HERS ENERGY COMPLIANCE TESTING AND REGISTRATION

Building Energy Compliance Testing’s qualified HERS raters offer a variety of energy efficiency services to the San Francisco Bay Area building industry for both commercial and residential buildings. We perform: 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 required HVAC load calculations, Manual J, duct design Manual D and equipment selection Manual S.

HERS TESTING – DUCT TEST & REGISTRATION

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

BUILD IT GREEN – GREEN POINT RATING

Green Point Ratings are similar to LEED rating system but are the rating of choice of most Bay Area Cities. 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.

VIDEOS

Single Most Cost Effective Energy Upgrade

Become a Superstar HVAC Contractor

Load Calculations & Duct Design

HERS Blower Door Test - San Francisco Bay Area

HERS Project Registration

BECT Duct Sealing Video

``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.

">CHEERS