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Big Changes Are Happening in Residential HVAC Quality Installation Programs

By Alexandra Behringer - Associate Director

Residential HVAC equipment represents a critical opportunity for energy savings, since more than half of the energy use in homes is due to heating and cooling equipment. However, we know that poor HVAC installation practices—resulting in deficiencies in equipment sizing, airflow, and refrigerant levels, as well as duct leakage—can negatively affect achievable energy savings. As a result, increasing numbers of utilities are requiring that contractors follow proper or “quality” procedures for the installation of residential HVAC equipment.

To support the quality installation of HVAC systems, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) established a national minimum standard—the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/ACCA 5 Quality Installation (QI)–2010 (HVAC Quality Installation Specification)—also referred to as the ACCA Standard 5 (PDF). In spite of the standard, we’ve heard from many E Source members that they often face challenges in implementing HVAC QI programs for residential customers, citing issues such as:

  • Low customer demand for QI services due to lack of awareness that many HVAC systems are installed incorrectly
  • A lack of knowledge among many contractors of QI standards or a lack of understanding of HVAC QI requirements
  • Existing incentive structures that are often not enough to motivate customers or contractors to pursue QI
  • Utilities’ inability to identify or create adequate QI training opportunities for contractors

We’ve heard that this last challenge—the lack of training opportunities to ensure contractors are familiar with QI standards and proper installation practices—has been particularly problematic for utilities. So we set out to assess the current state of QI programs and the role of HVAC industry stakeholders to better understand opportunities for efficiency programs. This research turned out to be very timely because ACCA recently launched a new QA Residential Service & Installation (RSI) accreditation program that may provide a foundation for identifying qualified contractors. The RSI accreditation will recognize contractors that install HVAC systems in existing homes that meet the ACCA 5 QI Standard and issue certificates for quality installation of heating and cooling systems. As part of this effort, ACCA has established an RSI Verifier program, which qualifies third-party building science professionals to evaluate the HVAC systems that RSI contractors submit for verification.

The RSI accreditation will give utilities and the HVAC industry a clear way to identify contractors that understand the importance of QI and have the skills to perform a quality installation. Most likely, it will also provide the foundation for the development of QI-specific training resources by industry stakeholders such as Heating, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) and its member distributors.

Another reason this research is timely is because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of revamping its Energy Star HVAC Quality Installation program. (Utilities typically either sponsor this program or design their own program independent of Energy Star.) Up to this point, there has been limited adoption of the Energy Star QI program by utilities because administrative expenses related to contractor infrastructure development and quality assurance (QA) requirements were so high and the burden of training contractors on QI standards and delivering QA was so heavy.

As a result, the EPA is assessing future options for the program. The most likely pathway will be to allow third-party verification and oversight organizations (called HVAC Quality Installation Training and Oversight Organizations, or H-QUITOs for short) to confirm that QI jobs were completed according to the ACCA Standard 5. This should significantly reduce program costs for utility sponsors (whose main investments would be providing financial incentives toward Energy Star QI installations as well as marketing and education), thereby increasing program cost-effectiveness.

What do you think of these changes? Will they lead you to take a second look at your current QI program or incentive, or think more seriously about launching a QI program to ensure efficient HVAC systems are installed correctly and provide the savings they should?

E Source Demand-Side Management Service members can learn more by reading our new report Pursuing Energy Savings Through HVAC Quality Installation Programs.

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