COVID-19 Brings Changes to the Way Building Permits are Carried Out

COVID-19 building permits

The COVID-19 situation we've been dealt in 2020 has altered the way life is carried out. One impact is on the way the building permits are handled here in the Sacramento region.

The Process

When you go about changing out your home HVAC system, you have to get a building permit.  This is done in order to get a second set of eyes on the finished project. It serves to verify it was installed according to the California building code.  An inspector typically comes out to your house and walks through the job. He or she checks out the outdoor air conditioner, the electrical panel, the indoor furnace or air handler, and the ductwork in the attic.  I can’t say every inspector does this every time, but it is their prerogative to inspect the job the way they see fit.

But recently, with the onset of COVID-19, the building department shut down entirely during the first few months of the pandemic. They wouldn’t issue our building permits or come out to inspect them.  I can understand the change during the first few months of it all.  But now that society approaches this whole thing in a more informed way, you would think that wearing a mask, gloves, and any other form of personal protective equipment would suffice in making one feel safe in people’s homes so the inspectors can do their job.

We’re Essential Workers

I get it though. Some people aren’t the cleanest, and maintaining a safe environment for other people to come into isn’t a priority.  But, we as essential workers are coming out to homes across the Sacramento area to repair or replace heating and cooling systems.  Doesn’t it seem necessary and almost mandatory that the building inspectors come out to complete their simple 15-minute inspection, as part of completing the building permit process?

In most jurisdictions in our area, the answer is apparently, no.  Now when jobs are done, the inspector won’t come out to verify the safety of the installation for the homeowner.  The company that does the installation must send the installer back out to the house. They must carry around their cell phone to the points of inspection so the inspector can virtually carry out the inspection.  The installer puts the inspector on video phone and points the camera at the areas the inspector tells them to.

The Building Code

California Building Code addresses this in Section 110.5. It is the responsibility of the homeowner or their duly authorized agent to provide the “means and access for the inspection of the work required in the building code.” Previously, that meant as much as providing the ladder to access the attic. Some inspectors don’t even carry ladders with them these days.  So we have to provide them with one.  But that’s a whole other conversation.  This now translates to the contractor being required to return to the house to walk around the home at the direction of the inspector via video “means and access.”

Responsibility for Building Permits

Well, you gotta love it!  Being a contractor and running a business is one of the hardest things I’ve done.  Don’t get me wrong, Melissa, and I love doing it because it’s challenging and rewarding.  This is just another way we have had to adapt to the ever-changing environment that surrounds us.  Some building jurisdictions have completely shut down the permitting and inspections process altogether.  Some have rearranged the way they carry out the process.

Thanks for letting me share another aspect of what we do here at Fox Family Heating and Air.  It is a pleasure to serve you and carry out the process of improving your home comfort.  We’ll see you on the next blog

building codes

 

Don’t miss our video related to this topic:

Do I Have to Replace my Ductwork When I Get a New Air Conditioner?

HVAC system ductwork

Ductwork problems don’t always require replacements. Your licensed HVAC contractor can perform tests to help determine the condition of your home’s system.

If your current HVAC system is getting old or isn’t working anymore, you’re likely getting estimates for a new system from local companies like Fox Family Heating and Air.  It’s wise to get a few quotes from different companies around town.  Just be careful.  My industry can be a little scandalous when it comes to salespeople telling you what needs to be done for your new system to work correctly.  For example, you may be told to replace your ductwork.

During a new AC installation call, I’ll often ask how the air distribution is around their house.  I’m asking if there are any hot or cold spots in the house.  Are there any bedrooms, offices, or living areas that they would like to get more air.  I would say about 80% of the people I ask say they’re just fine with the airflow they have.  All the rooms seem to be balanced, just fine.

Some people will say they have a problem room and would like it to get better comfort.  In an effort to rack up the price of your new HVAC system, salespeople may be focused on their own commission checks.  They will recommend you spend the extra $5000 to 10,000 to change your ductwork to solve the problem.  Is that really necessary?  I say no, not every time.  Here’s why.

HVAC Ductwork Repair

Ducts can be repaired individually.  You don’t have to replace every duct in your house to get better air to one or two rooms.  Those rooms can have more airflow delivered to those rooms by increasing the size of the duct leading to the room.  Another way to get more air to a room is to relocate the duct on the supply plenum to a spot that is more advantageous for getting air there.  Typically the end of the plenum.

You can fine-tune this process by cutting in manual dampers that can be adjusted to decrease the amount of air going to one side of the house so that it can be diverted elsewhere in your home.  I still recommend a professional do this.  Messing around with the ducts is similar to shutting down registers in your home in order to get more air to another side of the house.  This airflow disruption can cause high static pressure.  This can affect the more expensive mechanical parts of your air conditioning system.  The aerodynamics of the delivery system is essential to the longevity of the system.  That’s all I’m saying, so unless you know how to check static pressure in the ductwork, repairs like this should probably be left to the pros.

HVAC Ductwork Inspection

Your supply air ducts connect to your forced air unit.  The forced air unit is either in the closet, garage, attic, or in the package unit on the roof.  The air from that unit is sent into a big box called a supply plenum.  Attached to that supply plenum are several ducts that lead to each room of your house.  Here’s how to tell if those ducts are in good shape or not:

  • The ducts are strapped properly or lying on the floor of the attic.
  • Those ducts are straight, not bent or kinked, restricting airflow.
  • The duct’s vapor lining on the outside of the duct is not torn or melted.
  • Good to decent insulation, which maintains the temperature of the air as it heads towards the room that duct leads to.

There’s not a lot more you can ask from your ducts.  If they’re adequately strapped, meaning each duct is straight or has long sweeping bends (no kinks) that lead to where they need to go, and they have metal or vinyl straps that secure them in place, that’s a good sign.  Another thing that you’d like to see for your ductwork is that the vapor lining, which is yellow, pink, grey, black, or silver, is in good shape.

HVAC Ductwork Standards

Ductwork has an R-value to insulate your ducts to a set standard.  30 to 50 years ago, those standards were not as high as they are today.  So, ductwork has evolved in performance through the following stages:

  • The yellow and pink is actually insulation. They may or may not have a clear wrapping around them. This wrapping is the vapor lining.  If you have this setup, the ductwork may be original to the house, as it’s not too common to install them this way anymore.  You can expect this ductwork to be 30 to 50 years old.  It has an R-Value of two (R-2).  Not the best in the world, but I’ve seen people keep it because it works just fine, and I support them on that decision.
  • Grey ductwork typically has an R-Value of four (R-4). Once again, not the freshest ductwork we see out in the field, but if the ducts still meet those guidelines from above, people have chosen to keep that ductwork a little longer.
  • Black and silver ducts can have an R-Value of either R-6 or R-8. R-6 has been around for the last 25 years or so.  R-8 is the newest standard and has the thickest layer of insulation surrounding the inner lining.

HVAC Ductless Lifespan

I tell people your ductwork’s life averages about 30 years.  Some people replace them every time they get a new system, but most of the people I sell equipment to, don’t.  That’s because it’s impractical to do so.  Yes, the higher R-value of the ductwork, the better performance you’ll have.  The ductwork will hold the hot or cold air it’s delivering inside it better.  That translates to cooler or warmer air to your rooms, depending on which season it is.  Your decision is whether you want to spend the extra money to change your ductwork out every time you change your HVAC system.  Hopefully, I have armed with some useful knowledge going into your next project.  Good luck!

SMUD Suspends Certain Rebates Due to COVID-19

SMUD Suspends Rebates

Sacramento County Utility Companies Navigate the Effects of the Coronavirus: What It Means for You

At the beginning of 2020, Sacramento county residents were offered lucrative rebates for choosing to upgrade their HVAC systems to a more carbon-free fuel source.   Since the downturn of the economy in America, businesses, even utility company SMUD, have been oozing money.  SMUD has had to focus more on taking care of customers who can’t afford to pay their bills during the epidemic.  This is putting pressure on the source of funding for the 2020 rebates.  SMUD is even suspending certain rebates.

Getting to Carbon Neutral

As SMUD utility company guides its customers with a plan called electrification, their goal is to follow California’s mandate to become carbon neutral in the next 20 to 30 years.  One way of doing this was to incentivize their Sacramento County residents to stop using fossil fuels to heat their homes.  Various options for upgrading a home’s HVAC system exist.

Reduced and Suspended SMUD Rebates on the Horizon

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, however, half of the rebates have been suspended, at least until the end of the year.  The others have been reduced but still offer an exceptional rebate opportunity for switching from gas to electric.  Customers can still work with their contractors to get these upgrades until the funds run out.

Measure Current Rebate Effective May 29
Air conditioner with gas furnace upgrade $1,500 Suspended
Dual fuel HVAC upgrade $2,500 Suspended
Heat pump HVAC upgrade – electric to electric $1,500 $750
Heat pump HVAC upgrade – gas to electric $4,000 $2,500

In March, we told you about the reductions in water heater rebates.  We let our readers know those rebates would only be around until the funding source ran out.  We’ve also been telling our customers who are looking to upgrade their HVAC systems that the HVAC rebates wouldn’t be this rewarding for long.  By the end of summer, we at Fox Family thought the rebates would be depleted. 

Timing is Everything

There is still time to get your HVAC upgrade project done this year, and there are some great financing options we offer to get them done. But again, time isn’t on your side.  Get in on these rebates now while they exist, because we don’t see them being around, or at least this fruitful for long.

Using (or Abusing) the R-22 Phaseout as a Sales Tool

Some contractors selling equipment on fears that refrigerant will be illegal

I was pleased to contribute to this 11/18/2019 article in achrnews.com – Greg Fox

As of January 1, 2020, it will no longer be legal to produce or import virgin R-22 in the U.S., but that does not mean the refrigerant will be unavailable, unaffordable, or illegal to use. It just means that after that date, contractors who service R-22 systems will have to rely on existing stocks of virgin refrigerant or else use reclaimed refrigerant, both of which should be readily available (and affordable) for a long time, according to industry experts.  Go to article»