energy-standardsOur Current Energy Standards-Making Process

Engineers and other contributors often write national energy standards, or change them without a clear idea of the desired benefits or the unintended consequences. The process of updating standards resembles software updates. The updates aren’t so much designed for the user’s benefits but for the income of the updating organization. Yes, everyone has to make a living.  However, couldn’t we get better compliance with less guidance and simpler guidance from guidance organizations that are cooperating rather than competing?

How Standards Distract Us from the Mission of Energy Efficiency

Ventilation is a topic area where the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) clearly rules. ASHRAE’s new residential ventilation standard has thrown weatherization and home performance into a training and compliance frenzy, costing millions of dollars. ASHRAE 62.2-2010 is a confusing jumble of requirements and choices that has wasted vast amounts of time and money in training personnel and coping with confusion. Next they’ll subject us to ASHRAE 62.2 2013, which will be different and lead to another cycle of confusion and wasted resources.
ASHRAE representatives proclaim that the simple, practical ventilation guidelines of the past (0.35 air changes per hour but not less than 15 cubic feet per minute) are obsolete and must not be used. Never mind that thousands of organizations are still using these simple guidelines for good reasons. For example,  the old guidelines are simple, and they seem to provide acceptable indoor air quality. The ASHRAE 62.2 process is a good example of how the whole energy-efficiency community gets derailed in developing, training, and implementing inconsequential changes.

Questionable Assumptions for Energy Standards

ASHRAE must have held some assumptions that led them to develop the new ventilation standards. I’ll try to guess them.

  1. There are millions of respiratory problems relating to a lack of ventilation. There is no evidence of this. Researchers can’t pinpoint the cause of asthma (our most severe respiratory problem) so how could they relate any respiratory problem or solution to ventilation?
  2. Improvements in the new standard over the old one will improve ventilation levels in homes. I doubt this and you couldn’t prove it. Most new buildings require a fan under the old standards.
  3. Small differences in a building’s ventilation level result in measurable health benefits. There is no evidence of this, and ASHRAE couldn’t prove it with $10 million worth of research.
  4. A complex standard is better than a simple standard. Engineering principles dispute this.

What good is a standard if a tiny fraction of the relevant practitioners understand it or make an effort to comply?