Construction delays can cause a significant increase on spending and have a great impact on returns. The most important factors causing delays are design changes, inadequate field installation, lack of planning, and poor familiarity with testing requirements.
HERS field verifications are required to close out permits for most types of energy upgrades in residential and non-residential projects in California. A Certificate of Occupancy can be withheld by the authority-having jurisdiction if the HERS process is incomplete, therefore it is very important to have a plan when HERS is required and to execute that plan efficiently.
Here are 3 steps that will help you mitigate delays for HERS field verifications.
1. Engage HERS Rater Early
In the design phase, plans are reviewed, revised and expanded to emphasize all the important details and specifications required for HERS measures. Mechanical and architectural components/plans are looked at to the smallest detail and a HERS design review is created by an experienced third party. The HERS design review will outline specific concerns pertaining to final testing and ensure that permissible HVAC systems will be used. Furthermore, energy models will be created (CF1R energy compliance forms) based on construction blueprints and a projected compliance score will be presented. During design, the HERS Rater is given an opportunity to connect with contractors and begin implementing best general building practices for HERS. Bringing the rater in early on is the most important step in defining the standards and assuring your project runs smoothly during final verifications.
2. Have Rater Inspect Work Frequently
During construction, Raters verify that the materials being used are in compliance with the Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, including insulation and windows. The Rater can also verify the SEER of the HVAC systems and check for any field work discrepancies such as excessive length of ducts, tight bends, and changes in duct size. Corrections in HVAC duct systems are very important in passing HERS and are less complicated to repair before drywall production starts.
Out of all the HERS verified measures, QII has the highest failure rate. Quality Insulation Installation requires precise coordination between the rater, the installer, and the general contractor. 100 percent of the insulation is inspected, and if insulation gets covered up prior to the HERS rater seeing it, is an automatic failure. At that point, you are left with no alternative but to remove the drywall which can be extremely costly, or attempt to create an energy model for the building that complies without QII, though this is typically infeasible and/or highly expensive.
Upon request, a rough-in duct leakage pre-test may be performed and if required a thermal enclosure/air barrier checklist will be conducted. During construction, the installing contractor is responsible for filling out the Certificate of Installation (CF2R) forms and verify that the installation complies with the requirements shown on the Certificate of Compliance (CF1R) for the building.
It is very crucial for the HERS Rater to catch and correct any issues during construction. Having the Rater inspect the project thoroughly during construction is highly recommended in most cases as it is valuable for the contractor to have the Rater help prevent any expensive change orders.
3. Communication is Critical!
Finally, scheduling for HERS final diagnostic tests requires great communication with all team members. Before HERS testing begins, the units will need to have permanent power, thermostats installed, and mechanical start-ups completed. This includes verifying that the air handler, supply and return plenums, duct boots and registers are installed and properly sealed. As a best practice, register boots should always be sealed to the surrounding material to prevent air leaks into unconditioned space. Clear communication and coordination can help mitigate delays, costs, and avoid unnecessary trips to the job site.
During the HERS diagnostic testing, it is highly recommended to have the mechanical contractor on site in case any issues arise. It is vital that all team players work together from start to finish continuously in order to meet construction schedules and goals. Lastly, once all testing has passed and the installing contractor has completed the CF2R forms, it is time for the Rater to complete all CF3R forms and register the results in the registry. During final inspection, the inspector will also verify that all required CF2R and CF3R forms have been completed, signed, and registered (when applicable), and that copies of all these forms have been provided to the building owner.
From my experience as a Rater, it is always the lack of communication where confusion arises and problems occur. Before construction begins, it is important to communicate the projects energy efficiency goals with all installing members. I’ve been to projects in which the mechanical contractors weren’t aware that HERS testing was required until I showed up and failed them. I’ve also been in situations where contractors/owners are eager in obtaining Certificates of Occupancy but aren’t able due to situations such as:
- Installing contractors not completing CF2R forms in a timely manner
- Irregular construction practices that could have been caught early by the Rater
- Poor air distribution design resulting in failing airflow test, etc.
All of these are due to poor communication and understanding from the very start of the project. Construction project delays will never go away, but with clear communication, strict discipline and consistent enforcement of rules and expectations from those running the project, the damaging effects of delays can be mitigated.
Energy efficiency standards are becoming more costly and the code is always changing. With new mandates and stringent codes in place, it is pivotal to team up with reliable and knowledgeable contractors to get your project finished with minimum setbacks. This is why it’s important to onboard a quality HERS Rater early.
Complying with CA Title 24 Energy Code HERS ratings and verifications must be performed by a neutral third-party energy rating company. VCA Green is equipped with such knowledgeable and experienced personnel to ensure a smooth verification process. For more information on how to pass HERS field verifications or other energy verification measures the first time, contact VCA Green below.
Contributing Writer: Samuel Vallejo, HERS Rater
Moe Fakih, Principal
(714) 363-4700 x501