Chitwood now in Performance Industry Hall of Fame

Steve Gerace

The fire that has fueled Rick Chitwood's journey from small town HVAC contractor to induction into the Building Performance Industry Hall of Fame burns within.

Chitwood said he realized soon after earning his mechanical engineering degree from Chico State in the early 1980s that real world energy efficiency did not work the way they taught it in school.

So he started measuring his own work, "learned how things really worked and how to make them work better."

Realizing that insulation is one of the keys to energy efficiency, Chitwood became an insulation contractor in the early 1990s.

Fifteen years ago he started teaching others the lessons he learned by "measuring my own work and seeing opportunities for improvement."

In 2004 he sold his Mount Shasta construction business to employees to devote his time to teaching energy efficiency and helping develop state codes and standards. "That's where things need to change," Chitwood says, "so we implement true building performance and quality control on a large scale."

He said, "Workers on an auto assembly line do near perfect work 100 percent of time, and everything they do has a quality control check. We have to integrate those quality control checks; you get really good if you measure the quality of your work."

During the last 15 years, Chitwood estimates that he has "mentored several thousand contractors" while teaching classes of 20 to 50 at a time. He now spends a lot of time away from his Mount Shasta home, teaching classes sponsored by investor-owned utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison.

"What I say over and over is if you really want to learn how things work, you need to measure it," Chitwood emphasized.

He was one of three 2013 inductees into the Building Performance Industry Hall of Fame who were recognized during the ACI National Home Performance Conference May 1 in Denver, Colo. He did not attend but received his plaque in the mail.

Hall of Fame members, according to a Building Performance Institute, Inc. press release, are "nominated by their peers and selected by a panel of impartial judges." They are "recognized for their significant and lasting contributions to the building performance industry over the course of their careers."

Chitwood, according to BPI, "has had a major impact on the development of California's home performance industry as a contractor, a trainer, and an advocate and advisor to utilities, state programs and regulators. He is well known in California for challenging the state's building codes, particularly in the area of HVAC performance. Through his passion and persistence, he's made crucial contributions to the development of the most stringent modern energy codes that effect all new and existing home construction the state."

A congratulations letter Chitwood received from BPI, praises him for the many people in California who "consider you the mentor that inspired them to embrace truly high quality work in home performance."

He is recognized for helping prove to other builders and contractors "that efficiency is possible, practical, and profitable in the real world."

Chitwood says he has been teaching the Building Performance Institute's principles for 15 years, and he has worked with the California Energy Commission on its last three revisions of state codes.

He still sees "opportunities for improvement," especially when it comes to the lack of quality control. "The state wants high performance; the consumer wants the lowest bidder," Chitwood said. "Contractors have focused on being the low bidder. It's hard for them to think otherwise."

As he developed his tools for measuring energy efficiency, Chitwood came to realize that "if you do it right the first time, there is no extra cost... If installed correctly, an air conditioner saves initially and in the long run."

Beginning in the late 1970s, Chitwood said he began working his way through school doing mostly solar installation jobs with another Mount Shasta resident, Mark Dawson.

After graduating from Chico State in 1983, he came back to Mount Shasta, started doing local installations, and "got too busy to find an engineering job."

He started his own HVAC business and soon made an observation that sparked all that was to follow in his career: Chitwood said he realized while doing a HUD energy audit that the apartments on Hinckley St. in Mount Shasta with gas furnaces cost almost twice as much to heat as similar apartment complexes in Yreka and McCloud that had electric resistance baseboard heaters. "That was the opposite of what we learned in school," Chitwood said.

He wanted to know why and began developing his own tools to assess energy efficiency performance. He said one of the first things he learnd with those tools was the importance of reducing duct system leakage to below measurable levels.

His Hall of Fame path went forward from there.