Friday, November 4, 2011

Georgia's Statewide Performance Testing Requirements

A case study on Third Party Performance Testing by the Institute for Market Transformation outlines the residential performance testing requirements in Austin, Texas. (www.imt.org/codecompliance) In short, Austin Energy, a municipally owned electric utility administers a program where approved third-party testers are contracted by builders to perform duct and envelope tightness tests as well as static pressure and air flow testing. Each of those tests is required under Austin’s amendments to the 2009 IECC. Of course, having a municipally owned utility and Austin’s agreeable political environment made the implementation of such a program easier.  However, there is a lesson to be learned from a state with a less-than-favorable political climate, but was still able to implement a statewide residential performance testing requirement. 

The State of Georgia has amended the 2009 IECC to require building envelope and duct leakage testing be performed by a certified Duct and Envelope Tightness (DET) Verifier.  The 2011 Georgia Amendments to the 2009 IECC define a DET Verifier as someone who holds a HERS Certification, BPI Building Analyst Certification, is a Home Performance with Energy Star Contractor or completes the 8-hour DET Verifier Course, as approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and successfully passes the practical and written exam.  The builder is responsible for hiring someone with one of these certifications to perform the building envelope and duct leakage testing. The results of the testing would then be submitted to the local Building Official.  In Austin, the average cost to the builder for having the testing performed is about $400.  Since Georgia’s code does not require the static pressure or air flow testing, as Austin does, it is estimated that the testing cost would be closer to $300.    

Although Georgia’s Code does require that the testing be done for new residential construction and that it be done by a certified individual, it does not require that individual to be an independent third-party.  In fact, as a compromise with the homebuilding industry, if a home builder, or any employee thereof, held one of the certifications, they could perform their own testing.  This could be seen as a loophole in Georgia’s Code, but it is believed that home builder’s who are willing to expend the time, effort and money to obtain the proper certification as well as purchase the equipment necessary for the testing, will be inclined to ensure that their employees and/or sub-contractors are performing quality, code-compliant work. 

Since, Georgia’s Amendments to the 2009 IECC took effect on January 1, 2011, there have been over 400 DET Verifiers certified.  The Georgia model relies on local Building Official’s to verify that the testing was done by a certified individual and therefore lacks the same level of oversight that the administrator of the Austin program provides.  Never-the-less, Georgia’s DET Verifier program can be an effective model for local and state governments wanting to enforce the energy code, but lacking the resources for in-house inspection or administrative oversight.                

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are Design Professionals the Key to Energy Code Compliance?

When a design professional (architect, engineer, interior designer, etc.) is responsible for the submission of construction documents to a local jurisdiction, it is commonly understood that the professional seal of that individual means they have approved those documents for compliance with local building codes. However, design professionals often have little or no involvement in overseeing the construction of a project. This leaves a potential gap in what the design professional approves and what is built. 

The state of Wisconsin closed this gap in oversight in 1974 by requiring that a supervising professional oversee construction and sign and submit a Statement of Compliance prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy. This is a state level regulation under Wisconsin Commercial Administrative Rule 61.40 and applies to all buildings over 50,000 cubic feet.  The statement of compliance includes building thermal envelope requirements, interior and exterior lighting and HVAC, as well as health and life safety requirements. The statement of compliance is an acknowledgement by the architect and any other design professionals involved with the project that the building was constructed in substantial compliance with the plans and applicable building codes.   

There is some evidence that this process may be working for energy code compliance in Wisconsin. The State participated in a U.S. Department of Energy-funded Compliance Pilot Study where they conducted an assessment of 44 randomly selected commercial buildings for compliance with the state energy code (IECC 2006/ASHRAE 90.1-04 in effect at the time of the study). They obtained an average compliance rate of 95%.

Admittedly there are other variables that effect code compliance rates, but the Wisconsin model could serve as an effective way to improve energy code compliance. Code officials in Wisconsin also say this model reduces their burden because the supervising professional is overseeing construction and is the one point of contact for the code official when issues arise. In addition, insurers of design professionals say that insurance rates in Wisconsin are no different than those of bordering states without a statement of compliance requirement.