Residential air balancing has been likened to the magic pill of residential HVAC system performance. Benjamin Dimarco calls it the “missing link”; it’s too often overlooked, and this oversight could be costing homeowners and property managers via their recurring energy costs.1 However, performed correctly by a skilled technician, residential air balancing has the potential to unlock near-optimal performance levels for neglected HVAC systems.
But what is it? Air balancing, more broadly, refers to taking a whole-system view of an HVAC installation and comparing it to the ideal, designed performance. Balancing seldom occurs in isolation; instead, it is usually performed as a part of TAB (Testing, Adjusting, and Balancing) services, since the balancing is based on tests and adjustments that precede it and paint a clearer picture of the state of the system. This is performed regularly on industrial and commercial buildings, as recommended by the manufacturer of the system components or as mandated by any local building codes. The issue at hand is that residential buildings are so frequently out of compliance, and often go many years in between balancing services, if they are even performed at all. There are several potential causes of this. As Benjamin Dimarco states in “Residential Air Balancing: The Missing Link,” “In the commercial, industrial, and institutional markets, HVAC balancing is more recognized and accepted as a necessary service than it is in the residential market. We have found, however, that the need for residential air balancing may be even greater than in the other markets simply because of the lack of awareness that has existed for so long.”1 Beyond lack of awareness of the availability of the service, reasons for the neglect can include concerns about costs or confusion as to where the costs and savings could fall. In a landlord-tenant relationship, it would likely be the landlord who pays the cost of system maintenance, but the tenant who sees the payback in the reduction in their bi-monthly energy bills. This disparity could be another reason that residential users seem hesitant to shell out the up-front cost of air balancing services. Finally, while there are Environmental Health and Safety inspectors assigned to ensure building safety and rule compliance for many publically-owned or operated buildings, private residences have no such regulation enforcers, which may leave many building HVAC systems to the care of laypeople who do not know what maintenance is required. Raising awareness of this important service is one way to help decrease residential energy waste, which helps both the environment and ballooning costs.
The scale of the problem should not be understated. Dimarco claims that “After testing more than a thousand HVAC systems we have found less than 5% that are operating above 90% of the equipment-rated capacity.”1 This is shocking; users often choose to buy a system based primarily on the rated capacity stated, and they should be receiving that performance level. A skilled residential TAB services provider can help your residential home or investment property operate to its full potential by performing residential air balancing.