Chris: Safety First
For this mission, I interviewed local code enforcement officer Steven Gowan, who works for the City of Auburn.
Q1: What does it mean to be code compliant?
A: Code compliance is all about public safety. Without building codes, there would be no way to verify whether or not a building, or in our case, an HVAC system install is structurally or mechanically sound.
Q2: What are some examples of HVAC codes?
A: Whole House Ventilation is the first thing that comes to mind. Energy efficiency is a very hot topic now, so residential buildings are required to be virtually seamless. The heavy insulation in the walls and the airtight windows create an atmosphere where no fresh air can get into a home. Therefore, HVAC systems have to meet strict ventilation requirements so that the occupants of the house don’t get sick from breathing stale, re-circulated air.
Q3: Which codes are the most important?
A: Definitely whole house ventilation. It’s much more expensive to install a new system when it’s done correctly, but it’s so important to the health of the occupants that it can’t be overlooked.
Q4: What do you tell a contractor who asks why houses have to be so heavily insulated that they naturally create a stale environment?
A: The Alabama state government receives money from the federal government. In order to keep receiving this money, the Alabama state government has to show that it’s trying to decrease spending on energy in the state; the insulation requirements are one of the ways they do that.
Q5: Are there any situations where a contractor can use tape, or any other product, that is NOT UL listed and still comply with code requirements?
A: There would have to be very specific circumstances under which non-UL listed products can be used. Tape that is holding flex duct or ductboard together has to be listed UL 181. However, tape that is placed over duct that is secured by other means (zip screws or dovetails in metal ductwork) does not have to be UL listed.
Q6: What are the common reasons why new systems fail inspection?
A: Whole house ventilation and crimped ducts are two that come to mind immediately. Another very common reason to fail a system is because there is not enough room to walk or work around the unit. But that can be the fault of many people other than the HVAC installer- maybe the electrician added a conduit run in front of the unit, or the plumber ran a pipe right across the face of the air handler.
Gustavo: Keeping Houston Up to Code
For this mission I decided to explore my own neighborhood due to all the new construction taking place. I live near the Downtown of Houston, and at this time there are many active projects that include commercial and residential structures. I was able to gather the answers to most of my questions, but none of the individuals who I questioned wanted their names or companies they worked for mentioned in my report, so I will leave them anonymous. I really enjoyed Mission #3 because it allowed me to get to know other awesome professionals in this field and who work very hard every day to keep Houston Texas up to code.
Q1: What does it mean to be code compliant?
A: Being code compliant applies to every building/ Construction project to include “all and any” HVACR related work. Being code compliant means that all TX licensed contractors have to follow all of the codes covered in the “City of Houston Ordinance and the International Mechanical Code”. These codes must be followed when installing an HVACR system in a building or home. The city of Houston enforces these codes to make sure that everyone out there is doing the right thing, is being safe and not cutting corners. Houston codes are enforced to reassure that everyone is following all the rules and regulations as stated in the “ City of Houston Mechanical Code”. The primary function of the City of Houston Permit Divisions is to protect the citizens of Houston Tx. Also required city inspections serve the purpose of ensuring that contractors hold to International Mechanical Code which in turn protects “us” the consumer.
Q2: What are a few examples of HVAC codes that must be met in your location?
A: The City of Houston is very strict when it comes to its Mechanical codes. Some
of the most important ones that were pointed out to me by different technicians
and site inspectors were these:
1. A furnace located on a roof shall be installed on a substantial, level platform.
2. Electric heating appliances shall bear a permanent and legible factory-applied
3. Heating appliances shall be equipped with a listed device or devices that will
shut off the fuel supply to the main burner or burners in the event of pilot or
4. Electric duct heaters shall be equipped with an approved automatic reset air
outlet temperature limit control that will limit the outlet air temp.
5. An evaporative cooler supported directly by the ground shall be isolated from
the ground by a level concrete slab extending not less than 3 inches above the
adjoining ground level.
6. Heating & cooling equipment located in a garage & that generates a glow,
spark, or flame capable of igniting flammable vapors shall be installed with the
pilots and burners or heating elements and switches at least 18 inches above the
Q3: Which of these codes are the most important?
A: The city of Houston takes considers “All codes” important, especially
because there are only a very limited exemptions to some of its codes. If
one code is not being followed/ applied as instructed, it will not pass
inspection and will require another re-inspection. The city of Houston has
codes in place with its citizens’ health and safety in mind.
Q4: Do your local HVAC codes require the use of UL listed tapes, or do some applications allow for the use of tapes that are not UL listed?
A: The City of Houston Mechanical code states that Joints of duct systems shall be made substantially airtight by means of tapes, mastics, gasketing, or other means. Sealant materials and methods of assemblage shall be in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and conform to SMACNA Method A. While I was not able to find an exact answer to this question, everyone I asked seemed to use “ only UL listed tapes” to avoid any possible code issues. Most of the individuals out there were very familiar with the “SHURTAPE” Brand, and had only positive comments to say about it.
Q5: What are some common reasons why HVAC systems might fail inspection?
A: There are many reasons out there, but I found a pattern of issues that a lot of Technicians working out in the sights seemed to run into most of the time. Here’s a list of these top issues:
1. The home’s wiring may not be sufficient to handle the demands of the heating and cooling equipment.
2. Gas-fired furnaces may not have adequate exhaust systems in place.
3. Cracked ductwork and flue pipes that have not been correctly installed.
4. Improper or inadequate combustion and/or makeup air provided.
5. Appliances not installed in accordance with manufacturer’s installation instructions and/or improperly supported.
Aaron: Code Compliance
1. What does it mean to be code compliant?
Being code compliant means following the local codes that are required while installing new equipment. The purpose of these codes is to help prevent damage to the property and keep people safe.
2. What are a few examples of HVAC codes that must be met in your location?
A few common HVAC codes are that the S-cleats in duct work must be taped, condensate lines must be sloped for flow and there must be a condensate trap.
3. Which of these codes are the most important?
The most important code is sealing up the duct work because this prevents leaky ducts from accruing and it maintains a better static pressure while also increasing efficiency.
4. Do your local HVAC codes require the use of UL listed tapes, or do some applications allow for the use of tapes that are not UL listed? Please explain.
The local codes in this area are strict and require that all tapes used are UL listed. They want to make sure that the tapes are tested and approved because when the duct work is sealed up tight it can increase efficiency and prevents conditioned air from leaving.
5. What are some common reasons why HVAC systems might fail inspection?
Common reasons while HVAC systems might fail inspection are dryer vent exceeds the maximum allowed length, leaky gas pipe or too much pressure, flex duct is not installed correctly, PVC joints not sealed, or no condensate trap present.