One of the books I read while studying for my R.E.T. exams was Law for Engineers, and the text I remember most from its pages was essentially this, “there is no worse industry for litigation than construction”. At the time, you can image how
thrilled I was to read this but within these few words was a big message and since those early years, I have seen the message, participated in it, and heard it a million times...it is all about understanding peoples values and perceptions and meeting or exceeding their expectations to avoid conflicts.
Here's a few things consumers should try to understand; home building is a business first and foremost. It has to be about profit and
business sustainability otherwise, there would be no industry. On the flip side, you as consumers want shelter for safety, health, comfort and then some form of social-psychological
Herein lies disconnect #1:
Builders build for bullion but consumers buy for the body.
Herein lies disconnect #2:
The housing industry is trained and judged on how it uses tools and materials to put parts together not how does the final product influence your health, wellness and comfort. How can we say this? Look at any training curriculum for builders and trades people. Basic
human physiology and psychology is not taught in school or in the field.
The system teaches 'how' but not 'why'.
Since the business side of construction is bloodthirsty by nature, there is a constant tearing of the fabric we call
budgeting. If you find yourself in with the masses, away from the low cost government funded shelter and the high-end homes affordable to only 5% of the
population you have stepped into the brutally competitive mine fields created by the housing industry concerned about how to put parts together.
There will always be someone willing to do something for less and in the contracting game, some
operators rely on consumers who believe a business is going to sacrifice profit by giving
quality for less than next firm and still meet the client needs and wants. Listen very carefully, if nothing else, the last 20 years has forced every business to operate lean and mean, there is no fat to absorb the wishes of a wishful consumer. People may think they are getting something for nothing, but in the world of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), you will get exactly what's paid for, regardless of your
values, perceptions and expectations. The only rules which must be followed when it comes to conditioning the body in a building are in the building codes
which establish bare minimums based on safety and health. In other words, the building is not supposed to kill
or injure you.
The building code does not establish quality nor does it require comfort or efficiency as measurable metrics.
Consumers must consider the building code as the most primitive tiers on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When the building industry says to allow
3% or 5% of the construction cost for
heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, they are saying how much it will cost you to meet the most basic and minimum requirements
before a building inspector will fail it.
If you value comfort and efficiency this budget will not meet your wants and needs.
Let’s explore what 4% to 7% of a construction budget buys you in a home built to code.
There is a remarkable difference between heating to code and heating for comfort. To meet the bare bones, the space must be capable of being heated to 72 Deg F. Sounds reasonable right? In North America, the prevailing method is to circulate hot air through the building. However as readers
have learned from the studying the section on indoor environmental quality, the body is far more sophisticated than the minimum codes and so
4% to 7% may condition the building it does not condition the body, in other words the budget will ensure your body does not go into
ok maybe not that cold but unless it causes an illness it
likely meets code.
For further reading on this topic we suggest you visit our
section on building codes,
inside surface temperatures and thermal comfort.
Like heating, there is also a big difference between cooling to
Code (applies to the south) and cooling for comfort. First, consumers believe that cooling is air conditioning when in fact cooling is only one of five metrics in the A/C definition. Secondly, because the masses believe blowing cool air into a space
will make one feel comfortable - there has been little regard to its effects on humidity so the more the better and to heck with the moisture (mold and mildew) problems. Again, the body is far more sophisticated in how it interprets comfort. The budget to meet minimum standards will ensure
the body does not go into hyperthermia...well
ok again...but it may seem that way sometimes.
Here's something for you to consider...many
North Americans set their cooling thermostats lower than
heating thermostats...think about that and let us know
if that makes sense to you.
Unbeknownst to many American's, the level of air pollution inside a home
has been stated to be as much as five times higher than outdoor levels. The Environmental Protection Agency has even recorded inside pollution as much as 100 times the outdoor levels
(that not be good).
There is also a dangerous assumption
that ventilation will improve the indoor air quality of the home...not
a wise thing when in some locations the outdoor air quality can be worse than the indoor air
quality so bringing air in from outside may meet the volume requirements by
Code but not the quality requirements required by the body. If ventilation codes are enforced, the budget will pay for bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans and some outside air ducting to the furnace system and possibly some additional fans
but it does not ensure air quality particularly for those sensitive to pollens, dust, mold,
smoke, ozone etc.
The 4% to 7% budget will not get you into a healthcare standard humidification system, which is steam based. The reason for the steam-based requirement is because of the cleanliness and effectiveness factor. But what you will get for
4% to 7% is an evaporative type style not known for meeting health care
If your HVAC system includes cooling, it is assumed that it also does dehumidification. Herein lays
a problem. Since the dehumidification process only occurs when the cooling system is on, it will not be dehumidifying when the cooling system is off. Mother Nature does not have
a contract with the HVAC systems circadian cycle…so the humidity is constantly going up and down which the building and body neither want nor appreciate.
The 4% to 7% budget will get your basic disposable paper/cloth or foam filter. Products, which do not meet healthcare facility standards. These
low cost filters will capture your basic dirt and dust but not gases or any nasty microbiological stuff. IAQ specialist, Professor Tang
Lee, U of C says it best...these
air filters protect the health of the blower not the body.
Rarely does 4% to 7% buy you any type of heat recovery on ventilation or grey water systems. This means if you are in fact ventilating, the money you paid to heat the incoming air, leaves when the air is exhausted. With grey water systems, the money you paid to heat the water up literally
goes down the drain. When hot air is exhausted or hot water drained – it’s your money being lost. By the way - those are after tax dollars slipping through your fingers!
Domestic Hot Water
The 4% to 7% budget will get you a 30 or 40 US gallon mid efficient stand-alone water heater. It can handle the basic needs. If you plan on going against the environmental movement with a big tub and enjoying long showers (most do) then you will be disappointed with this builder standard
The construction minefield has culturally conditioned North American’s to accept the
4% to 7% budget for HVAC as normal. We have been conditioned to think that this value will meet or exceed or bodies expectations when all it does is meet bare minimum codes
- i.e. what is allowed before failure.
Research on indoor
air quality, indoor comfort quality and overall indoor environmental quality explains why over 50% of building occupants are unsatisfied with their environments and a significant part of it has to do with the budget
expectations. If you want great indoor environmental quality you have to place a
priority on the architectural/mechanical systems.
Recommendations: Budget between 10% to 15% of the construction costs will get you into healthcare standards for indoor environmental quality
and energy efficiency. See the benchmark in Total Comfort.