Blogs > Tom Miller > January 2010

The blower door test.

Now we’re getting somewhere.
A blower door is really a pretty simple device. Cool and effective, but simple.
As Mark Dreher, the technician from Thermo-Scan Inspections explains it: he simply opens an exterior door in the home and attaches the blower door (either fabric or hard panels) to cover the opening. Built into the blower door is a fan, which looks and sounds just like your typical box or attic fan. 
The object of this test is to turn off the HVAC equipment and seal all of the vents in the home. Then, turn the fan on and begin sucking the air out of the home. This depressurizes the home. I asked Mark what depressurizing the house did: He said that by creating a pressure imbalance with the outside of the home, outside air will find a way to get indoors and equalize the pressure…if it can.
In my home outside air had absolutely no problem getting in. None at all. Mark would tell me to put my hand here and there, and sure enough, there was a pretty powerful breeze shooting in.
Mark checked all around the exterior, making notes of all the areas where air was infiltrating. Then he used an infrared camera to check the attic areas and the exterior walls. What Mark discovered was that back in 1959 they didn’t really use much insulation. Most of the attic space had none, and the few insulation batts were no longer attached. Same for the exterior walls.
Mark spent about four hours conducting the inspection. Two days later, I received his report with recommendations for fixing what he had found. I can’t really say I was surprised. The house was difficult to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Here’s what I learned: when the gas company sends those fliers that say “caulk the cracks in your home’s exterior” they are absolutely right, except for one thing: there is no way I would ever have guessed where all the leaks in the walls were without a blower door test.
If anyone is serious about improving the energy efficiency of their home, my recommendation is to begin with a blower door test. In fact, I liked the blower door test so much I decided to have another one.

Posted: 1/21/2010 12:00:00 AM by Tom Miller | with 0 comments

The motivation to change

One home at a time.
The motivation to change.
We probably all know the truth, but it’s difficult to admit: the hardest thing to change is ourselves. We have all the excuses in the world why we have put off doing what we know is in our own best interest. But occasionally, when we’re really lucky and the gods are smiling, we wake up one day and decide to do something. Something important. To change.
It is a liberating experience. 
My liberating green moment came in the spring of 2009. I was contemplating the state of the environment 39 years after the first Earth Day (add hyperlink to story here) and realized I had done very little in the intervening years to make a difference.
I had gone from being actively engaged in the green movement to becoming a bystander. Sure we recycle at home and office, and we’re careful about water usage, reducing use of herbicides and pesticides on the landscaping and so forth. But who was I kidding…it wasn’t enough. No excuses.
I decided I had wasted enough time, and would begin making a difference. But where to begin? At home. The perfect place.
We live in a mid century modern home in Indianapolis, built in 1959. When we bought the home we spent lots of time doing the predictable renovations an older home needs: kitchen, bathrooms, the usual.
But the one thing we didn’t do is give the home a really good physical plant evaluation. In the years we’ve lived there the furnace guys, plumbers and contractors have trooped through the home, and never once did anyone comment on the health of the home’s critical operating systems: insulation in the building envelope, the HVAC system, the plumbing system, indoor air quality, etc.
Key insight: the contractors and service techs were there to do a job, solve a problem. That’s why I called them. It never dawned on me to do a little investigation on my own.
Now, I’m not a technical person, and DIY projects pretty much stop at changing light bulbs. But hey, I just got religion, and I wasn’t going to waste too much time.
But before I go too much further, here’s my caveat: as I have admitted to being pretty much clueless about the home as an operating system, my intention is to present my experiences – complete with all the mistakes, missteps, mishaps as well as the successes.
I’m a homeowner that wants to do something to make my place in the world a bit friendlier and sustainable. I’m not going to give advice, just share my experience. And hope that it helps make things a bit easier for other homeowners when they talk to their builder or contractor about making their home greener.
I started by doing some research, and I kept coming across this information about conducting a “blower door test.” So I called my HVAC contractor to see if he could come out and do a blower door test. He couldn’t. Did he know whom I could call to get one done? No. How about a duct leak test? Nope, sorry.
Hmm, This might not be as straight forward as I thought. So I got on the Internet. Checked out Angie’s List. No luck. Google was a bit more helpful, and I was able to locate one company in Indianapolis that could do this blower door test. So I made the call, scheduled an appointment and couldn’t wait to get started.

Posted: 1/8/2010 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

About Me

Tom Miller is not a building scientist, green guru or even a halfway decent DIYer. However, he is passionate about making a difference, ecologically speaking.

The purpose of Tom’s blog is to share experiences and observations from a homeowner’s perspective in the hopes that it will help building professionals spot unmet needs and dramatically increase the velocity of green building adoption across the country.




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