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ENERGY STAR Version 3 – A Tool for Transformation in HVAC

The Evaporator Coil In An Air Conditioner Cools And Dehumidifies Your Home's Air.

hvac air conditioner evaporator coil energy star version 3I’m torn. Since I first dived into the ENERGY STAR Version 3 guidelines, the new HVAC requirements have pulled me in two directions. On the one hand, as someone who’s been calling for change in the HVAC industry, I see them as a great way to move things forward. On the other hand, I’m a HERS rating provider who wants to help our raters succeed.

I’m torn. Since I first dived into the ENERGY STAR Version 3 guidelines, the new HVAC requirements have pulled me in two directions. On the one hand, as someone who’s been calling for change in the HVAC industry, I see them as a great way to move things forward. On the other hand, I’m a HERS rating provider who wants to help our raters succeed.

As the Quality Assurance Designee (QAD) of our HERS providership, I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with raters in their effort to qualify homes for the ENERGY STAR label. In Version 2 of the program, the requirements aren’t that stiff, but it’s still nearly impossible to get accurate Manual J load calculations. (Have I mentioned that before?)

John Barba, a long-time HVAC guy in Minnesota, recently wrote about a class he taught, “when asked how many perform heat loss calculations for every job they do, only a smattering raise their hands.” Few HVAC companies go through the whole process of HVAC design. Few follow that up with full commissioning. It’s not taught much in the HVAC technical schools and colleges, so it’s not all that surprising that some HVAC contractors don’t even know what Manual J is.

With ENERGY STAR Version 2, I’ve had to fail a few houses for oversized cooling systems, but the majority of rating files I’ve checked have been able to squeak through. With Version 3, HVAC companies will have to raise the level of their game significantly.

If the bar is on the ground for passing code, HVAC contractors simply step over it. ENERGY STAR V2 puts the bar a few feet above the ground, so contractors have to take a bit of a running start to clear it. It’s possible for most of them if they want to do it. They’re used to just stepping over the bar, though, so many complain about the extra effort required to jump over the ES V2 bar.

With ES V3, the bar is about 12 feetenergy star homes version 3 hvac pole vaulter above the ground. Now, anyone who wants to get over it has to become a pole vaulter. A few HVAC companies already know how to pole vault, but many will be left behind. Here’s where most of the extra height of the bar comes from:

  • Full HVAC design – Manuals J, S, T, & D
  • Mechanical ventilation that meets ASHRAE 62.2
  • Airflow measurements – static pressure, pressure relief for bedrooms, and test-and-balance

This is stuff that should be happening on every job anyway, in my opinion. In other words, HVAC, to be done well, requires pole vaulters. Since there aren’t many of them in the HVAC industry right now, there won’t be many homes qualifying for ENERGY STAR Version 3. With it being harder to attain, the ENERGY STAR label will mean more. I hope also that it will encourage transformation in the HVAC industry. We need it.


Photo by d[O_o]b from, used under a Creative Commons license.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Allison.
    Allison. Now that I’ve figured out how to do HVAC design; therefore, how to evaluate them, I’m finding the HVAC contractor can’t even step over the line. 
    I spent the week designing a solution to replace an Air Cycler as a primary mechanical ventilation means. Once I figured out how big the fresh-air duct was supposed to be, I finally got a subset of the HVAC community in Atlanta to acknowledge to acknowledge homeowners simply shut them off because unconditioned air is so uncomfortable. To get their houses certified, contractors install a duct 1/3 the size and hope we wouldn’t notice. To make matters worse, they know the required 50 cfm continuous ventilation was really more like 3 cfm after it was attached to a variable speed motor. 
    I spent two days working with a recognized ventilation specialist to barely meet the requirement. If anyone is interested, I’ll share my memo. 
    Sadly, trying to meet Version 1 has just become difficult. The best way to help the HERS Raters is to give them HVAC design and diagnostic tools. We’re the ones who’ll have to help the HVAC community pole vault!

  2. I haven’t yet had anyone ask
    I haven’t yet had anyone ask for a Version 2.5 or 3 certification, and based on what I know I don’t expect any to happen anytime soon. Since neither EarthCraft nor LEED require ENERGY STAR certification right now, I don’t expect to see much demand until one or both of those programs start to require it in the future. This will likely happen in late 2012 for LEED. Your point about rarely getting accurate load calcs rings very true. I generally have to send back almost every report for revisions and it is surprising that even the relatively knowledgable contractors still make lots of mistakes. On top of this, I often don’t even get them until after the job is finished – then I have to tell them that their equipment is too large to be certified. It seems like very few industry professionals care enough to take the time to make sure these decisions are made correctly from the beginning. I guess in this challenged market, many are struggling just to pay the bills and can’t find the time to do much beyond the absolute minimum to get by. The whole situation is rather dispiriting, but we will just have to keep keeping on until things change enough to make a difference.

  3. Allison. There are high
    Allison. There are high quality HVAC contractors out there! For us we are thrilled to see Energy Star 3.0 coming, it will truly separate us from the ranks of our competitors. 

  4. Sam: You
    Sam: You’re right that for most houses that want to get the ES V3 label, third party HVAC design will probably be required. As you suggest, HERS raters can add this to their repertoire and help builders keep qualifying homes. 
    Carl: I think the ENERGY STAR folks realize that their numbers will go down with V3. So does RESNET, which is making a big effort to push builders to get their homes rated and market the HERS Index. Things are definitely changing. 
    Jim: Nice to hear from a pole vaulter! Have you gone through the ES V3 HVAC contractor checklist? Have you done any V2.5 projects yet? I’d love to hear more about why you’re thrilled.

  5. It certainly is ambitious. I
    It certainly is ambitious. I would pay serious money just to get significant fractions of this standard. In Texas I predict the number of adopters will be approximately zero. Not what I wish it would be, but it simply is out of step with the education level of people who choose residential HVAC as a career. Think about it: people who work with numbers, almost never choose a job that requires them to crawl in attics in August.

  6. Mark: I’m
    Mark: I’m pretty hard on the HVAC industry a lot here in the EV blog, but I always try to recognize that there are some who know how to do things right and then do so as often as they can. I’ve met some smart HVAC people who are good with numbers, too. You’re right that the vast majority lack the training, skills, or motivation to do things right, but the good ones out there give me a glimmer of hope that eventually we can transform the industry. Now, we can start using ES V3 to help push that transformation.

  7. LOL! I used to pole vault in
    LOL! I used to pole vault in high school.  
    No wonder I am a high performance AC designer and installer. 
    I predict that the AC industry will be turned on end in the next year or two if Energy Star is applied.

  8. Christopher
    Christopher: That IS funny! How high did you vault? I hope you’re right about the industry being ‘turned on end.’ That would be a good result because the industry needs it. It could be, though, that rather than doing somersaults, the industry just ignores ENERGY STAR. It’ll be interesting to see which way things go.

  9. Allison. Until recently we
    Allison. Until recently we were the only ACCA QA certified HVAC contractor west of Texas and one of twelve in the country! I believe the total is now around twenty. 
    I also believe my industry will be turned on its end as 3.0 is applied.

  10. Many of us agree the industry
    Many of us agree the industry is broken. A top-down formula to make everyone do things right is just one proposed solution. As I’ve hinted this one may prove to be too ambitious for its voluntary audience. 
    I would applaud other ways to shake up the industry in a positive direction. If manufacturers could make HVAC more appliance-like that would help. Customers WANT this to be an appliance, buy it and forget it. Instead we have a custom engineering job whenever we use a forced air duct system. And the people charged with design are seldom enthusiastic, seldom good at what is asked of them. 
    In my opinion it would be a very positive upset if only every system could measure its static pressure. Carrier Infinity is one example of making this info available to its customers. Lots of contractors would rather just sweep this number under the rug. Many cannot measure it themselves, which I find tragic. 
    Measuring airflow: can someone invent a method which does not require a $$$$ calibrated flow hood? And could be easily bought (and used) by the average tech? Plus the occasional fanatic homeowner, of which there are a few? Having this info become commonplace rather than exotic, would upend the industry in a good way. 
    Something that might be done using smart meters: to observe the actual AC on-times and off-times, would shed new light on AC sizing… from a different direction than Manual J, from actual observation rather than a model. Personally I have done this using “TED 5000” which has useful minute-by-minute load graphing. It tells me my secondary AC could be half the present size and it would still do what I ask of it. I would hesitate to trust Manual J that far (although the message is compatible). 
    Onsite measurements originating from the home, maybe from the homeowner. That might provide a new direction from which the homeowner and HVAC technician might collaborate, and redefine this broken industry. 
    Just my inclination.

  11. I say train the installers,
    I say train the installers, then it will be more likely to happen. 
    I guess I favor the bottom up, one tech at a time. 
    I constantly hear: “Well they did not teach that in school.” Maybe there is not a text book on it yet, and there should be. My idea was and is the internet site and tutorials, because this is a new century. I would like to present a training system where AC business owners can have the techs spend 5 minutes a day watching an internet video and taking a quiz. Then after 3 months or whatever, the seeds are at least planted.  
    By the way my highest pole vault was 13’6″ which is not to shabby for a 5’9″ kid that was not a very fast sprinter. I still want to put a pit in my back yard. Such fun. I still brag that my trainee vaulted 16 ft.

  12. Well, I’m a big fan of &quot
    Well, I’m a big fan of “baby steps” as some of you who know me are well aware of. 
    3.0 is not a baby step, it’s a giant leap. And I believe it will cause builders to drop out, for a variety of reasons. 
    The specs are great, the performance will be great, and the resultant home will be great. However, we build homes like this now, and we call them a “niche market.” 
    The whole rest of the world still has no idea what one of these houses will be like. 
    So rather than take a baby step we try to push people right to spacecraft caliber stuff. It’s intimidating to say the least. 
    And to be honest, many of the very best contractors I know of will have nothing to do with certifications of any kind. They are too busy doing good work with a long backlog. Getting a certification for some “program” so they can work for a production builder has no value to them, and has a bit of hassle to boot. So getting subs to build these 3.0 homes will be tough. 
    I actually think that’s a great topic for another discussion “The Fallacy of the Certified Contractor.” 

  13. Mark wrote: “…the
    Mark wrote: “…the people charged with design are seldom enthusiastic, seldom good at what is asked of them.” 
    Too broad of a brush. I’m an HVAC engineer, and although I don’t work for any of the majors, the design engineers I’ve worked with over the years are extremely dedicated and cognizant of the issues. If you want to point fingers at the OEM’s, let’s talk about the marketing and distribution folks. 
    When working for a previous employer, I won an SBIR grant for development of a low-cost continuous commissioning system for residential HVAC (a.k.a. internet connected monitoring system). Retrofitting such a system would be a bit pricey, perhaps a few hundred dollars. But building in this technology and capability into new systems would probably add no more than $50 at mfr cost. 
    As you mentioned, the Infinity has some advanced diagnostic features, but there’s no reason (except for marketing considerations) for not including internet-capable monitoring on all systems. 
    The most serious problems boil down to system sizing and duct design and installation. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit thinking about innovative ways to upend the industry (to turn HVAC into an appliance, as you put it). But there’s no getting away from reality and physics. 
    That being said, it’s not that difficult for all but the smallest HVAC contractors to hire a good designer, provided they get the right person. That, plus some QA in the field might add 10% to the mechanical system price. Given the benefits (or more importantly, given how bad it can be when this is not done), the extra cost is a no-brainer. It’s among the lowest hanging fruit there is, both in terms of comfort and cost. It really boils down to educating homeowners and builders as to the value that good design and installation practice adds, and the importance of 3rd party verification. 
    Mark, I totally agree regarding benefit of having mass-scale submeter data for HVAC, especially for homes where a proper load calc and energy model have been completed and recorded. There are a few companies out there that ‘get this’ and are working in that direction. Stay tuned! 

  14. David, I agree I made a
    David, I agree I made a really broad statement… it is the truth that I see as a residential consumer in Texas. I am pleased and intrigued that you push back against my statement. 
    The AC techs I have spoken to have sadly, never been actual engineers. I wish at least some of them were. 
    It would be great to read someday, more about steps you would recommend to make HVAC design, maintenance, and service more predictable.

  15. I’m building a new two story
    I’m building a new two story home. I paid extra for an Energy Star Plus rating and am impressed by the contractor. However, my ex is in HVAC and he was disapproving of the AC with a 13 rating, especially for a new house. today, the contractor called and wants me to switch to a HERS rating. I can’t figure out what this means to me. The contractor says that the tonnage on the AC unit would be so low that it would never cool the 2650 sq ft house. What do I do now? 
    Thanks to anyone who can explain this to me. 

  16. Cheryl, I have no idea what
    Cheryl, I have no idea what an Energy Star “Plus” rating is, but in general, the Energy Star program for new homes doesn’t mandate a particular AC efficiency rating. I agree that a 13 SEER (code minimum) AC is probably not the best choice for a new home (that said, I also don’t think the highest efficiency equipment is usually worth the extra cost). Much depends on your local climate and energy costs. 
    An Energy Star certification requires a minimum HERS Index (a quantitative rating of your home’s efficiency), but Energy Star also requires a home to pass several inspection checklists and diagnostic tests that are not required to get a HERS rating (any home can get a HERS rating). 
    As for the size (tonnage) of the AC, it’s not surprising that someone would try to tell you that it’s not large enough. I hear that just about every day. People in the home construction business are used to equipment that’s sized according to the way homes used to be built. On the other hand, there’s no way I can be sure your system is adequately sized with the information provided. 
    I would be happy to advise you further if you contact me off-list.

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