I've been wondering lately why we're so hell bent on testing houses. After all, we're a bunch of smart building scientist type guys and gals, right? We may not be Joe Lstiburek's (for which our families and fiends, unbeknownst to them, are mighty grateful), but we have a working knowledge of air and moisture movement, thermal and pressure boundaries, various Deltas (T, P, and the rest), and all that other stuff BPI made us learn. We don't assess houses one day in Tallahassee, the next in Bangor, then Bakersfield, Portland, and Wichita. We live and work in communities that we know well, with their own climate (and micro-climate), architectural, and geographical challenges. We've been in a bunch of houses, too many crawlspaces and attics, can set up a blower door in our sleep, and have a pretty good idea that those single pane, aluminum frame windows might be a problem. Doesn't it all get a little same-old, same-old?
I would never say this out loud to anyone in this business who wasn't a close personal friend, but I find myself these days pulling up my clients address on Google Maps and immediately creating a preliminary scope of work. I have a pretty good idea right away if they sit over a high water table, are buffeted by winds, or are on Propane rather than natural gas. When I park across the street, I can assess the approximate age of the home and its architectural deficiencies, solar orientation and shading, site drainage, general maintenance and upkeep, etc. and so on. I'm sure you have your own list, but the point is, before I walk in the door, my scope of work is getting a little meat on the bone.
Once I'm in the door, I pay close attention to my clients, peruse their energy bills, stick my head in the attic and/or crawlspace, note the condition and location of their combustion appliances, if windows are opened or closed, health and moisture issues, condition of ductwork, you know the drill. By this time, my prioritized scope of work is pretty well fleshed out, and I haven't pulled out any of my overpriced, specialized, professional looking energy auditing equipment.
When was the last time you ran an envelope leakage test and were shocked, shocked I say, at the results? And does it matter the rate of leakage? You have your own regional priorities, I'm sure, but if I see a house built over a crawlspace one my highest priorities is to isolate it from the conditioned space, no matter what the blower door tells me. Same with an attached garage. I already know this imaginary house needs mechanical ventilation (or will when I'm done), will have to have the existing insulation moved out of the way (or more probably, removed all together) so I can get the area air sealed and the pressure/thermal barriers aligned, and it's a given the duct leakage rate is unacceptable. If the 20th century furnace and rusting water heater are in a hall closet with inadequate combustion air, a test won't clarify anything.
Now that I have that off my chest, I get that we need to quantify stuff, and I would never do any air sealing, for one example, without first testing in, then testing out. But why take the time and energy to test up front when our visual, and often nasal, observations have already pointed us down the road our experience tells us to take? Instead, why not focus more on presenting our clients with a sensible scope based on visual observation and careful consideration, attach appropriate pricing, then roll the testing into the proposal? Everybody likes something for free, and I see no reason to pull out the big guns unless I'm doing battle.
It's pretty clear by now that no one makes money on the test-in, and the results are meaningless if our clients don't act on our findings. If we can get them to commit early to taking appropriate actions, we might not only fix a few more houses, but improve our bottom lines.
I'd appreciate your thoughts.