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ACCA Programs Opening Door To High Standards

Originally published: 09.01.11 by Stan Johnson Jr.

EPA’s incorporation of QI and QA helps contractors gain Energy Star certification.

How many times have you surveyed a 10-year-old house that needs a new system and thought to yourself, “This was not a good installation . . .”? I’ve thought it many times while working as both an add-on-replacement (AOR) and Residential New Construction (RNC) contractor. 

In fact, I’ve heard this statement directed at everybody who does RNC work. 

This offends me, but I understand why people say it: Just as quality standards vary among HVAC contractors, they also vary among home-building contractors. This can make it difficult to separate the good from the bad in both industries. Poor quality in new-home construction sometimes results from builders putting low price before good quality for comfort systems, so standards for performance and installation are — unfortunately — not consistent. 

It seems that the only measure of comfort-system quality some builders use is to turn on the thermostat and be sure the outlets blow cold or hot air. This leaves assessment of installations up to untrained, low- or no-skill people with no idea how to properly size systems, ductwork, or registers. Additionally, those doing the start up in many instances

don’t know how to charge a system properly. 

Why is this happening? Many builders — even those who want to be known as high-end builders — have done what a lot of other businesspeople have done in the past decade or so— give in to low price/no standards because that is what their competitors are doing, and they fear they won’t be able to compete otherwise.

The result has been bad for everyone involved, including HVAC contractors. Even good contractors with high standards are being forced to compromise their standards or leave the RNC industry. 

The EPA has set out to change this with Energy Star Homes. Energy Star Homes’ purpose was, and is, to set not only a base standard but also an evolving higher standard for housing in the United States. A big part of their new program is to adopt the ACCA 5 QI (available as a free download at www.acca.org/quality) and require homebuilders to use HVAC contractors recognized by the ACCA Quality Assurance (QA) Program. 

ACCA developed the Quality Installation Standard (QI) at the suggestion of the industry. It received ANSI approval in early 2007. The EPA reviewed it and approached ACCA to use it, so they could  disseminate it as part of their push for Energy Star-qualified homes .

In 2010, the EPA asked ACCA to submit a program of written enforceable standards so that a new homebuilder could identify registered Energy Star Qualified Contractors (this is the evolving higher standard part). This program is the Quality Assurance program. Energy Star has now recognized ACCA as an HVAC Quality Installation Training and Oversight Organization (HQUITO).

ACCA approached the QA program with three goals. First, to support the credibility of quality contractors with Energy Star checklists, which record the quality of HVAC systems in new homes. Second, to open participation to all HVAC contractors to achieve the broadest-possible coverage across the United States. Third, ACCA worked to make it as affordable as possible, so that it would not be a financial burden to the HVAC or building industries. Housing in the United States must be efficient and affordable. 

Today the QA website (www.acca.org/qa) is operational and open for business. The EPA is letting 2011 be a voluntary year, a year to get used to the program. The EPA announced in August that any home started after Jan. 1, 2012, would have to have been built to the version 3.0 specifications to get an Energy Star rating.  This includes an HVAC system installed by a recognized QA Contractor — see the website for a directory.

HVAC contractors who wish to be considered for Energy Star homes are welcome to submit an application. All of the key elements are available online, and it does not require a membership in ACCA to participate. The key elements you will find online include:

  • The Energy Star-required QA Orientation session and quiz as the first step.
  • The QA applications and fees, which can be submitted online.
  • Three foundational documents for review:
    • QA Elements: The good business practices outlined in the ACCA 5- 2010 QI Standard. 
    • QA Participation Requirement: The rulebook for applying, participating in and — if necessary — being dismissed from the program.
    • QA Participation Document: The contractual document that outlines the legal relationship for the contractor to be in the program.

If you have stayed out of new-construction HVAC because of a perceived lack of quality, this is the beginning of an upgrade in the RNC industry. The EPA has stated that more than 25% of the homes in the United States in the past 12 months were Energy Start qualified. Even in a down economy, that is a significant number. Can you help to improve the quality of housing in our country by being at the front of contractors adopting and implementing QA? It is time to give serious consideration to getting on board.
Stan Johnson Jr. is Past Chairman of the Board of Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and retired President of Stan’s Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., serving Central Texas. He can be reached at sjohnson@stansac.com.

Articles by Stan Johnson Jr.

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ACCA Programs Opening Door To High Standards

Can you help to improve the quality of housing in our country by being at the front of contractors adopting and implementing QA? It is time to give serious consideration to getting on board.
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