Georgia Energy Code Update - Blower Door Testing & DET Verifiers

10 Comments Read/write comments

The home energy videos on these sites will educate you on building science.

The new Georgia energy code, based on the 2009 IECC, moves our state a step ahead of other states. The major new requirement is that all new homes be tested for infiltration rates with a Blower Door. As far as I know, even California doesn't require this. To do the testing, a person must be a certified Duct & Envelope Tightness (DET) verifier. These changes are huge!

Today I have some news and commentary on what's going on in the state with implementation of the new energy code. Some of it relates to the implementation schedule, some to the DET verifier training process, and some to the nature of third party verification required.

Blower Door & Duct Leakage Testing Delayed

First, I got word last week that the state of Georgia had delayed the implementation of the infiltration and duct leakage testing requirements of the new energy code. Since I saw the news in an update from the Home Builders Association of Georgia, and I've heard rumblings that some builders are trying to get the testing provision rescinded, I called the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which is in charge of construction codes, to find out what's going on.

Blower Door and duct leakage testing were supposed to begin with all new homes permitted as of 1 January 2011. That means that the first ones requiring a test would still be a few months away, but evidently the state felt that even with that lag, there wouldn't be enough DET verifiers available to enforce the testing provisions. The new start date is 1 July 2011.

I talked to two different people at the DCA yesterday and asked them about this and if they might back down and allow visual inspections, and the answer was no. Once this kicks on 1 July, the testing requirement will be enforced.

The reason for the delay is that the officially sanctioned DET verifier training, the curriculum for which is being created by my old employer Southface Energy Institute, isn't ready yet. The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) gave Southface the contract for curriculum development and training. The classes were supposed to start in December 2010 but still haven't begun yet, hence the delay in enforcement.

DET Verifier Training

The Georgia Supplements and Amendments to the IECC 2009 state the following about who is qualified to do the testing (p. 5, Ch. 2):

CERTIFIED DUCT AND ENVELOPE TIGHTNESS (DET) VERIFIER. A certified DET verifier shall be a certified Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS) rater, or be a certified Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractor, or be a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Analyst, or successfully complete a certified DET verifier course that is approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

To qualify as a HERS rater, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR contractor, or BPI Building Analyst, you have to go through a week or more of trainingDuct leakage testing is required by the new Georgia energy code for all ducts outside the building envelope.. The new state-approved DET verifier training will be a one-day class.

Once Southface gets the new curriculum approved, other organizations will be allowed to use that curriculum to certify DET verifiers. I asked if I could get my own curriculum approved, and the answer was no, I have to use the official curriculum for the one-day class.

Don't get me wrong here. I think that just having this requirement at all is a huge step forward for Georgia. We may be near the bottom when it comes to ranking the education systems in the 50 states, but we rock when it comes to energy code.

Having said that, here's my complaint: A one-day class is not enough to train someone adequately in proper use of a Blower Door and duct leakage tester. Yeah, they may be able to set up and run the equipment and pass the exam at the end of the day, but I don't have a lot of confidence in the accuracy of the tests they perform if that one-day class is all they have.

If you've read my thoughts on HERS rater training, you know that I think a 5 day class isn't enough for that course, and our HERS rater class lasts 8 days. It takes time for understanding to develop because education is a process of creation, not consumption.

Yesterday, one of our certified home energy raters in the state sent me an email about someone he talked with recently who's been through a one-day class:

"[W]e had lunch with an HVAC guy in this area the other day, and he indicated that he recently went through the DET, not sure about the acronym, training and was certified to BD/DB. He received his training through [name of electric utility company removed]. I learned he never set the systems up himself for either tests. He was an intelligent guy, but he did not know enough to go out and do blower door or duct blaster tests based on his answers."

As I said above, requiring a test at all is huge. Testing done by poorly qualified contractors on some houses, I believe, is still better than no testing at all. Yes, some houses that should fail will probably pass because the 1-day DET verifier didn't set up the manometer properly or made some other mistake, but many houses will be tested correctly, especially the ones done by HERS raters and others with the more rigorous certifications.

Clarification on Third Party Verification

In my last article on the new energy code, I mentioned that the Blower Door and duct leakage testing does not have to be done by a third party. Afterward, a couple of people asked me how that meshes with Appendix C in the Supplements and Amendments, which is all about third party verification. I asked my DCA contacts yesterday about this, and here's what they said:

Appendix C applies to the overall compliance with the energy code, not individual pieces like the Blower Door and duct leakage testing. In general, the building inspectors will do this, and they're third party because they work for the local building department. The list of who qualifies as a third party verifier is given on p. 34 in Appendix C:

  1. Accredited HERS Rater
  2. ICC Residential Energy Inspector/Plans Examiner Certification
  3. EarthCraft House Technical Advisor
  4. Building Performance Institute (BPI) Analyst
  5. Equivalent qualifications as approved by the local code official

So, a builder or HVAC contractor can do the pressure testing on their own house or duct system, but they can't verify that the whole house meets the energy code.

Also, whereas the main document of the energy code applies to the whole state, Appendix C is dependent on adoption by the local authority:

C101.2 Adoption. The authority having jurisdiction may adopt this appendix to utilize third-party verification of this code.

Summary

With such a groundbreaking energy code, of course, we're going to have some hiccups. Yes, the DET verifier training should be more than a one-day class in my opinion, but at least we're requiring that new homes be tested for air leakage and duct leakage. That's amazing progress! As the process continues, we'll figure out the details, and eventually we'll have a cadre of qualified verifiers around the state, and the buyers of the new homes that go through this testing will be the beneficiaries.

Comments

Howard Feldman

Great article Allison. 
I personally can see no reason why you would not be able to do your own DET training class. 
 
Do they really think there will be that many people who can go out and get trained and then buy the equipment? what is the lead time on equipment now anyways? 
 
I am a proponent of the HBA but sometimes they just seem to get in the way and in this case, i understand that they had a hand in this as well as the fewer testers = higher cost for testing. 
 
Like people are pulling building permits all over the place?

Allison Bailes

Howard, I agree that although there may be a lot of interest initially in the one-day class, many of those people won't make the investment in the equipment. The lead time now is about 3-4 days from The Energy Conservatory, and I think Retrotec also has plenty of equipment in stock.

Jeffrey Sauls

Hey Allison. 
Regarding 3rd party, is there going to be a quality control process for this? There seems to be a little bit of conflict of interest in having an HVAC contractor measure his own work. 
On the positive side of the delay situation, I've had a forward thinking builder here in metro-Atlanta that has decided to start testing his homes anyway to ensure that they're building to the requirements before it's too late.

Allison Bailes

Jeffrey, quality control for the third party verification will be up to the local authority, if they adopt that part. The argument that was used in allowing builders and HVAC contractors to test their own work was that we allow plumbers to test their own work for leaks. It may not be ideal, but it's better than no testing at all. Plus, I think a lot of HVAC contractors probably don't want to get involved in that side because they can make more money by installing and servicing systems. 
 
Congratulations on the new job with the forward thinking builder!

Sam Young

You're a great man, Allison, but I must disagree with you on this point. 
 
I can train a "monkey" in less than 2 hours how to set up an run blower door test. Will they be able to interpret the results and reasonably consult with the builder? No!!!!!! 
 
However, I do think there is a need someone behind a Field Verifier who can answer questions for the builder. You and I will be busy when this gets started, but it won't be based on our ability to run a test. Our value is going to be helping builders figure out how to get out of the mess they got themselves into. 
 
Once the builder figures out how to pass the test, then someone trained on how to do the test on our behalf will be all that's needed. I've proven it with my own builders! 
 
You and I should be blitzing GA builders with the message they can consult with us now or later. It will be cheaper for them now! 
 
See you soon! 
 
BTW: CA does require air infiltration and duct leakage tests on new houses-- the best I can figure out Title 24 (their name for the building code)

Anthony Hyde

Here in PA we added IEEC 2009 to our code 1/1/10. It is being applied in a hit or miss way across eastern PA. Some of the building officials are requiring third party verification (I have been getting a lot of calls), others - I really do not know how they are handling the process. Many of the local townships use outside contract engineers for inspections but none of these seem to be HERS or BPI certified. Just this past week the director of the local building association sent out a request for all members to join in a crusade to roll back the updated codes and no longer allow PA to automaticly include updated natioal codes the way we do now. A few of our builders embrace energy efficiency, most believe that if it sold overf the past 20 years, why improve it now.

Darren

Typical government involvement where the price of a home goes up without any value to the customer. Most homes in our area are built to Energy Star requirments with out a blower door test. The consumer is unwilling to pay the cost for a test. If they are unwilling, why force this "value" on them?

Allison Bailes

Darren, I'm sorry, but if the homes in your area aren't tested for infiltration as well as for duct leakage, then they are definitely NOT built to ENERGY STAR requirements.  
 
As for having this new requirement and the issue of government involvement in building, that's a whole other topic. I could make my case, and you could defend yours, but the fact is that this new requirement exists, and it WILL improve new homes. The average new home now has infiltration of about 10 ACH50. The new Georgia energy code requires 7 ACH50 or less.

Greg Pruitt

I like the new building code, of curse as both a builder and foam insulator, I know it will finally provide for energy efficiency. Foam insulation, is the only way to seal these houses and meet the new code. I have 4200 sq foot houses with total bills $150.00-$175.00. YOu cannot do this with fibergalss or celloulose. I think it is high time that we stop lying to people about energy usage and build our homes and commercial buildings right; it doesnot cost much more, and the life savings is comparable to a retirement savings. Unfortunately, in Texas we will probably be the last to adopt it. We can reduce our dependence on oil, by adopting these principles, and making incentives to convert older buildings. New HVAC standard should pudh 2 stage and mulitiple stage equipment.

Anonymous

We have HERS trained boss, Craig McManus of asolarpro.com doing work in Georgia because it leads so well in interior air quality codes and leadership.