This article was originally published in the January/February 1995 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.
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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1995
Affordable Comfort Heads West
Bringing the gospel of residential energy efficiency and quality construction to the West Coast, Affordable Comfort Inc. held it's first regional conference in October. House technicians, researchers and program developers descended on Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Learning Center in San Ramon, California for three days of presentations, workshops, and field tutorials.
One track of workshops, called Survival in the 90s, covered issues ranging from the effects of regulatory and policy changes on energy efficiency to market transformation. Other session categories included health and safety, energy-efficient construction, ducts/HVAC systems, and multifamily buildings. Building construction, HVAC and insulation contractors explored issues like marketing efficiency and quality to customers, using diagnostic equipment, and guaranteeing cost and comfort in new construction.
A recurring theme was that one can't treat part of a house without understanding the whole. The complex relationships between heating and cooling systems, ducts, holes in the building envelope, and house pressures came up in session after session. One Saturday field tutorial was a whole house audit (led by Rob de Kieffer of Sun Power Consumer Association, Lydia Gill-Polley of Constructive Consulting, Inc., David Keefe of Building Tune-Ups, Inc., and Eric Vander Leest of Chitwood Energy Management) designed to stress the importance of having a complete picture of energy use in a home. Other field tutorials covered testing for combustion safety, using blower doors and other diagnostic equipment, mobile home insulation opportunities, measuring duct leakage, and finding and sealing duct leaks.
A particularly enlightening presentation by John Proctor of Proctor Engineering Group and Mark Modera of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory explained the links between air conditioner sizing, performance, and efficiency. Modera and Proctor helped explain mysteries like why installing a high-SEER air conditioner sometimes increases the peak energy use in a house.
In addition to the opportunity to learn from the experts, the conference brought utility program planners, energy auditors, researchers, consultants, builders, and contractors together. Issues of air conditioner sizing and installation demonstrate the importance of communication between contractors and utility program managers. Since buyers usually do not know how to judge quality, air-conditioning contractors often end up competing on price alone, which makes taking the time to do quality work difficult if the company is to make a profit. Yet many utilities' high-SEER air conditioner rebate programs are not designed to reward proper sizing and installation, and do not require duct sealing before the unit is installed. Of course, whether the utility is involved or not, contractors have a role in educating customers about what a quality air conditioning job entails, and many HVAC professionals shared stories of their successes marketing quality instead of price.
The national Affordable Comfort conference will be held in Pittsburg March 26-31. For details call Affordable Comfort, Inc. at (708)864-5651.
-- Jeanne Byrne
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