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NORA’s New Gold Standard

The National Oilheat Research Alliance gives its Gold certification for technicians a major makeover.

By Stephen Bennett

NORA wants to teach technicians a lesson. Make that many lessons. NORA is revamping its advanced or “Gold’ certification for technicians, and creating new courses to recognize specialized areas of expertise.

“The problem in the past was that the old Gold program didn’t address heating systems,” said Bob Hedden, a NORA board member who, along with John Levey of consulting firm Oilheat Associates, oversees education and training for the Alliance. “It was all about oil burners and oil burner efficiency,” Hedden said of the earlier iteration of the Gold program. In fact, all three technician certifications – Bronze, Silver and Gold – were “oil burner” courses. “They touched on heating systems, but they didn’t really get into a lot of depth. This new Gold program that service managers had a big part in suggesting focuses primarily on heating systems, and we spun off efficiency to be its own independent program.” (The Silver and Bronze certification programs for technicians will be unchanged.)

“We’re creating a book, a seminar and tests to go with the new Gold program, “Hedden said. The book, written by Hedden, is scheduled to be issued this summer.

The Alliance has also revamped its websites, including helpful tools such as “technician look-ups,” Hedden said. “We have the ability to do online training and all kinds of other things now,” he added.

More books are in the works, “and there will be training programs and tests associated with those books” which will be on “hot air heat” and hot water heat, Hedden said. They too are expected to be completed this summer.

Together with a book on steam heat, scheduled to be issued some time later, they will constitute core courses for the Gold certification. Two additional books, one on advanced controls and another on venting, are to be developed and published. “So we’ve been pretty busy,” Hedden said. He noted that these projects are team efforts, including Oil & Energy Service Professionals (OESP), where Ralph Adams, service manager for Parker Fuel Co. in Ellicott City, Md., is chair of the education committee. Adams served as lead writer on the hot air heat book. Dave Holdorf, a trainer with Taco Inc., Cranston, R.I., was the lead writer for the hydronics book, Hedden said.

“I think it’s a better program with the specialties,” Adams said. “You have to get three of the six specialties in order to get your Gold. If you have your Gold already you will not lose it as long as you keep getting continuing education credits,” Adams said. There will be continuing education programs as well, “so the guys will have no problem keeping up on their specialties,” Adams said. Each continuing education credit is equal to one hour of training.

Adams is teaching the air flow course a couple of times this summer, including Aug. 5 at the OESP Industry Forum at the Kalahari Resorts, Mount Pocono, Pa. “The new NORA program is directing us into the future,” he said.

NORA originally developed its Oilheat Certification Program to ensure that service professionals are well-trained and aware of the technical advances that lead to higher efficiency and “a more comfortable home,” according to the Alliance’s online literature, and that remains the education and training mission. Oilheat service professionals can take NORA-approved courses at NORA-approved schools. The courses are designed to help technicians make each service call more efficient–saving the customer money, the Alliance said.

Hedden noted that the book he wrote on “efficiency” broadens the term, covering more territory. “Efficiency,” for the purposes of the new Gold certification, now refers to “generic oilheat efficiency–the whole system,” Hedden said, meaning burner, boiler, furnace, heating system as well as the house or other type of building being served by the system.

“Building performance is part of the efficiency,” Hedden said, taking “a holistic view of efficient oil heating.” The Building Performance Institute has been helpful with the content for the course and has certified the NORA instructional materials.

All of the new materials are designed to satisfy “pent up demand” from the years when NORA was inactive, Hedden said. “These were things we had been talking about doing for a long time. As soon as NORA got reactivated then we had money to make all this happen.”

The overall effort both expands the scope of the Alliance’s educational and training offerings and fills “gaps that have always been there,” Hedden said. During the time that NORA was unfunded “we didn’t have any money to do all these things,” Hedden said. “That’s why there’s this sudden burst of activity. These are things we’ve wanted to do for a number of years and we can finally start to get them done.”

Consumer Education

NORA is working to get the latest information about oilheat to consumers as well. It has created a website (oilheatamerica.com) to highlight the benefits of home heating oil.

“When you hear an Oilheat ad on the radio, invite a certified Oilheat technician into your home, or install new high-efficiency home comfort equipment, you are experiencing the benefits of NORA,” the website tells consumers.

The Alliance also funds programs for real estate professionals, it said, “to ensure they understand the benefits of heating oil so they can help homebuyers and sellers.”

Funding for the Alliance was first authorized by Congress in 2000 with a “check-off” program, in which $0.002 was collected at the wholesale level on every gallon of heating oil sold, according to the Alliance’s website. However, Congress failed to reauthorize the check-off program once it expired, and NORA was without funding for a time. Following industry lobbying efforts, Congress in 2014 reauthorized the check-off program.

For more information on the Alliance’s education offerings, visit NORAed.org.

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