As a consultant (which I recently learned is a euphemism for “unemployed”), I find that my income streams seem to change fairly regularly. One year I do a lot of speaking and teaching, then suddenly most of my work is building certification, and the next year it is something else. I liken my business model to fishing; that is, I eat what I catch. My newest “catch” is performance testing of new homes for energy code compliance.
The state of Georgia now requires either blower door testing or a pre-drywall visual inspection and duct leakage testing to meet IECC 2009 with state amendments. So far it appears that most builders are opting for the testing over the visual inspection, and I just completed the testing of my first house for a midsize local builder.
It’s a start
Now, the performance requirements are not particularly stringent: maximum 7 ACH50 for air leakage and <8 cfm25>EarthCraft builders in the area, certifying 100% of their homes to this green building standard. Fortunately, they managed to survive the recession and are back building again, but they have elected to limit EarthCraft certified homes to specific developments where they are required. In these challenging times, builders are finding it increasingly difficult to justify the costs to certify their homes, even if they are built to meet those requirements.
What’s a code without good enforcement?
Now, I am thrilled that the Georgia code is requiring testing and a compliance report on every new house, but I am concerned that it may not prove to be particularly effective in making homes perform better. Testing does not need to be completed by a third party; it can be performed by anyone with the proper training, including builder employees, the HVAC installer, or the insulation contractor. In addition, it doesn’t appear that there is much in the way of quality assurance for the testing. And yet another problem is that many code officials don’t ask for or even look at the form. I have heard from some builders that their inspectors either don’t look at the posted forms, or if they do, they don’t seem to care what’s on them. As is the case with most rules and regulations, compliance and enforcement are critical to their success. Georgia has actually had a fairly good energy code for many years, but was always lacking in the enforcement department. It remains to be seen if the new, improved code will have enough effect on buildings to make a difference.