate the building industry workforce in order to get up to speed with upcoming code changes.

Let’s fix this problem.  Just like engineers design our building so they stand up to earthquakes via code required structural design, let’s have our HVAC systems engineered per our energy code. We need to require building department design review first, before permitting these long lasting, energy using systems to get built.

CSLB and California local Building Departments, please get up to speed educating the building industry workforce and enforcing the energy code.

George Matthews, owner
Building Energy Compliance Testing
Serving the San Francisco Bay Area

How to Improve California's Energy Code 10/11/2017

Actually enforce it. 

 

We are only enforcing part of California’s science and engineering based set of rules about how we use energy in buildings.  

 

In our state, before we build buildings, the plans must pass a set of rules that state what must be done to pass code. 

 

CAL Green and the HVAC requirements clearly state these requirements. However, while the plans all pass energy code on paper, once in the field 99% of what happens is that HVAC systems are not sized, selected according to national engineering societies standards that have been recommended for half a century. 

 

Instead of using standard, accepted engineering software to size and select the furnaces and air conditioners, contractors size according to crude rules of thumb more appropriate in the Nixon administration.  

 

 

I was just in a custom house 30 minutes from Silicon Valley. It was 3500 square feet, beautiful and perfect. However, the HVAC contractor sized the air conditioning systems (two) to 375 square feet of house to a ton of air conditioning. This house has two four ton air conditioners. It also did not have enough airflow to satisfy either system. The contractor got the sizing wrong because he guessed at the duct and return sizes. The house is done and ready to sell but he now must cut more holes in the ceiling and install new cold air returns. There was not a speck of dust in this house and now it is time for little remodel of the dining rooms ceiling with all the dust it entails. 

 

This goes on every day. California energy specialists state that about 1% of CA house have their ducts, furnaces and air conditioners designed in approved software. Energy experts I ask say about 5 percent of CA systems get HERS tested.  

 

How to fix the problem. Enforce the CA energy code HVAC Mandatory Measures and CAL Green Requirements. It is so easy. Just like one submits drawings or engineering to building departments to prove that houses will stay standing in an earthquake, contractors will submit the plans for the equipment they install. 

 

The state provides free classes on how to use such software. However, the state should offer  

 

Here is how the improvement to many AC system 30 years old. These are long lasting systems. In consequence to their substandard design considerable energy is wasted. Properly sizing duct systems reduce callbacks to fix bad work like the contractor above. 

 

Guessed together systems also provide un-comfort and stop air filtration from happening properly. 

 

The great benefit of following the code is that HVAC systems then actually pass the HERS tests that are required. No trial and error remodels on brand new systems.  

 

California Building officials, what would it take to get you to require that HVAC contractors submit an approved plan generated from an approved method. Someone has to come up with the plans, otherwise the result is brand new air conditioning system failing energy performance tests. 

 

I know that if I had the power and the resources, I’d tell every building owner investing in new equipment/systems, general contractors responsible for their subs installing expensive capital equipment and the HVAC installers that they must produce a design before installation. 

 

This will guarantee that systems perform properly, and building owners and residents, perhaps you and your family get the comfort you have paid for. 

Letter To The California Energy Commission 5/19/17

Dear California Energy Commission, 

I’d like to let you know about some failures in the energy code system as I see it in the field as a HERS rater testing alterations of existing houses and new houses. 

I work from Silicon Valley to the Wine Country, up and down the Peninsula and in the East Bay Area. I am usually in two or three houses per day. I’ve owned Building Energy Compliance Testing, www.bect.us since June 2014. 

What I see is that the only time a house gets HERS tested is when it is new construction, there is an addition or major remodel and it includes a new furnace and ducts. If a homeowner just gets a new HVAC system, it rarely gets permitted and tested. I’ve spoken to other HERS raters and energy consultants, we all suspect that only about 5% of new or altered HVAC systems in California get HERS tested. 

Every time I go to a job and meet an HVAC contractor I ask them how they sized this system. They almost always answer, “Square feet.” When I dig deeper into it, they often tell me that the rule is 500 square feet per ton of air conditioning.  Often times, they tell me that the guy at the supply house told them what size to buy. I tell them that the state of California requires ACCA Manual J, D and S calculations. I have one client who I know uses Wrightsoft calcs on every job. 

This lack of design before construction causes real problems. I often see 5 ton AC systems on smaller houses in fog banks. Contractors usually fail airflow tests because they wildly undersize cold air returns. This makes the testing process a burden to both the homeowner who can’t get the job “finalled” and has to pay for multiple HERS tests. These big AC systems contribute to peak electric loads, uncomfortable houses and high energy bills. 

The problem is with the building department when a job is permitted. When one submits plans for an addition or new construction job to a building department they require structural engineering. What they don’t do is require the engineering on the HVAC system even though the builder or owner signs off on Calgreen and the T24 report and mandatory measures.  Calgreen includes 4.507.2, stating that heating and AC systems shall be sized, designed using ACCA Manual J, D and S. 

There is a real disconnect here that needs to be addressed by the CEC, Building Departments and the Contractors State License Board. I’d like to get the heads of these departments in a conference room and have them figure out a way to get energy code compliance above 5% and closer to the majority of jobs. 

While I love the fact that the CEC is taking us to Zero Net Energy buildings by 2020, I find it absurd that 95% of current HVAC jobs are not achieving the 2016, 2013 or any other year of the code. HVAC contractors could be the champions of building an energy efficient economy in California. However, what I see is that the vast majority of them are actually outlaws or skofflaws, ignoring codes and evading local building authorities. 

Aside from energy codes, these contractors are making electrical and gas connections as well as installing flues to hopefully rid houses of poisonous combustion gasses. These three things are all able to kill people and deserve to have another set of eyes on them. Deaths from carbon monoxide are not a rare occurrence. 

While I am on the job inspecting and testing HVAC systems I look at the insulation installation. Generally, attics are poorly insulated and general & roofing contractors do not use radiant barriers. When this bad combo exists in the attic, homeowners buy air conditioning systems, (even in the foggy Bay Area). We in the energy efficiency industry should be helping building owners install these systems so as not to need compressor cooling and the energy it takes in late in the afternoon at peak load. 

Attic hatches are not sealed or insulated in most Bay Area houses. In about the last 90 attics I’ve climbed into, I’ve found 3 that actually have attic hatches that are air sealed and insulated. Insulation contractors just don’t do this. I suspect that since there is no HERS attic hatch inspection no one else cares. In my experience, City building inspectors pass any insulation installation no matter how poorly installed or how many gaps there are around boxes or can lights. Q: When is an R-39 attic actually an R-33.85 attic? A: When the attic hatch is unsealed and uninsulated. 

Here is what I’d like to see, 

  • Get the majority of HVAC contractors to have their work inspected and HERS tested. 
  • Make contractors responsible for 4.507.2, sizing HVAC systems before they build them. 
  • Have insulation installations inspected and enforce proper installation. 
  • Have attic hatches inspected for air sealing and insulation. 
  • Require HVAC contractors get continuing education in the energy code. 

I know this is a lot to ask but I request that you coordinate and work with other state agencies like the CSLB and organizations of local building officials to actually enforce the California building energy code. If there is anything I can do to make this a reality, please let me know. 

Failed HERS Test and Final Inspection - How to Avoid the Pain and Expense and a Solution to the Problem 5/4/17

It happened again, yesterday, doing a HERS test on a new house, HERS testing the air conditioning system.

This was the third time I was at this house testing. The technician, not an HVAC contractor but a tech hired by the owner, had added another duct to coax the 5 ton air conditioner into blowing 1750 cubic feet of air per minute, the minimum required by code.

The system did not perform to code. It moved 1600 CFM but not the 1750 required by the State of California. We looked at his work. He’d added a shiny silver drooping limp flex duct connected to a small return filter box. He told me there was nothing more he could do. I suggested pulling it taught in a straight line to the return. He didn’t think that would work. He really did not like my alt suggestion of a straight metal duct to reduce air friction.

I exited the front door with him. He threw is boots hard at the driveway and cursed in anger. I could sense deep frustration and a man who probably won’t get paid until the job passes. I felt sorry for him. He did not know that these systems are supposed to be sized according to manual J, Manual D and Manual S in software such as Wrightsoft. The owner or builder had signed off on building to the Calgreen checklist which states that the HVAC system will be sized according to Manual J, D and S. Apparently, no one took that seriously. The City of Orinda building department never asked for this basic engineering. Hence, it never got done.

The technician had guessed the system together. The 2600 square foot house in mild, often foggy Orinda, California somehow received a 5 ton air conditioner, the largest available. When it failed he asked me what to do. I had to tell him that I am not the designer but the State’s Energy Commission does have something called the Building HVAC Requirements.  http://www.energy.ca.gov/2013publications/CEC-400-2013-001/chapters/04_Building_HVAC_Requirements.pdf

In these Building HVAC Requirements, under table 4-11 (Standards Table 150-D): Return Duct Sizing for Multiple Return Duct Systems, there is a line that shows a 5 ton air conditioning duct system having two 20 inch return ducts with a minimum gross filter grill face area of 1500 square inches.

The system I was testing did not have anywhere near 1500 square inches of filter grill face. It had two filters equaling 768 square inches, about half what code is requiring.

If this system had actually been designed rather than guessed together by a person using some “rules of thumb”, it most probably would have passed the first time. The problem is that this is the 3rd time I’ve seen this in a ten days. It happens all the time in the affluent, well educated San Francisco bay area, home to so much energy efficiency research and development.

I usually ask air conditioner contractors how they sized the system I’m about to test. Almost invariably they tell me they use the “square footage rule”. “What is that?” I ask. They then explain that for every 500 square feet of house they put in a ton of AC. Easy! 2500 square feet of house equals 5 tons of AC. System sizing complete! Sometimes they admit that the guy at the supply house told them what size was needed.

We know the problem. HVAC contractors and unlicensed technicians who install HVAC systems don’t size those systems according to protocol of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. The results are brand new, shiny yet poorly operating systems that will waste energy and perform poorly for decades to come.

Here’s the solution. City Building Departments must get manual J, D and S designs before contractors can build that system. Just as seismic engineering is required for buildings before they are built, so to can we require that mechanical systems be engineered before they are built. Then we just have to work with the problem that the residential HVAC industry evades building departments permits and code HERS testing some 90% of the time.

A Call To Action For Bay Area Cities Video: Bringing Building Performance Workshop To The San Francisco Bay Area 9/5/16

Hi, I am George Matthews of Building Energy Compliance Testing, BECT, of the San Francisco Bay Area.

BECT is sponsoring the Corbett and Grace Lundsford of the Building Performance Workshop to come to Bay Area with the tiny house that they built as a tiny building science laboratory and idea house on wheels.   This is their Tiny House/Proof is Possible – US Tour 2016.

Video: Show Pic of SF Bay Area from maps.google.com

Corbett wrote the book on home performance diagnostics, literally, here it is. Corbett is a superstar of building performance and energy efficiency who had created scores of high quality building performance diagnostic videos – Here is your chance to meet and learn from him.

Corbett, Grace and their baby daughter Nanette (and two cats!) are traveling across the USA showing off building energy science and diagnostics in their tiny house lab and they need some places to park it give tours and classes plus show it off from October second to the eighth 2016. That’s next month!

City of San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Jose, Sonoma County – You are the leaders in civic energy. Can you lend us a parking spot next to your Building Department?

Please contact us at 510 520 4443 or bectesting@gmail.com if you’d like us to come to your parking lot with curious people.

Proof is possible – come find out how on the Tiny House 2016 Tour – San Francisco Bay Area

This is George Matthews at Building Energy Compliance Testing, BECT

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Things HVAC Contractors Should Know Before Installing A New System In California (To Pass The 2013 Energy Code) 4/13/16

I keep running into HVAC contractors still unfamiliar with HERS duct leakage tests, total airflow and fan/watt draw tests to pass in the 2013 California Energy Code. These are key in making sure that you are taking all the precautions in  ensuring energy efficiency. This is from the BECT.US website for all to see but I keep having to explain it while a distraught contractor, technician or homeowner asks what is wrong. 

Important Items for Installing HVAC contractors to know:

Please note: The 2013 energy code, Title 24, requires quite a few things in an HVAC system. Here are some highlights.

  • HVAC system sizing must be calculated by an approved method. Duct systems are required to be designed by an approved method. ACCA Manual J and Manual D are one system to do this. Wrightsoft is the leading software tool. “Rules of thumb” sizing do not pass code or work well. I know one contractor who was sued for using them rather than a code approved method
  • Air conditioners need to have at least 350 CFM per ton of air flow. A/Cs need to use 0.58 or fewer watts per cubic feet of air flow. This is the code absolute minimum. Here, more airflow is better.
  • You’ll need to have the cold air return properly sized. See above. Again, Bigger = better. I keep running into contractors with wildly oversized furnaces and air conditioners who balk at the idea of using anything larger than a 16″ return duct or that two large returns might be better than one small one.
  • You’ll need to state the airflow the filter system is rated for. The registry will want to see .05 inches of water column of pressure in the return and .10 in the supply. Are you sure the return grill from 1955 (heat only) is big enough for the new system (with AC) in 2016?
  • You’ll need to tape the sheet metal boots to the drywall or flooring. Use UL 181 aluminum tape.
  • You’ll need to mastic over the tape that is sealing your system. Really, yes.
  • Use only “UL181” approved plastic and metal tape and mastic. UL 181 is code required.
  • You’ll need to have less than 6% duct leakage in new duct systems and less than 15% in existing systems. (FYI: Hot rodder contractors get their systems below 1 percent.)
  • (Note: the secret ingredient here is air duct mastic. Use it liberally. Put it on every connection. It is cheaper than having to pay a HERS Rater to come back and retest the system.).

 Missing any of these items is a failure, so take heed.


It gives me such joy to see a system that holds air when I set-up the duct test equipment. I hope that you enjoy it as well.


George Matthews

Building Energy Compliance Testing

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Post War California Tract House Energy Audit Reveals Room For Improvement 2/1/16

Postwar, 1947 tract house on 1/3rd acre lot is inundated with sun since the old trees died. The owners are doing a remodel. West facing single pane windows let in ample sun and warmth on a February 1st afternoon. By April or May it will surely feel like a furnace. New, California Energy Code level windows formulated for western orientation will make the dining/living room more comfortable year-round.

The house has no insulation in the floor or walls. The ceiling has about 3 ½ inches of old, disturbed, blown in insulation. Building a dam around the fold-down access stairs and furnace and insulate it to R40 (about 14 inches of blown-in cellulose) would make the place far more comfortable and cause the furnace/AC to run less often.


The attic access is an area where warm conditioned air escapes to the attic, causing drafts and wasted energy dollars. Those fold-down access stairs to the attic are really hard to air seal or weatherstip properly. I suggest adding on one of the zip-up “tents” that go on top of the access area.  I’d never seen one until last fall. They are air tight and really work.  Check out one site selling such “tents”, http://www.energyefficientsolutions.com/attic-tent.asp

That same attic, under a brown roof must surely bake in the summer sun. I suggest adding radiant barrier under the roof deck. You really have to feel the difference to believe how much energy this material stops from radiating into the attic. It works! Check out http://energy.gov/energysaver/radiant-barriers  to learn more. For a low tech way to go, here just paint the roof white. They do it from the Bahamas to India to the Greek Islands. Put on your sunglasses and check out Santorina, Greece, cool…

 

The crawlspace is open and ventilated to the outside with no insulation in the floor. Many would suggest adding R19 fiberglass  insulation to the bottom of the floor. That is an imperfect way to go. A more interesting and healthy option is to encapsulate the crawlspace. This action can not only keep the floor warmer in the winter but keep the nasty air from the crawlspace out of the house. I’ve read articles stating that over 40% of the air in a house comes up from the crawlspace. Below is a before and after pic that shows the visual improvement. The lower pic shows how a crawlspace can become a semi-conditioned sub-first floor that seems more like an operating room than a crawlspace.

  1. Above Left: Thick plastic separates house from soil

Right: Americover.com materials encapsulate crawlspace

The water heater is a standard .62 tank water heater that takes up a significant amount of space in the garage. The owner mentioned how an expanse of pipes makes the cold water hot in the summer months.  An upgrade to an instantaneous gas water heater could both free up space and provide energy savings.  The pipes could be insulated to reduce heat gain.

Takagi Instantaneous gas water heater saves space and energy

The house has a newer large furnace/air conditioner system that appears to be well sealed except for a small leak on the right hand side of the furnace. Place UL 181 aluminum tape on the corner of the plenum to seal it.  The flex ducts appear thoughtfully sealed however they all leak unless there is mastic on the joint of duct to the plenum. Twelve dollars worth of air duct mastic and an hour spreading it around every duct connection would surely keep more air inside the system and the house rather than in the attic.

Doing the above items would render the house more comfortable and lower the energy bills. How much? To learn that, computer energy modeling is necessary. Your energy consultant could easily model them and assign dollar values.  The nice thing about the upgrades is that they offer non-energy dollar benefits of  improved air quality, added space, improved thermal comfort, and energy efficiency.

Building Energy Compliance Testing

www.bect.us

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Duct Testing In The San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley 1/17/16

Reasons why HVAC Contractors (and the Developers they work for) Fail HERS Tests.

This week I had two notable tests where the developers of a brand new houses failed his HERS test. These are new houses built under the 2013 California Energy Code.  Both houses had HVAC systems that failed to move enough air to satisfy the Total Airflow requirement when there is air conditioning. Both systems had the largest residential air conditioner that one can buy, a 5 ton condenser and matching evaporator coil.

With a 5 ton condenser, to provide 350 CFM of airflow per ton, you’ll have to provide 1750 CFM. This week’s problem units had 1230 and 1410 CFM. Given those numbers what does an HVAC contractor do to solve the problem so that he can satisfy his client and pass the code requirements so that the house can pass final inspection? Pick one strategy.

  1. Rewire the control board so that the system is actually in the highest speed.
  2. Replace ducts, especially the return ducts, with bigger diameter replacements so that the airflow will increase.
  3. Change out the motor in the furnace or air handler to an electronically commutated motor to get a higher airflow.
  4. Change out the condenser for a smaller size so that the airflow/ton rule is met.
  5. Tear out the system and hire an HVAC contractor who will actually perform a manual J, Manual  D, manual S and Manual T so that the system is guaranteed to move the proper amount of air to each duct and each room.

I’m still waiting to hear back from the owner/developer to hear how these went. However, in the last 6 months I’ve seen contractors and owners do A, B, D and E.  I’ll comment on each strategy.

  1. Rewire control board connections. – This is a common problem I see weekly where a tech will change the wiring and/or the dip switches and the unit immediately moves more air to pass the AF test. It shows why the HVAC contractor really wants to have a tech on the job when the HERS testing happens.
  2. Replace ducts. I see this fairly often. The HVAC contractor adds another return to the master bedroom or enlarges the return duct from 16 to 19 inches, more airflow happens, and the problem is solved.
  3. I have never seen this one done but know from PG&E sponsored commissioning classes that one can use Motormaster software and dial-in a properly sized motor for any application. That same class will tell you how extremely common it is to find wrong sized motors, pumps and fans throughout the built environment.
  4. Change out the condenser for a smaller unit. If you have a 5 ton system that is delivering 1230 CFM, changing to a 3.5 ton condenser works.  Just changing the condenser may be easier than re-doing the ducts.  Make sure it is 14 SEER, 13 no longer passes.
  5. Owner tells HVAC contractor to pull out non-code compliant system and hires contractor B who follows code and performs load calculations, duct design and then tests the system himself to make sure that every duct and every room is getting the airflow that the right-soft software said was necessary for proper performance.

This one happened to a contractor a few weeks before Christmas. The contractor was expecting to get the final $14,000 payment mid December and pay his supplier and employees. He probably would have used that money to buy some Christmas presents for his family. Instead, that guy got a tough lessen in why a contractor needs to conform to the code.

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