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ENERGY STAR Version 3 Train-the-Trainer Class – Day 2

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As I mentioned in my review of the first day of this special ENERGY STAR Version 3 training, it wasn’t really a train-the-trainer session, and they admitted as much at the beginning of day 1. What it became instead was a vetting session for the new Version 3 guidelines. We spent almost the entire two days simply going line-by-line through three of the four checklists – Thermal Enclosure Checklist, HVAC Rater Checklist, and Water Management Builder Checklist.

As I mentioned in my review of the first day of this special ENERGY STAR Version 3 training, it wasn’t really a train-the-trainer session, and they admitted as much at the beginning of day 1. What it became instead was a vetting session for the new Version 3 guidelines. We spent almost the entire two days simply going line-by-line through three of the four checklists – Thermal Enclosure Checklist, HVAC Rater Checklist, and Water Management Builder Checklist.

In the second day, we spent most of the day talking about HVAC, and, as you might imagine, it was an interesting discussion. Version 3 has two HVAC checklists – one for the contractor and one for the rater. You can download them and the others from the ENERGY STAR Version 3 page.

One of the biggest points of discussion was the level of responsibility put on the rater to ensure that the contractor did his checklist correctly. With Version 2, raters have had to collect the Manual J heating & cooling load calculation report and verify that only three items were entered correctly: the indoor design temperature (75 F), the outdoor design temperature (1% ASHRAE design temperature), and the infiltration (tight or equivalent). There are still a lot of ways that the Manual J can be – and has been – screwed up.

The number of people that you put into the Manual J calculation is one way to add load, and every time I hear a new record high number for this, I get a little more doubtful that the HVAC industry is capable of doing their own load calculations. A few years ago, I checked a Manual J report that showed 11 people in a 3 bedroom house. The rule is actually that the number of people should be the number of bedrooms plus one, so that house should have had four people. Earlier this year, one of our raters sent us a Manual J that had 23 people in a 5 bedroom house. (That’s only 17 extra people at 230 Btu/hr sensible plus 200 Btu/hr latent!)

Well, Tei Kucharski of the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) blew those two out of the water. She told us of one report she saw that had 96 people in a 4 bedroom house!

Speaking of interesting things I heard while there, Neil Moyer, also of FSEC, said that HVAC contractors who don’t understand the V part (ventilation) are a bunch of HACs. We build tight houses now, especially if they qualify for the ENERGY STAR label, and ventilation is critical. In fact, mechanical ventilation that meets ASHRAE 62.2 is required in Version 3.

Chuk Boles of EarthCraft House Virginia, though, gets the award for getting the most laughs at this event, and his best one was, “If I had four hands, I’d beat myself to death patting myself on the back.” I forget the point he was trying to make because I was laughing so hard.

Anyway, back to the HVAC changes, it seemed that quite a few people in the room believe that raters, many of whom don’t know a lot about HVAC, should not be asked to verify correctness of the HVAC contractor’s checklist. Line 1.1 on the HVAC rater checklist asks if the contractor’s checklist is complete, and some feel that’s as far as ENERGY STAR should go with the rater verifying the contractor’s checklist. Lines 1.2 and 1.3 increase the rater’s liability and should be omitted, they say.

When we got to filters in the HVAC rater checklist, Scott Suddreth of Building Performance Engineering mentioned a device I hadn’t heard of before which seems like a cool idea – the filter whistle. It works by getting more and more air as the filter gets dirty, eventually whistling loudly enough to get the homeowners’ attention. Seems like a good feedback mechanism to ensure the filter gets changed.

My Two Cents

On the one hand, I love that Sam Rashkin and crew are pushing the ENERGY STAR new homes program so far ahead with Version 3. On the other hand, as a HERS provider, I see trouble ahead with the implementation because, for example, it’s almost impossible to get a correct Manual J heating & cooling load calculation now, four years after it became a requirement in Version 2.

HVAC is going to be the most difficult component, just as it has been since the Version 2 changes came in. I agree with the sentiment that we should ask the raters only to verify that the HVAC contractor completed their checklist and drop items 1.2 and 1.3. Home Energy Raters overall don’t have enough training to go down that road yet, so let’s leave that liability with the contractors.

Also, there’s no guarantee that the items that raters are required to check in 1.2 will yield a high performance, right-sized HVAC system. For example, the rater has to check that the window area is close to what they got, but they don’t have to check for correct window types (U-value and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient) and shading. They’re supposed to check for correct number of bedrooms but not correct number of people. There could be other problems with sizing based on 1.2.7, 1.2.8, and 1.2.9, but that issue deserves its own article.

Another thing that occurred to me yesterday morning is the HERS provider’s role in qualifying ENERGY STAR homes. The ENERGY STAR program relies on RESNET’s quality assurance process, but Version 3 goes beyond the rules for HERS ratings, so there could be a lot of different interpretations out there about what providers should be doing.

I made the suggestion during the session that ENERGY STAR create a training for providers because they’re the only ones who have been left out. Builders have to complete a one-hour online training. HVAC contractors have to complete a training through ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America). HERS training providers have been going through this class that I’m writing about now. But currently there’s nothing for HERS rating providers.


I think ENERGY STAR is doing a great job just by putting these classes on and also for working so hard to ensure that the Version 3 rollout goes smoother than Version 2 did. Yes, of course, there are glitches. That’s inevitable. But I think it’s clear that anyone who buys a home with an ENERGY STAR Version 3 label should be getting one that’s significantly better than one that met the minimum standards of Version 2.

Arnie Katz of Advanced Energy and Dean Gamble of ENERGY STAR did a great job of facilitating a discussion with a group of people that I was happy to be among for the past two days. It’s always good to learn from people who have more experience than I. (And there was one guy there who said he’s got 300 years experience!)


Read the first article in this two-part series:  ENERGY STAR Version 3 Train-the-Traininer Class – Day 1.


Download our 16 page white paper by clicking the link below:

Getting Ready for Version 3 (and 2.5) of the ENERGY STAR Homes Program



This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Thanks for confirming what I
    Thanks for confirming what I already know. I’m so weary of reading Manual J reports that are “joke”. Thankfully, PG&E; is teaching me Tuesday how to do them. Hopefully, I can afford the software to them!!!

  2. Thanks Allison, it’s great to
    Thanks Allison, it’s great to get some insight into what you guys are up to down there!

  3. You’re welcome, Sam and
    You’re welcome, Sam and Hunter. It’ll be interesting to start implementing all this next year as Version 2.5 comes in. ENERGY STAR realizes the challenges, though, and are putting a heavy emphasis on training.

  4. Thanks for the link to the
    Thanks for the link to the Filter Whistle. $1.49 @ $3.50 shipping. Will try to round up some neighbors for a group purchase. Always thought the 30 day guideline was a “safe” recommendation to sell more filters. In fact, a very site specific issue.  
    Also, disappointed the whistle manufacturer could be correct and incorrect in the same sentance. To wit: 
    “When this “dust” builds up, it can also decrease the efficiency of your furnace (correct, over time), as the furnace has to work harder(incorrect, period)to pull air through the intake(return). As we all know, properly maintained furnaces are essentially digital. They either operate at rated efficiency, or they are off…technically, they don’t work “harder” (do some newer units modulate the flame?). Longer, yes, because the circulating fan (which actually uses less electrical energy pushing air through a restricted filter) moves less conditioned air and the furnace has to run more, till that pesky t’stat is satisfied or the high temperture limit switch on the furnace heat exchanger trips (which somewhat flies in the face of my “digital efficiency” arguement, but I’m sticking with it :-). 
    Hoping to start a fight :-).

  5. Steve, you’re right in the
    Steve, you’re right in the case of fixed speed blowers with PSC motors, the most common type. They don’t work harder when the filter gets dirty. They move less air and thus have to run longer, as you say.  
    For new high efficiency equipment with variable speed blowers powered by EC motors, however, when the air flow drops, they do work harder. 
    And yes, the length of time between filter changes is site specific. In a house with return vents in the floor, 30 days may be too long to wait. In a house with returns in the ceiling and almost leakage in the ducts, the big pleated filters can last through a whole heating or cooling season.  
    Also, in case you haven’t seen it yet, I wrote an article about some of the problems I’ve seen with filters.

  6. Amplifying on Allison’s
    Amplifying on Allison’s comment, the reason why ECM’s have an inverse power curve is because they’re designed to maintain constant torque. The more resistance they encounter, the more energy they consume. ECM’s employed in most variable speed blowers are designed to maintain constant CFM. For this reason, variable speed furnaces and air handlers often consume more electricity than their PSC counterparts, even though the motor itself is significantly more efficient. 
    Interestingly, dealers and hvac manufacturers sometimes promote vari-speed’s ability to overcome increased static caused by dirty filters as a positive. I see only see a potential energy hog. My non-variable speed ECM blower has indeed sliced my overall HVAC costs, but only because I maintain my filters.

  7. Great points, David. Thanks
    Great points, David. Thanks for adding more detail there.  
    Also, I just noticed I left an important word (no) in my previous comment: 
    “In a house with returns in the ceiling and almost leakage in the ducts…” should say “almost no leakage…”

  8. I forgot to mention how some
    I forgot to mention how some HVAC contractors see vari-speed as solving any concern about low airflow. If the duct system is undersized or restricted, a vari-speed blower will increase RPM’s in order to achieve the specified airflow. Problem solved (assuming ESP doesn’t exceed blower limit). O 
    f course, they probably sold that expensive blower as an efficiency enhancement!

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