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Ready or Not… Here I Come!

09Apr

Remember when we were kids and played hide and seek? Just before you went looking for everyone you announced, “Ready or not, here I come!” I think many contractors have developed that attitude toward the Code changes. Hint: They aren’t ready! The new 2010 Code is most definitely here, so I will recap several of the major changes that are sure to affect you and your customers.

First, there is a mandatory requirement to perform a Manual J or other recognized load calculation for changeouts. Judging from the TREMENDOUS response to the classes being held by FRACCA chapters over the state, many contractors seem to have forgotten how to run a Manual J! This is truly odd as a heat gain calculation has been required for all new construction permits… and have been for many years. I wonder who has been running the required load sizing… and how a correct size is being determined. Several years ago, data was presented before the Building Commission Energy TAC in a study conducted by the University of Florida. The study found that 78% of the 1600+ houses surveyed were half ton or more oversized! Obviously, we, the contractors, are NOT doing a good job determining the correct size system. This brings me to a complaint from a contractor to the Governor to the effect that a sizing calculation is a needless expense as it has already been performed and on file at the municipality. If 78% are the wrong size, so much for that argument. Perhaps we can “get it right” the second time around.  Additionally, how many homes have upgraded windows, insulation, room additions, etc? It is time for we, the contractors, to learn how to accurately determine the load and then select correct equipment to meet that load. My company has performed a Short Form Manual J for every changeout for the last 15-years and perhaps longer. For a single story ranch, a Short Form Manual J typically takes 15 to 18 minutes. Because none of the other contractors bidding the job performed the calculation, the homeowner most often asks, “What are you doing?”  I would respond, “OH, about 50% of the time we recommend a smaller size than our competition.” I knew they would be surprised by that. When people have changed fenestration, I make that 100% recommendation of smaller equipment. This is not an egregious requirement; it is something we should have been doing for years!

Second, duct sealing. I have received a large volume of calls with wild ideas of what is required to comply. I am currently a voting member of the Energy TAC and the Energy Workgroup that forwarded this to the Building Commission (and I attended every meeting of these two groups) I can testify to exactly what this requirement means, and how to satisfy the requirements; A little background is in order. Elections have consequences. People are appointed to various boards and committees. There are people in this country that either don’t know construction or are what I call “Energy Zealots,” and have little idea of the ramifications of their desires to save the planet”. One such group made long, loud and repeated presentations before the Energy Workgroup, TAC, and Commission to make MANDATORY a complete duct test to a standard of a maximum two percent leak rate and have that certified by a Class 1 BERS rater to final the permit. This requirement was for EXISTING HOMES when an equipment changeout was performed! My first question of this proponent was, “How much drywall should we rip out to perform this requirement?” This is a LONG story, but the short version for this discussion takes us to what is in the new Code. Repair all ductwork, typically with fiberglass fabric and mastic that has 30 inches of clearance and the contractor “self-certifies” that this has been accomplished. What is 30 inches of clearance? Some are saying all ductwork when the attic has 30” between the top of the “bottom chord” and “top chord” of the trusses. WRONG. That was NEVER any part of the discussion for this requirement. The final compromise reached consists of the fact that ducts leak and in an attempt to mitigate that the installing (changeout) contractor is required to seal ductwork with 30” clearance to a solid object… like another duct, roof sheeting, knee wall, whatever. This was deemed adequate clearance for the installing technician to easily comply and not require undo labor to perform. Under this explanation does the bottom of the duct that rests on the trusses need to be sealed to comply? NO, it would be nice if you did, but it is not required. What kind of duct? Rigid fiberglass – YES, Flex connections – YES – Sheet metal wrapped or lined – YES… Ductwork! Remember this was a compromise between Class 1 BERS rater with a maximum 2% leak rate, something relatively easy to comply. A ductwork is notoriously leaky, it’s probably not a bad idea for customers or the state of Florida in general. Remember, I have my one vote, and there are some ten other people on these committees including consumer advocates, a “green” person, etc. We ended up with a compromise at 30 inches of clearance. In addition, homes that have already been “sealed” by some other agency such as the Tampa Electric duct sealing program are exempted. Satisfaction of this requirement is done via a compliance letter (typically on contractor letterhead) and attached to the unit for the inspector. The format of the letter could be: “Name of Contractor firm, did on such and such date repair ductwork leaks at such and such address, with the compliant U/L 181 method for ductwork – using fiberglass fabric and mastic where there was minimum 30 inches clearance as proscribed in 101.4.7.1 of the Energy Code, date it, and sign with your license number attached”…Done deal, this isn’t expected to be Tolstoy’s War and Peace. As this is a “contractor certified” situation, I would expect the mechanical inspector to merely spot check for compliance, but the onus is definitely on the contractor. His reputation and license is “on the line” with self certification.

Third, refrigerant locking caps are required on all caps that could be readily removed. These locking caps are available in colors to correspond to the refrigerant in the unit and are reasonable in price. With the current price of refrigerant at $13/pound wholesale for R-22, forget stealing copper… Steal the refrigerant!

Lastly, for this article, AHRI ratings are not to be used for equipment sizing. The manufacturers expanded performance ratings using the same design conditions as the load calculations are required to comply with this standard. THINK, how can you use the manufacturer’s data if you have a MISMATCH? I don’t know either! I won’t beat the drum concerning mismatching again this month except to say that the practice is illegal and is bad for the homeowner. Despite the initial “cheap price”, it is bad for the contractor. Making statements of efficiency and capacity that cannot be substantiated in fact is bad for the state of Florida as these installations are notoriously inefficient. The data shows it is typically under 9-SEER with a new 13-SEER OD unit. Friends, we don’t have enough electricity in this state to go around, especially if we squander it needlessly with mismatched equipment!

Looking out for you,

Bob Cochell

Guest column written by Bob Cochell, a FRACCA Board member and member of the Energy Technical Advisory Committee of the Florida Building Commission. If you have questions or have feedback to give on this article, contact your local chapter office, or contact the FRACCA executive office at [email protected] or 727-576-3225.

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