Archive for the ‘BPI QCI’ Category

TV Sets, Homes, and QCI

May 18, 2015

I have had the pleasure of talking to a lot of wonderful people about the challenges of the BPI QCI CertificHomeowner checkation, and I am getting some unique insight.  I started out working on my book – Residential QCI Handbook on a quest to help candidates who are preparing to take the exam.  I wanted to get a clearer picture of how to prepare for the exam, what to study, what to learn, and what to brush up on.  But there is a lot more to it than just sharpening your pencil or memorizing a table.

For one thing, there is a lot to being a Quality Control Inspector for homes.  Early in my career I worked as a technician in a company that made television sets.  Electronic components were stuffed by hand into circuit boards.  Hardware components were mounted on large, copper back plates, wires were run between point A and point B . . . and C, D, E, F, G, etc.  Lots of wires.  For awhile I had to solder those wires in place.  Individual components like the power supplies and the channel tuners were tested at individual stations.  And then the whole thing was put together, shaken for a half hour to see if everything would stay in place, and then turned on and aligned and then put in a box to be shipped.  Every person in the process had something to do with making that TV set work . . . every person from the person who stuffed the resistors into the holes on the circuit boards to the final test technician who made sure that it actually would work when it arrived in someone’s home played a role in the success or failure of the product.

I started out connecting wires, but I ended up performing the final alignment – performing the final quality control on each television.  There were a lot of smart people putting those things together, but the level of risk was small.  If the TV set didn’t work, people in a bar weren’t going to able to watch the 3 Stooges!  (They told me that when I was doing field service.)  If someone doesn’t properly check the spillage on a water heater in a house, a family could die.

Quality Control for homes is a lot more serious than quality control for TV sets.  Over and over again as I have talked to people I heard that the economic rewards for the job are barely considered.  The rewards are emotional.  Clients are grateful when their homes are more comfortable and the heating bills lower.

So that’s another thing.  I had heard that candidates struggle with the “soft skills” questions on the written test.  It’s very difficult to write “soft skills” questions that have only one right answer.  Those are generally the questions that attorneys answer by saying, “Well, it depends!”  How do you assess client satisfaction?  You talk to them.  We don’t do this work ON clients.  We do this work WITH clients.  The crew and the weatherization agency brings the skills and that has to blend with requirements of the house and the people who live there.  It is all one beautiful, functional entity.  It’s like the TV sets I worked on only much more significant.  Most of those TV sets that I worked on back in the 1970’s are in the dump by now.  Houses will be around for a few hundred years.

100217_4760Tamasin Sterner of PureEnergy Coach told me that you can’t have an ego to be a Quality Control Inspector.  It’s just not about you.

You, however, will provide the final quality control checks on my book.  I am honored to have been certified as a QCI Master Trainer by IREC.  I am honored to have been able to talk to a lot of people for the contents of the book.  I have tried to pull together a lot of useful knowledge and tools to get the job done.  But there is so much out there that it is overwhelming.  You really need to know a lot to be good at this job.  For those of you who are about to challenge the QCI exam, take courage, eat some dark chocolate (Amanda Hatherly mentioned that), and believe in yourself and what you are doing.


If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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Shades of Gray in Residential Construction Morality

April 27, 2015

I was called in to perform a last minute duct test for a modular home builder.  He was all in a dither to have a duct test and a blower door test done on a Friday so that he could get his Certificate of Occupancy (CO) so the homeowner could move in the following Monday.  He said that he’d just found out that he needed these tests.  The building inspector asked for them at the last minute!

I was glad to do it partially because it’s good to have builders aware of what is going on despite the fact that he might have been warned for the past year or more that the code had changed.  General awareness of these changes take time.  After all, this wasn’t the first house that he had built since the new codes went into effect, but this was obviously the first building inspector who had made him do it.  The 2012 IECC is quite demanding in contrast to the 2009 version, and it is clear that builders can’t just build the way they used to.  The IECC requires 3 ACH50 and ducts that leak no more than 4 cfm per 100 square feet.  This house leaked at over 7 ACH50 and the ducts were at just under 9 cfm per 100 square feet.

So the builder ran around with a caulking gun.  He stuffed paper towel under the basement door.  He pulled off electrical receptacle covers and installed those little foam pads.  And then he looked at me.  This is the point where the rubber meets the road as a Quality Control Inspector.  The house performed better than many houses that have been built over the years.  It wasn’t likely to explode or rot away in a year.  After all, it had been mostly assembled in a factory – indoors where it never rained.  So why didn’t the modular manufacturer get it right?  They could have sealed up the tops of all the wire chases in the attic.  There was air coming up from the marriage wall gap.  Whose responsibility was that?

We called the factory.  They were apparently shocked!  How could air be leaking at all the outlets?  Using a pressure pan I showed the builder which ones were connected to the outside and which ones weren’t.  It wasn’t all of them.  Attitude in the factory came into play.  Maybe someone had been assigned the task of sealing all those holes but ran out of . . . foam?  attitude? time?  Maybe it was Friday afternoon.

Open Panned Return1

Panned Return

Then there were the ducts.  The only return in the house was a large opening in the living room floor where the joists had been panned  down below.  There was a wind blowing up from the basement (outside the conditioned space) when the blower door was running.

We called the HVAC contractor.  “I sealed every joint with mastic!  We do that every time.  I don’t know what could have happened.”  Using the theatrical fogger, it was pretty obvious that they hadn’t sealed every joint.  The filter slot was uncovered and beyond that, it was located in such a manner that the gas pipe and some wires would always make it extremely difficult to change the filter.

By this point, the builder recognized that the house was not going to pass and he was not going to get his certificate of occupancy for Monday.   He told me that he would arrange to have the HVAC contractor back and would spend time sealing and tightening up the house.

Open Panned Return

Vision of the Living Room

A week went by before he called me back.  Now, all of this is unfortunately too common, but it was the second visit that really disturbed me.  On the phone the builder said the ducts had been retested and they were fine.  All he need from me was the blower door test.  I asked to see the duct test results.  He said that the HVAC guy was having trouble with his email, but he sent me a photograph of the test results.  I noticed that the building size was wrong.  The results were remarkably good.  I couldn’t read the signature or the name and there wasn’t a BPI or HERS number.   No, the builder said, you don’t need to retest the ducts.  Just do the blow test.

When I got to the house, the builder was running around with his caulking gun again.  Proudly he showed me how the marriage wall had been foamed in the basement.  He said he had talked to the factory but they really hadn’t done much.  I looked at the ducting.  The section of the floor joist panning was wide open at the end.  You could see the daylight of the grille in the living room.  There was absolutely no way that the testing could have had the results that it did.

While we were in the basement, the HVAC contractor showed  up and started caulking around the floor boots.  If the ducts were so tight, why was he still trying to make them tighter?  I showed him the open panned return.  “Don’t know how that could have happened!  We had a guy who was doing bad work.  I had to let him go.”

I asked him about the guy who tested the ducts.  “Oh, he’s just a guy that works for me.  Does this once in awhile.”

So the duct testing was a lie.  It was a lie by an employee who worked for the HVAC contractor.  The builder accepted it and refused to let me retest the ducts once the HVAC company had worked on them.  He wanted the CO and he wanted to be done with the job.

This situation was obvious: the end of the ducting was wide open.  Without my testing, they would never have known.  The system would have been running that way for its entire existence.  Even with my testing, the builder was willing to accept the results and walk away.  The HVAC contractor was willing to accept the results and walk away and complain about onerous rules and regulations.  The homeowner would have gotten a shoddy product and the building inspector would have received invalid information and had to accept it because he couldn’t recheck the result due to lack of time and money.

If we are going to make this system work and have any value, at the very least there ought to be simple ways to verify the credentials of the people doing the testing.  There ought to be a way for QCI inspectors to ding the contractor or the builder for making stuff up.  I want to believe that this was a learning experience for both the builder and the HVAC contractor and that they will do better next time.  But when I saw those original duct testing results from the HVAC contractor, I didn’t believe them.  Should I have compelled the builder to let me retest?  Obviously the ducting system would have failed miserably.  If it had been a health and safety situation, there would have been no question.  But it was a performance and long term durability question.  Are there shades of gray in residential construction morality?


If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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Which version of CAZ testing is used for BPI/QCI testing?

April 20, 2015


Combustion Safety Testing is one of the most important components of the HEP QCI exam.  Because it is linked to the safety of the occupants, it has been a fundamental element of BPI exams since the inception of the organization.  As we make homes tighter and more energy efficient, we cut back on the supply of combustion air which can cause appliances to malfunction.  Since traditionally the combustion appliances rely on the buoyancy of warm air to function, as appliances get more efficient, their smaller chimneys and flues take less back pressure to fail.  More efficient systems use fans or blowers to force the air up the flue and out of the house, but it is the older, naturally drafted appliances (Category I gas appliances) that fail.  Testing has to be done to be sure that won’t happen under any circumstance.
There are a number of combustion testing protocols for the combustion appliance zone or CAZ.  BPI has been refining their standard for a number of years now.  If you are going to get Home Energy Professional (HEP) QCI certification, you want to be sure that both you and your proctor and working from the same standard.  Although the BPI 1200 Standard is now used for Building Analyst, Envelope, Heating, and AC & Heat Pump certifications, the HEP certifications still use the Building Analyst Professional Standard.  It would be a good idea to make sure that your proctor knows that before you start the testing.

Go to the BPI web site ( and download the Building Analyst Field Guide.

Take that and turn it in to a logical, sequential list.  Since the field exam is open book, you can refer to this and check it off as you go along.  Now, as an experienced auditor or building science professional, you may feel like you don’t need to check it off.  You’ve done it a thousand times!  Well, consider a pilot.  They may have flown that plane a thousand times, but I for one, hope that they never skip items on their checklist!  If you leave anything out and it cause you to fail, you will regret it.  Oh, and make sure when you are finished, you go back over the list and put things back the way they were.  You don’t want to be fifty miles away and get a call from the homeowner about not having any hot water!

When you assemble your CAZ checklist, make sure that you combine other elements of the HEP QCI Field Guide.  For example checking the chimneys to be sure that they comply with the 10:2 rule (chimney terminates two feet higher than anything in a ten foot radius)  and have a 1/4″ slope rise per foot of run. All that stuff should be on your checklist.

During the field test you want to be efficient and you want to talk all the time, telling your proctor what you are doing and why you are doing it, explaining everything.  But don’t look for confirmation.  If you say, “I’m putting my manometer probe in this hole I made in the flue.  Right?” the proctor should not give you any indication of whether you have completed the task successfully.  The proctor and his/her camera should be mute and effectively invisible.

This may sound basic, but make sure that the appliances in the test house will fire when you want them to!  Some water heaters may be full of hot water and turning the thermostat up won’t get them to fire.  You may have to run the hot water.  (I have had candidates under the pressure of testing, fling on the cold water tap and wonder why nothing is happening!  Testing does weird stuff sometimes.)

Also make sure you are familiar with your tools – particularly if you are borrowing them.  You want to know how to turn them on and set them up to take the readings that you need.  You want to make sure that the batteries aren’t dead.  Some combustible gas leak detectors and other tools time out after a while, for example.  You don’t want to be running downstairs and outside to restart the tool in the middle of the test.  (This is true whether it is for a certification test or just a regular, run-of-the-mill audit!)

Just to be allowed to take the HEP QCI exam means that you have a lot of experience.  You’ve done most of these tasks hundreds of times.  But it may have been a while since you did your initial BPI training.  Be sure you take advantage of all the resources available to you and don’t take the testing too casually.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

Visit us at