February 18, 2016

In my last post, I described the basics, the importance and the pure beauty of the blower door test as an integral part of a whole house diagnostic assessment. To take a step backwards, what do we mean when we say “home performance,” or “house as a system?” And just what are people referring to when they mention a “whole house diagnostic assessment?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

It’s actually pretty straightforward when taken at face value. Let’s put it into perspective:

  1. While easily taken for granted, our houses are quite complex.
  2. While floor plans and layouts differ, houses are all the “same,” yet so very different in how they operate.
  3. No one knows what will make your house more comfortable, or safer, without looking at it first.

How your house is complex

Every aspect of your house interacts with every other part. You close a door: you change the pressure in another room. Turn on an exhaust fan: you pull conditioned tempered air out of the house and it must be made up somewhere else… and it will be. The question is, from where? Air is lazy. It will take the least restrictive path inside – through the wet, moldy crawlspace below your basement, through the dusty attic, through the vents of combustion appliances themselves. I don’t know about you, but that is not the air I want my children to breathe.

Why you should learn more about your house as a system

“Home performance,” the house as a system and building science are synonymous in that you can’t look at one without the other. No individual can walk into your home and automatically tell you what will “make things better.” These three concepts are intertwined. An excellent resource for learning more about how your home operates, how it’s a system and why it is so important to learn this is the Building Science Principles Reference Guide published by BPI. Written in a manner that is easy to understand and connect with, this guide should come with every home much like the owner’s manual for your car.

If your house is expensive to operate in terms of energy and water usage, if some rooms are not as comfortable as others, if your family has symptoms of illness at home that clear up when you are away and if you’re concerned when you adjust the thermostat and one part of the house is hot and another part is less comfortable, then it might benefit you to learn how your home’s component parts interact to fix these issues.

Occupant health, comfort, indoor air quality, affordability, energy use and the durability of the house itself is what “house as a system” building science delivers. It is no less complex than the way the components of your car affect each other or the way your body interacts within itself. And just like your car and your body, the only proper way to treat your home is to look at the entire picture using visual clues, occupant interviews and diagnostic equipment. 

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Matt Anderson

Matt’s background is in residential, commercial, and industrial construction. He worked at BPI for over 15 years and has provided home performance analyses on numerous residential projects.