Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Whole House as a System

Energy Conservation has evolved over the years and has become at least in part of a concept known as "Whole House as a System". This concept actually comes from "Commissioning". A term used in the military for officers, ships and other things. For a person, it is the process used to determine that person's eligibility to be an officer in the military.

For ships it is used to determine its sea worthiness after the ship is built. So this type of process has been around for some time, it is just that in energy conservation, it is given a different name. This process is based on a single premise and that is "A chain is only as strong as its weakness link". For example let's assume that a person has an outstanding academic record, comes from a good family and is physically fit.

His psychological profile and background check shows he follows commands very well but does not like to give commands or accept responsibility for others. It is unlikely that this person would be commissioned as an officer in the military.

Another example is the commissioning of a nuclear power plant. Every single aspect or system of the plant is evaluated independently and only then is the plant operated and each part of the system evaluated with respect to the interaction of the different systems before the plant is commissioned. Clearly commissioning is done when the health and well being of others are involved. Over the years this type of process has been adapted to other things.

For example the commissioning of an air conditioning system for commercial or institutional applications. Though this may not be considered life threatening so the process may not be so intensive, it is still far more thorough and useful than just inspecting the system after it is installed. The same can be said about energy conservation, though there are those who will argue that it can be life threatening concerning Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and this countries dependence upon foreign oil. Commissioning also infers that the object does meet certain standards and is suitable for use.

Though the "Whole House as a System" concept do have standards, it is building code that determines suitability for occupancy. This concept evaluates each component of the house, such as insulation, air tightness, heating and cooling systems and determines its effectiveness towards the energy efficiency of the house. It includes occupants education on related matters. This not only includes houses for retrofit towards energy efficiency but also new construction. The amount of money going into energy efficiency nationwide is in the $Billions a year and most of it is going into the trades.

You couple this with the amount of information concerning this subject available to the average person and the amount of money and planning to make this information more accessible and easily understood towards the same, this concept is transforming the construction industry and it is not asking it to change. People involved in the construction industry can either stay ahead of the curve and profit immensely from it, go with the flow and make a decent living or resists the changes and be left behind. In many of the "Energy Star Homes" programs throughout the country the concept of the Whole House as a System is being implemented. It starts with an Energy Conservation Service Organization (ESCO) that meets with developers and explains the program to them, along with the incentives that they maybe eligible for.

Usually afterwards the ESCO meets with the trade people and explains the process and purpose. Inspections are made by the ESCO at various stages of the construction and a variety of measurements and verifications at the completion of the construction. If the house meet the standards that were set, then it is certified as an Energy Star home. In a few States this concept is used with Senior Citizen and Low Income weatherization programs. These are retrofits where insulation is either installed or added to existing insulation, air and duct sealing and a variety of other energy conservation measures are taken.

Such as replacing incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lighting to replacing an old inefficient refrigerator with an energy efficient one. Throughout the entire process measurements and verifications are made to determine if the action should be taken. In the industry, this is referred to as protocol. For example, the occupants are asked how they use the light in a certain room. With duct sealing a duct blaster is used to determine the duct leakage and then used again after the duct sealing to determine the amount of energy that will be saved by the duct sealing annually. The same is done for air sealing where a blower door is used to measure and verify.

Though none of this remotely resembles Commissioning, eventually this process will evolve where every aspect and part of the structure will be examined concerning the energy efficiency of the house. The largest concern here is the perception the people in the trades have about this process. As with any new process the people who are affected by the changes believe that this is a way to make them work harder for less money.

Many of my colleagues find it arduous when dealing with the trades either because of this perception and/or their failure to empathize with them. The truth here is that they are failing to communicate properly with the trades because they assume what interests them, should interest the trade people. It may be true that the reduction of green house gas emissions affects all of us but to a HVAC person it has more to do with the manufacturer than his/her installation. The same belief is true with the framer, electrician, insulator and plumber, who feel it is more a concern for the architect than it is for them.

Energy conservationists have to get and keep the attention of the people in the trades.Telling them their actions will reduce green house gas emissions, save the planet, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the like does the exact opposite. Understanding what does motive them in relations to achieving the Whole House as a System concept will achieve not only these goals but theirs too.

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