I was called out to a house in Albemarle County yesterday to look at a window issue (I will not post any pictures of the actual project to protect all involved). After some discussion about windows and energy efficiency the home owners moved the discussion to upgrades they had made at their home over the past year. A new 2.5 ton HVAC system was installed on the second floor to supplement the 10 ton unit already installed. The HVAC contractor said it was needed and also rebuilt the entire duct system. As you might expect this work came with a high cost. The home owners also encapsulated part of their crawl space, but did not condition it or insulate. The HVAC system which was probably (most likely) already oversized was made larger leading to short cycling and higher humidity. The crawl space now has no ventilation leading to a humidity problem even with a HUGE dehumidifier running in the space. Nobody looked at the building science behind the problems trying to be addressed. As a result, the home owners have high electric bills, moisture issues, and are feeling defeated.
So how do you find someone you can trust in the industry? These home owners did get references that said the work done at their homes was good. I agree that should be the first place to start. However, this simply narrows the list to contractors that have done what they said they were going to do, it does not mean they have any knowledge of building science or look at holistic solutions. A home is the most complicated machine you will ever own. It performs different on a cloudy day than sunshine filled day. It performs different on a cold day to a hot day. It performs different as it gets older. So how can you ever really trust someone to deliver the right solution?
There are certifications in the industry that show the person doing the work has the added training on a particular topic. To learn about these certifications, read our previous post. You can also ask questions about their experience to see if they know about building science – for instance “what climate are we in?” and “how does our climate impact insulation recommendations?” and “did you do a Manual J to make sure the size of the HVAC unit will work efficiently?”
I was heart-broken yesterday for this retired couple that has used their monetary resources for solutions that are not optimal. There is no going back, just trying to finish and fix what was already put in place spending more money. If you are facing comfort, efficiency, or durability issues in your home, ask lots of questions.
What should I know when selecting a contractor?
What questions should I ask before building our new home?
What questions should I ask when looking for the perfect green product?
My house is cold and I need my HVAC system fixed. Who do I call?
You will almost certainly need a holistic solution as one change will impact many other aspects of your home. It is difficult to know who to trust in our industry. Who is just trying to sell a product and who understands the science behind the problem? I am happy to discuss your home issues, just give me a call.
Excellent advice, Charles! The trouble with consulting one professional to solve a holistic problem is that, as an example, an HVAC contractor wants to sell HVAC equipment. Find a true building professional to solve all your problems as inexpensively as possible!
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Wow – what a great post. You are a kindred soul … I founded a company around building science in Roanoke to serve clients and the AEC industry for just these types or scenarios (Better Building Works, LLC). We need to get all building professionals to take a look at both the art AND the science. As building codes get more insistent on tight building envelopes, even new homes have a lot to lose if they ignore ventilation and humidity considerations in our mixed humid climate region. But existing buildings have the most to gain (or lose) by far.
Indeed Monica, we can be so much better!