HOME PERFORMANCE DIAGNOSTICS: What to look for when inspecting a home

Home inspection in Kentucky, U.S. - Home performance diagnostics

The four aspects of home performance

At the Building Performance Workshop, we always strive to distill complex concepts and practices to their most essential and basic elements. This does two things:

  • It enables the professional to keep a cool, clear head when faced with complicated challenges in the field
  • It helps frame the way you talk to your clients about your work (clients, professional or otherwise, tend to tune out when we get technical)

In the interest of keeping it simple, therefore, we’ve concentrated on defining home performance in four aspects:

  • Heat flow (which everyone thinks they understand, but few truly do)
  • Air flow and pressure (two sides of the same coin, which few people even
    attempt to grasp)
  • Moisture (it kills the house more effectively than almost anything)
  • Air quality and safety (your work’s most important results are healthy, happy clients)

This list is in increasing order of importance. You’ll notice that the two aspects which have to do with energy efficiency are at the top, which is the less important end of the list. This is why your title is better defined as a home performance expert than an energy efficiency expert. People will continue to call it “energy auditing” when you’re testing, but if you can keep reminding them that you’re doing so much more than saving energy, you make yourself more valuable.

If you ever find yourself searching for a simple definition for what a “high performance home” is, look no further than this:

In a high performance home, heat flow, air flow and pressure, moisture, and air quality are all perfectly controlled.

Control is the goal, just like with your car or your body. We all know how uncomfortable uncontrolled events in our cars or our bodies can be; a home is no different.

Inspection first

Before you whip out your tools and get to it, always remember that your most valuable tool is your own experience and your senses. There are three stages to any really valuable activity in this field:

  • Inspection
  • Diagnostics
  • Recommendations for improvement

What you see, hear, smell, and feel in the home (and taste, I suppose, but please don’t let your client see you) is often the most valuable testing you perform, and it can tell you a lot about what you expect to find in the diagnostic stage.

To apply the four aspects in your daily work of inspection, simply look at any building component through the lens of each of the aspects. For example, a gas-fired water heater:

How can I better control heat flow in this component?

  • Maximize efficiency of the heat exchanger
  • Conserve energy by carefully setting the tank thermostat
  • Ensure insulation of the storage tank
  • Ensure insulation of the distribution system

How can I better control air flow and pressure in this component?

  • Ensure adequate fresh air for the combustion process
  • Test for proper venting of the combustion gases

How can I better control moisture in this component?

  • Inspect for water leakage

How can I better control air quality around this component?

  • Again, test for proper venting of the combustion gases

I’ll include a brief rundown of the inspections that should precede the diagnostics in this book, but there’s no replacement for experience, so continue to keep your senses open whenever you’re in a building, on or off the clock.

[ background=”#b6c4b3″ color=”#000000″ border=”0px solid #cccccc” shadow=”0px 0px 0px #eeeeee”]Home Performance DiagnosticsCorbett Lunsford is technical director of Green Dream Group and author of Home Performance Diagnostics: the Guide to Advanced Testing and serves as executive director of the Illinois Association of Energy Raters & Home Performance Professionals. In addition to performing hundreds of comprehensive home performance assessments and new ENERGY STAR Home certifications in Chicago, Corbett presents at home performance conferences across the U.S.

Excerpt from Corbett Lunsford’s book Home Performance Diagnostics: the Guide to Advanced Testing, reprinted with permission (© 2012).[/]

image 1: Wikimedia Commons

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