Book Review—Home Performance Diagnostics: The Guide to Advanced Testing

It (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is superior to the larger book in two important ways. First, it is somewhat cheaper than the Encyclopedia Galactica. Second, it has the words “DON’T PANIC” inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.

—“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams

If there were any book in my library that deserves that “Don’t Panic” label, it would be the one book that describes every single test procedure a home performance auditor might ever expect to need. Of course, that book didn’t exist, until now. Corbett Lunsford’s Home Performance Diagnostics is the first book of its kind for the home performance industry. It sets a high bar for any future efforts. We are a profession that prides itself on measured data in place of opinions. This detailed, copiously illustrated, oversize book sets out how to do those important measurements the same way every time, to assure that your data is accurate and precise, and comparable from job to job or from operator to operator.

Lunsford sets out step-by-step, efficient, effective instructions on how to perform 36 different procedures to complete 23 different home performance tests. The procedures implement most brands of the various devices on the market. Methodical, clear descriptions and detailed, effective photos show crucial details; drilling locations, hose connections, and labels or device displays. Many procedures have an “interpretation” section to relate your data back to the real world of home performance. These interpretation notes include the relevant equations for using measurements in multiple contexts; how to convert CFM50 from your blower door to ACH50, ACHn, or ELA, calculating consumption by clocking either the gas or electric meter, and so on.   

The level of detail is just about perfect. You will still need to read the manual for your particular manometer to make it work with your particular blower door. But Lunsford lays out how to use your hardware to get accurate, reproducible results from the dozen or so tests that every home needs during an energy audit worthy of the name; blower door, gas leak test, combustion analysis, and so on. There are eight or ten more tests, (temperature rise/drop, superheat/subcooling) that you keep in your back pocket, for complex or challenging homes.

Even the general design works well. The paper is tough and durable; this book is supposed to be taken into the attic or crawl space as you develop your technique and improve your measuring skill. There is significant white space, providing room for your own notes. Steps that carry a risk of fire, electrocution or general mayhem include a caution in red.

There are a few additions that could make this strong effort just about perfect. First of all, Home Performance Diagnostics is about testing single-family homes, perhaps a little too much so. There are a few tests (duct leakage and combustion spillage, especially) where mobile homes can (and sometimes should) be tested differently. An additional small note would be useful, either with a “mobile home” modification, or with an explicit note that this test procedure isn’t the best for mobile homes.  

Also, Home Performance Diagnostics does not point readers to more general training or certifications that would be useful to readers. One example; in eight pages, Lunsford also does the best job I can imagine in describing how to get useful information from an IR camera, except in a book solely about interpreting IR images. He includes numerous cautions about how easy it is to misinterpret IR images. Readers would be served well, however, if the book went one step further, and suggested a Level 1 thermography course.

Generally, Home Performance Diagnostics is a superb book that deserves a prominent place on any house geek’s bookshelf. It is destined to be one of those “foundational” works for our profession, like the Builder’s Guide’s from EEBA. I don’t think you need to be in a panic, but you ought to own this book. It can make you better and more efficient in the tasks that are central to our work.

-Don Hynek

Don Hynek is the Multifamily Weatherization Coordinator at the State of Wisconsin’s Division of Energy Services.

You can purchase a copy of Home Performance Diagnostics: The Guide to Advanced Testing here.

This blog originally appeared on HomeEnergy.org.

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Comment by Corbett Lunsford on June 29, 2012 at 3:20pm

Every author's dream is that someone like Don will read their book.  Honestly, today is one of those days that make all the sweat and tears worth it.  DON I LOVE YOU.

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on June 26, 2012 at 3:15pm

Thanks Don (and Macie) for making our (Home Energy's) dream of reviewing more books a reality! You've set a pretty high bar. Which means I'm pretty sure you read the whole book—not a given with book reviewers.

I like the "Don't Panic" criteria. I think I'll apply that to all my reading material, even novels and poems.

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