Georgia Energy Code Update - Blower Door Testing & DET Verifiers
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Builders Association of Georgia, and I've heard rumblings that some builders are trying to get the testing provision rescinded, I called the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which is in charge of construction codes, to find out what's going on.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 training. 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:
- Accredited HERS Rater
- ICC Residential Energy Inspector/Plans Examiner Certification
- EarthCraft House Technical Advisor
- Building Performance Institute (BPI) Analyst
- 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.
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.