CSLB Press Release – 11/16/11

Changing Your HVAC System? Don’t Forget Permits


Avoiding HVAC Building Permits Costly for Consumers
Property owners who change out their warm-air heating, ventilating or air-conditioning (HVAC) system need to make sure that their state-licensed contractor takes out a building permit from their local building department to avoid fines and additional repairs. Building permits generate routine inspections to help assure that the system was installed properly, is functioning efficiently, meets Home Energy Rating System (HERS) testing and verification requirements, and complies with the State Building Energy Efficiency Standards.

During Contractors State License Board (CSLB) undercover sting operations at residential properties over the past three years, investigators have found a growing trend of licensed contractors who are violating state law by telling consumers that building permits are not required to install HVAC systems. “Up to 40 percent of the contractors who were invited to give project bids at sting locations told investigators that a building permit isn’t necessary, which simply is not true,” said CSLB Enforcement Chief Dave Fogt. “Even worse, a homeowner’s insurance policy could be cancelled if their insurance company finds that work has been done on the property without a permit.”

Just as with all home repair, improvement or construction projects, homeowners need to ask about state and local requirements. Penalties for not obtaining an HVAC building permit vary from city to city.

“We want to make sure that consumers are aware of their project responsibilities and know the right questions to ask their contractor so they aren’t stuck with fines and an inefficient HVAC system,” said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands.

“We’re proud of the fact that CSLB receives relatively few complaints against its 300,000 licenses each year,” said Sands, “but this illegal trend of skirting building permits needs to be corrected. HVAC contractors will continue to be sting and sweep operation targets.”

California’s 2008 Building Energy Efficiency Standards indicate that HVAC ducts should leak less than 15 percent but, according to California Energy Commission statistics, the average duct system leaks about 30 percent, wasting energy and increasing utility bills.

When HVAC contractors (known as C-20 Specialty contractors) “pull” the local building department permit, the system can be inspected by the department or a third-party field verifier, referred to as a HERS rater, to ensure that ducts have been properly sealed. If an HVAC system fails inspection, it has to be repaired by the contractor at no additional cost to the consumer.

“Contractors must comply with all applicable California building standards, including using certified HERS raters to test and verify that HVAC installations meet energy efficiency standards,” said Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas. “For the best energy efficiency and cost-savings, consumers will want to team up with their state-licensed HVAC contractors to make sure all permits and energy regulations are followed.”

CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips before hiring anyone to work on their home or property:

  • Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their license and a photo ID to verify their identity.
  • Always check the license number on CSLB’s website at www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com to make sure the license is in good standing.
  • Don’t pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB’s website.
  • Don’t pay in cash, and don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Get at least three bids, check references, and get a written contract.

The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information and publications about hiring contractors are available on the CSLB website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). You can also sign up for CSLB email alerts. CSLB licenses and regulates California’s more than 300,000 California contractors in 43 different categories, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2010-11, CSLB helped recover nearly $45 million in ordered restitution for consumers.

Energy Efficiency and HVAC Building Permits


As a participant in the Performance Alliance, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is committed to reducing energy used by warm-air heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Please be advised that CSLB is accelerating its enforcement plan to ensure that new, enhanced compliance requirements are being met for the California Code of

Regulations Title 24, Part 6, Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings. Amendments to Title 24, Part 6 became effective January 1, 2010, and require enhanced duct sealing, proper refrigerant charge, airflow, and fan watt draw. As you know, building permits are necessary to ensure that HVAC construction is performed according to state and local codes and safety standards. Failure to obtain a permit is a violation of law and exposes the homeowner to additional costs and liability.

Also, the California Mechanical Code (CMC) requires a building permit for HVAC installations and modifications including, but not limited to, the following:

• New HVAC installation;

• HVAC changeout / remodel / replacement including the air handler, coil, furnace or condenser;

• Relocation of an existing HVAC unit;

• Removal of an HVAC unit or system; or

• Adding ducting.

If a contractor fails to obtain a permit and performs contracting work on a project requiring a permit, the contractor is in violation of the law and will be disciplined by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), pursuant to Business and Professions Code Sections 7110 and 7090. Disciplinary action may include assessment of civil penalties of up to $5,000 per citation and/or suspension or revocation of the license. At the direction of its Board, CSLB issued an Industry Bulletin (enclosed) on November 30, 2009, to alert the industry that CSLB would accelerate building permit enforcement efforts beginning in January 2010. (You can sign up to automatically receive news and 2 bulletins on the CSLB website: www.cslb.ca.gov. Look for “Sign Up to Receive E-Mail Alerts.”) This is an additional effort to remind you about CSLB enforcement as it relates to Title 24.

For additional information or training opportunities, please refer to the following organizations:

• The Institute of Heating & Air Conditioning Industries, Inc. (IHACI)
454 W. Broadway
Glendale, CA 91204

• The California Energy Commission
Energy Standards Hotline
(916) 654-5106 or (800) 772-3300
email address: Title24@energy.state.ca.us

If you have any questions regarding these requirements, please contact CSLB Enforcement Representative Alan DalPorto at (916) 255-4001.

Do I need HERS Compliance Testing for energy efficiency?

Yes. The State of California is committed to reducing energy used by HVAC systems. In order to meet these energy goals, all homeowners and the installing contractors are required to comply with the requirements of the California Code of Regulations Title 24, Part 6, Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings. The current code became effective January 1, 2010 which requires Field Verification and Diagnostic Testing (FV/DT). Enhanced duct sealing, proper refrigerant charge, airflow, and fan-watt draw are some of the testing requirements that may apply to your job. Your HERS Rater will advise you of the required tests.