This article was originally published in the September/October 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1993

Managing Large-Scale Duct Programs


by Tom Downey

Tom Downey is field manager at Proctor Engineering Group in Corte Madera, California.

A series of projects conducted by Proctor Engineering Group over the course of several years evaluated potential energy savings in residential air conditioners and heat pumps through both mechanical modifications and duct repair (see The Appliance Doctor Programs, p.48). Although the emphasis of this article is on a large-scale duct sealing program, the management system described can be applied to any energy-related program.

The design and implementation of any duct sealing program should consider program goals, contracting, marketing, training, and quality assurance.

Program Goals

Management must determine a program's primary goal as a first step. Programs can emphasize space heating and cooling savings for customers, or perhaps peak reduction for the utility. A main priority may be to discourage fuel switching or to deal with high bill complaints. Whatever the goals are, they can only be accomplished when the technicians delivering the service are given a comprehensive procedure, adequate training, and time to complete the work. Quality control is essential.

Since sealing ducts can reduce the dilution of contaminants in the indoor air, strict compliance with safety criteria is absolutely essential to ensure combustion appliance safety problems and other indoor air quality issues are solved prior to duct sealing work. Each home should be tested--before and after a retrofit--for indoor air quality. Safety problems with the furnace, water heater, gas range, and gas clothes dryer and any other combustion appliance must be checked. Tests should establish that appliances are operating safely before retrofits take place. Since the crew's duct sealing work may affect the combustion product content and venting, the same tests must also be performed after work is complete.1

Launching a Program

Past experience dictates that projects be started slowly before establishing full-scale production. All parties involved will need time to become accustomed to the program design, leave adequate time for training, and become familiar with the peculiarities of local housing stock. Making changes to a new program under the strain of a full production schedule is difficult. Allotting specific time for a start-up phase makes it easier to make adjustments.


Before full-scale implementation, program management should create a set of policies and procedures detailing standards for implementing the program. Personnel will need these thorough guidelines. All contracts should incorporate a fixed fee structure with standards for quality and customer satisfaction. Management will need tight control of the technical and logistical performance of the contractors.

The fee structure should be based on measured improvement at each site, not just on the number of houses visited. Adequate performance and remedies for poor performance should be clearly explained. A comprehensive and effective system for measuring field performance is essential to this type of contracting. This can be accomplished with form detailing step-by-step procedures and technical process review of the completed procedures. Field measurement should include both pre-retrofit and post-retrofit field testing.


The goal of marketing is to supply a pool of homes at a rate sufficient to meet a production schedule. Effective marketing requires accurate targeting and a superior promotion campaign. In the Appliance Doctor pilots we targeted and advertised to high-use customers whose electric use profiles indicated they'd benefit the most from the service. By targeting high users first, programs can maintain cost-effectiveness while testing cost-cutting measures that may make the program cost-effective for customers that use less energy. Seasonal high-use customers should be targeted because

  • They represent the greatest savings opportunity.

  • The cost of building the infrastructure can be repaid more quickly from higher savings.

  • Customer satisfaction increases as the impact of the program increases.

  • Motivation is highest for these customers.


Marketing pieces should be direct and concise. Customers respond to a straightforward program description that includes a list of benefits. Customers should be told that their area has been selected for testing and that to participate they must call for an appointment. The marketing piece should stress

  • The monetary value to the customer of the repair.

  • The benefits of an efficiently operating system.

  • The urgency of quick response from the customer.2


Whenever possible, the work should be concentrated in a few areas at any one time. Implementing a program subdivision by subdivision increases market response, allowing for efficient use of time in scheduling and reduced travel costs. It also allows crews to become familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the local housing stock, thereby increasing their efficiency.

If auditors are used, they should screen out houses with indoor air quality problems and or low savings potential, through actual field measurements. Screening should take place after a customer has agreed to participate in the program and before repair. It can be coupled with other activities--for instance installing compact fluorescent lamps, energy-saving showerheads, and water heater wraps.


Program employees must receive basic classroom and laboratory training, followed by field experience and feedback. They must be trained by experienced personnel to follow the step-by-step procedures of the program, and to understand and perform the tests and repairs designated for on-site work. This initial training is the first part of an integrated system of procedures and controls.

The first week of training for the crew should consist of classroom, laboratory, and field training that includes testing procedures, duct leakage repair, pressure and flow measurements, and combustion safety rules. Each morning should begin with a written test, ensuring comprehension of lessons covered the previous day.

The second week of training should consist of on-site supervision of work. Trainers should work personally with the crews. They can rotate between houses during the second week, ensuring that trainees learn from every house. At the end of the day the trainees should gather to meet with the trainers to share their experiences and lessons learned.

Crew members should be required to pass a written examination to qualify for the program. Each individual working in the program should be certified for the job they perform. The certification process should consist of

  • A written examination.

  • Practical field demonstration of skills.

  • Field inspection of unsupervised work.


After successfully completing their training, trainees should be allowed to work in the program for a predetermined amount of time before taking the written certification test. Once they've passed the written test and the field skills observation, they should pass a percentage of randomly selected inspections to become fully certified. Failure to pass repeated on-site visits or inspections should result in decertification and removal from the program.

Quality Assurance

Sustainable energy and capacity savings depend not only on the effectiveness of the measures selected by a program, but also on the quality of installation, durability of installation, and occupant interaction. The first two of these variables should be controlled by program management. Quality assurance mechanisms and effective evaluation ensure expected savings.

Based on a series of projects conducted over the past several years, we've developed the Immediate Impact Management (IIM) system to help manage large-scale energy conservation projects. The program reviews field data and generates monthly management reports. This system works equally well for programs with ten homes per month as it does for those with thousands of homes every month.

All management processes in this program must be closed loops. This means, first, that any problem or shortcoming becomes part of a process that continuously brings the problem back to the surface for resolution, and second, that any work completed provides an opportunity to improve the quality of future work.

The forms used by the crews contain step-by-step procedures. Crews use these procedures to diagnose, repair, and retest the duct systems. Upon completing work at any site, test forms are returned, entered into a comprehensive database, and checked by a computerized expert system. The expert system emulates what the most experienced field manager can determine from the parameters reported. The system provides a list of passed units, a list of units that require further work, and a list of units that raise questions. A percentage of the passed units are inspected to ensure that the repairs are still there and that the numbers on the forms represent the true final condition of the house. Units requiring additional work are returned to the contractor for completion. Program staff investigate any questions that arise in the form review process to ensure that appropriate action is taken.

When the work is reviewed promptly and the results are properly communicated to the individuals performing the task, each job improves the competence and confidence of the individual. The technical process review (form review) provides these management control and feedback mechanisms (see Figure 1).

Feedback to technicians enters at many levels. There is immediate feedback to the crew in the post-tests. With those tests they can determine whether the work performed is effective. Feedback is also provided in person as a result of the form review and inspection process. We've found that feedback on an individual house must take place no more than two weeks after a unit is completed for the technician to remember the unit and learn from it.

After units pass form review and inspection, they are coded in the database as complete. On a monthly basis an IIM report can be generated. Based on information gathered at the home, as well as from billing data, energy savings and peak reduction is projected using a system of empirically weighted models. This information is aggregated into the report.

The IIM report provides essential management information, including a graph comparing actual kW and kWh reduction to the reduction that should be achievable within the program's cost limitations (see Figure 2).

The report graphics make it easy to determine when to correct the system. (The actual line will begin to diverge from the achievable line.) All IIM reports include the most recent performance of every contractor and crew in the program. Reports can also describe energy, peak, and emissions impacts, and project the current trends to program completion. n


1. The importance of safety testing can't be stressed enough and is substantiated by a memo we recently received from Rob Cruz of Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) Model Energy Communities Program. Rob examined combustion safety test forms completed by PG&E's gas service personnel in the program. Of the 2,664 safety check records examined, 1,255 various safety problems were identified, wrote Cruz. Most of these safety problems had to do with high carbon monoxide readings on the furnace, water heater, or range-oven and inadequate draft of the venting system on furnaces and water heaters.

2. The Model Energy Communities program tried two different approaches to marketing. The first was an extensive promotional packet that included questionnaires, fact sheets, and other promotional items. The second was a subdivision-targeted, straightforward, one-page letter that explained the benefits of the program. The response rates were less than 5% and greater than 50%, respectively.




The Appliance Doctor pilot projects evaluated potential energy savings in residential air conditioners and heat pumps through both mechanical modifications and repair of the duct system. While procedures were refined in each of the pilot projects, the same methodology was applied to all. Each location was visited by a team of technicians who used specially designed forms to test, record, and repair each duct system and heat pump-air conditioner. The completed forms were reviewed by the program manager (with the assistance of a data base in the largest study) to determine that the proper work had been done and that the desired results were achieved. Duct leakage problems were nearly universal, occurring in all three geographical areas and overwhelmingly present even in the largest sample containing a high percentage of new construction.

The Appliance Doctor pilot projects found that the most common and significant distribution system problems could be resolved through a comprehensive program of testing and repair. These problems were responsible for significant increases in energy use and high bill complaints in the houses studied. The existing heating and air conditioning contractor infrastructure had failed to diagnose or solve the problems. Even though professional personnel had recently maintained or installed most units, the vast majority of the systems had major problems.

The Appliance Doctor projects were:

  • Appliance Doctor Heat Pump Project, Auburn, California (51 unit study).

  • Appliance Doctor Air Conditioner and Furnace Project, Fresno, California (15 units). (See An Ounce of Prevention: Residential Cooling Repairs, HE May/June '91, p. 23.)

  • Appliance Doctor Pre-Production Test, Fresno, California (250 units).

  • The Model Energy Communities Program (over 2,170 units involved in study). Average beginning duct leakage was 381 cfm and average ending duct leakage was 154 cfm--a 60% reduction.


Figure 1. The Immediate Impact Management system.


Coincident Peak Reduction


Figure 2. Actual versus achievable peak reduction.



Related Articles

Discovering Ducts: An Introduction
Duct Fixing in America (Penn)
Duke Power's Success (Vigil)
Guidelines for Designing and Installing Tight Duct Systems (Stum)
Integrated Heating and Ventilation: Double Duty for Ducts (Jackson)
Leak Detectors: Experts Explain the Techniques (Proctor, Blasnik, Davis, Downey, Modera, Nelson, and Tooley)
Mobile Homes: Small Zones, Big Problems (Kinney)
New Group Hunts Bad Ducts (Obst)
The New Monster in the Basement (Treidler)
One Size Fits All: A Thermal Distribution Efficiency Standard (Modera)
Stories from the Buffer Zone (Kinney and Stiles)
Two Favorite Test Methods, By the Book (Modera)
Will Duct Repairs Reduce Cooling Load? (Parker, Cummings, and Meier)
Infiltration: Just ACH50 Divided by 20? (Meier)
Pulling Utilities Together: Water-Energy Partnerships (Jones, Dyer, and Obst)
Recycling Refrigerators: Whose Responsibility? (Nelson)
Shade Trees as a Demand-Side Resource (McPherson and Simpson)
SMUD's Refrigerator Graveyard--Conditions of the Deceased (Bos)
Steps to Successful Lighting Programs (Fernstrom)
Wisconsin's 'Orphan' Solar Program (DeLaune, Bircher, Lane)
Chasing the Golden Carrot (Frantz)
Checking Out HUD's Proposed Mobile Home Performance Standards (Judkoff)
Hauling in the Culprits: Michigan's Bounty Pilot (Witte and Kushler)
How Accurate Are Yellow Labels (Meier)
Making Energy Mortgages Work (Luboff)
New Standards Begin, But Will Rebates Continue? (Morrill)
Telecommuting: An Alternative Route to Work (Quaid)
Weatherization Assistance: The Single-Family Study (Brown and Berry)
What's Wrong with Refrigerator Energy Ratings? (Proctor)

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