What Came First: The Inspector or The Code Book?

Just when you think you have heard it all: Today I heard about a local building inspector asking for an ACCA Manual J because the contractor was repairing/adding ductwork to a 10 year old furnace.  Of course it was oversized, it was installed before building inspectors knew what an ACCA Manual J, Residential Load Calculation was (many find the humor in this statement).  When attempting to correct the inspector (he must have meant Manual D, right?), he was quick to remind the professional that he knows what he meant and they were working in a "Stretch Code Town" now.

For over five years, Massachusetts has "implemented" a Sheet Metal License - complete with a Board of Examiners, path for licensing including clear education paths, uniform permits, and of course inspections.  This is the most troubling part of the process for all residential contractors involved: inspections.  Most so frustrated with the permitting/inspection process, they often have to call local inspectors just to inquire what they want for documentation.

Since implementation, I have personally spent hundreds of dollars renewing a license for which we have no code book?!  Currently, in the absence of a state code, the 2012 International Mechanical Code (IMC) is being referenced as the solution.  This loosely worded code typically references other International Code books like the International Residential Code (IRC) and International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), for example.  With regards to Residential Duct Design, the references eventually make it back to ACCA Manual D.  For those that know me, I most likely saw you in one of my many System Design Courses taught previously in my career preaching ACCA System Design.  I pushed the ACCA Manual J/S/D pile uphill for many years, or as my Grandfather would say: in the snow, uphill, both ways!  To the point where I firmly believe any quality residential HVAC Contractor in MA wants to do the right thing, including paying for permits and learning (if necessary) before it becomes the hard way.

So, I have to ask: Why should this contractor pull a sheet metal permit in this town?  Because the state requires it?  Mr,/Mrs. Homeowner may or may not want the permit pulled in the first place!  Other than funding the town to pay an inspector that probably has no clue the "flux-capacitor" is not a part in the old furnace, what is protecting the homeowner?  If an inspection ensures the contractor met the minimums required by law, but the Inspector doesn't know what any of the above design manuals and code books say, I would have to argue that there is nothing protecting the homeowner - the sole reason for creating this license in the first place!

What can you do about this?  Well, alone probably not much - except argue with local inspectors and possibly educate some along the way...one house, one town at a time.  Or, you should consider joining an organization that provides local representation and has a clear voice, working with the likes of The Sheet Metal Board, Departments of Public Safety and Energy.  Personally, I like ACA New England, full disclosure: I am an ACA New England board member, of course there are a few others.  They recently made an instrumental move to keep another sweeping MA Refrigeration License from quickly becoming a reality.  This was recklessly written and would have significantly impacted the current and future workforce, and although far from dead this bill has been put into study.  To be clear, and this is my own point of view, no one in our organization is against licensing - just want to be responsible in the way it is written and implemented.  Consider being part of the solution, not just complaining about it and going it alone!

The biggest question still remains, What came first: The Inspector or The Code Book?