Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Healthy Home Evaluator Training

October 13, 2016

Fall River, MA     October 13, 2016

hhe-class2_troost-avenue For two days – November 15th and 16th – Paul Raymer of Heyoka Solutions will be teaching a pilot of the BPI HHE course at the Fall River campus of Bristol Community College (BCC).  The purpose of this course is to blend the knowledge of building science with the ability to recognize home environmental risks.

For years qualified building scientists have been striving to make homes more energy efficient.  The same tools can be used to recognize a healthy home environment.  Using their building science knowledge, students taking this course will connect what they already know to environmental concerns that are being overlooked.  The class, based on a course developed by Healthy Housing Solutions, is a combination of classroom sessions, group exercises, hands-on tool use, and situation analysis in BCC’s unique test cabin.  This class will review basic building science fundamentals and analysis tools that are used to apply the six Keep It principles: Keep It Dry, Keep It Ventilated, Keep It Clean, Keep It Pest Free, Keep It Safe, and Keep It Contaminant Free.

What is Integrated Pest Management?  What if the homeowner says the house is too dry?  What does that mean for energy use?  What does that mean for health impacts?  What impact do air fresheners have on the environment?  What impact do they have on energy efficiency?  What elements of a home environment might impact asthma in children?  What issues are chronic?  What issues are critical and an Immediate Danger to Life?

Consider healthy home evaluation an investigation, like CSI.  Understanding building science fundamentals can be lead to a clarification of a healthy environment.  A house is a system.  It’s all connected.hhe-class1_troost-avenue

Upon completion of the course students will be ready to challenge the BPI HHE 1.5 hour certification exam offered on November 17th.  Class will be held at  BCC – 1082 Davol Street – Fall River, MA  Phone: 774-357-3644

Contact Rosemary Senra at BCC for more information.

Teaching is a Privelege

June 8, 2015

Teaching is an honor and a privilege.  I know something and you want to learn it and you are Labrador Classroomwilling to listen to me define, describe, demonstrate, and pass on the information in my mind into your mind.  Wow!

When I was in school, the teachers or instructors or professors were the authorities.  They could throw chalk at me if I dozed off.  I had to be there.  It was a requirement.  They were in charge.  I didn’t understand much of what they were babbling about.  But in fact, teachers don’t have jobs if there aren’t students.  The teacher works for the student.  It works like the Vulcan Mind-meld in Star Trek without the touching.  The students should not sit there passively just listening.  They should be actively engaged in the transfer of information. And if they don’t understand a point, they should make the teacher or instructor or professor explain it another way until it makes sense . . . until it is clear, equally clear in both minds.  I never had a teacher explain that he/she was working for me.

John Krigger says that “teaching is not proving how smart you are”.   And he’s right.  There is a definite sense of power standing in front of an audience of eager faces, hanging on your every word.  And it is tempting to drop names and connections of the famous and powerful whether you know them or not, puffing up your character.  There is a point for a teacher to establish their credentials.  But as my grandmother used to say, “Enough is as good as a feast!”  We all like to be taught by recognized authorities.  The point is not who you are but your ability and skill to transfer the information.  If you know a lot, you have a duty to pass it on.

My first teaching experience was in a one room school on the coast of Labrador.  It was the extreme authority experience.  I was just 22.  Straight out of college with no teaching training.  When the ship I came in and dropped me off, they started ringing the church bell in the town.  I learned later that they expected me to hold a service.  Tradition was that the teacher was the authority figure in the town.  The teacher made the rules . . . for the whole town!  It was akin to being the king.  No one had explained that to me so I didn’t know the tradition.  But I felt it in the respect they gave me.

It took me a lot of years to get back to teaching and even more years to understand the honor and privilege that it is to be allowed to do it.  I learn more every single time I teach.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

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TV Sets, Homes, and QCI

May 18, 2015

I have had the pleasure of talking to a lot of wonderful people about the challenges of the BPI QCI CertificHomeowner checkation, and I am getting some unique insight.  I started out working on my book – Residential QCI Handbook on a quest to help candidates who are preparing to take the exam.  I wanted to get a clearer picture of how to prepare for the exam, what to study, what to learn, and what to brush up on.  But there is a lot more to it than just sharpening your pencil or memorizing a table.

For one thing, there is a lot to being a Quality Control Inspector for homes.  Early in my career I worked as a technician in a company that made television sets.  Electronic components were stuffed by hand into circuit boards.  Hardware components were mounted on large, copper back plates, wires were run between point A and point B . . . and C, D, E, F, G, etc.  Lots of wires.  For awhile I had to solder those wires in place.  Individual components like the power supplies and the channel tuners were tested at individual stations.  And then the whole thing was put together, shaken for a half hour to see if everything would stay in place, and then turned on and aligned and then put in a box to be shipped.  Every person in the process had something to do with making that TV set work . . . every person from the person who stuffed the resistors into the holes on the circuit boards to the final test technician who made sure that it actually would work when it arrived in someone’s home played a role in the success or failure of the product.

I started out connecting wires, but I ended up performing the final alignment – performing the final quality control on each television.  There were a lot of smart people putting those things together, but the level of risk was small.  If the TV set didn’t work, people in a bar weren’t going to able to watch the 3 Stooges!  (They told me that when I was doing field service.)  If someone doesn’t properly check the spillage on a water heater in a house, a family could die.

Quality Control for homes is a lot more serious than quality control for TV sets.  Over and over again as I have talked to people I heard that the economic rewards for the job are barely considered.  The rewards are emotional.  Clients are grateful when their homes are more comfortable and the heating bills lower.

So that’s another thing.  I had heard that candidates struggle with the “soft skills” questions on the written test.  It’s very difficult to write “soft skills” questions that have only one right answer.  Those are generally the questions that attorneys answer by saying, “Well, it depends!”  How do you assess client satisfaction?  You talk to them.  We don’t do this work ON clients.  We do this work WITH clients.  The crew and the weatherization agency brings the skills and that has to blend with requirements of the house and the people who live there.  It is all one beautiful, functional entity.  It’s like the TV sets I worked on only much more significant.  Most of those TV sets that I worked on back in the 1970’s are in the dump by now.  Houses will be around for a few hundred years.

100217_4760Tamasin Sterner of PureEnergy Coach told me that you can’t have an ego to be a Quality Control Inspector.  It’s just not about you.

You, however, will provide the final quality control checks on my book.  I am honored to have been certified as a QCI Master Trainer by IREC.  I am honored to have been able to talk to a lot of people for the contents of the book.  I have tried to pull together a lot of useful knowledge and tools to get the job done.  But there is so much out there that it is overwhelming.  You really need to know a lot to be good at this job.  For those of you who are about to challenge the QCI exam, take courage, eat some dark chocolate (Amanda Hatherly mentioned that), and believe in yourself and what you are doing.


If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

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150 Years to 10

April 6, 2015

Houses should last a very long time.  The Knap of Howar was built approximately fifty-five hundred years ago.  Pueblos in New Knap of HowarMexico were built over a thousand years ago.  Saltford Manor House, in Somerset, England was built sometime in the twelfth century and is still occupied!  These houses are built of extremely durable materials like stone or adobe.  But even the wooden houses built in the U.S. are intended to last a very long time.  It is interesting to think that we don’t actually own our houses.  It is rare that a house is passed along from generation to generation endlessly.  We’re just borrowing the shelter for a time, and then it is likely that it will be sold and passed along to someone else.  My house – at least parts of it – has been around since the middle of the eighteenth century.  I don’t know the people who lived here before except for the nice lady I bought it from.  There have been a lot of lives and a lot of stories enclosed within these walls.

When it was built, heating was accomplished by individual room stoves.  A central, warm air coal system was installed with very large ducts that allowed the air to move around convectively because there was no electricity and no fans.  Coal fired, single pipe steam was added and that was eventually converted to oil.

Electricity was added with knob and tube wiring to a fuse box.  More recently that was converted to Romex.

Running water and indoor plumbing was added, requiring the installation of pipes and drains one of which finally rusted out in the deep, dark recesses of the crawl space this winter.

I added insulation and storm windows and some passive solar heat.

The point is that some of this house is still over 150 years old.  The world has changed.  Building technology has changed.  Materials have changed.  Comfort has improved.  Houses are adaptable.  But not all the materials are going to last 150 years.  Some things – like network computer wiring – change very quickly, lasting less than a decade.  Knowing that, we shouldn’t be creating new houses that require the removal of the 150 year stuff to replace the 10 year stuff.  Repair and maintenance is a fact of life.  There are cars like that and they are not always exotics.  The Dodge Stratus, for example requires jacking up the car, removing the driver’s side front wheel, removing the inner fender skirt, in order to unbolt and replace the battery.  Not that a car is going to last hundreds of years.  We should not have to throw the car away because the battery dies.  If we are to be good stewards of the planet, knowing that things break and maintenance is required, we should build in such a way that conserves the good, solid, 150 plus year materials.

Quality Control should be more than just getting the job done.  Every time we work on a house we should think about the legacy of what we are providing for the future.  There is going to be love and sadness, laughter and joy and history will be made within the walls and that is not something to be treated casually.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

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Remembering Common Sense

March 23, 2015

A house is meant to be a shelter from the weather, a small, controlled subsection of the planet earth where a family can live safely and comfortably. Caves worked but they were hard to keep warm. But they mostly kept the rain off and blocked some of the wind. House design has advanced over the years becoming safer and more protective. Most of the time. There have been problems with chimneys, for example. A hole in the roof works to let some of the smoke out, but it was an improvement to enclose more of the smoke and guide more of it out. But there was a problem with wooden chimneys. Common sense dictated that chimneys be built of fireproof materials. In fact, many of the improvements in building science were dictated by common sense, wisdom, and skill. The problem came into it when unskilled builders decided that it couldn’t be all that hard and there was money to be made by ignoring some of the details. So rules and codes and standards were created.

Now there isn’t anything inherently wrong with having rules and codes and standards. The problem is that the focus tends to drift from why the rule or code or standard was created in the first place to developing rules and codes and standards just to regulate the rules and codes and standards. Let’s face it: we’re not perfect. And our rules and codes and standards won’t ever be universally perfect either no matter how hard we tweak and tinker and debate. Some people like a airconditioned thatchlittle more salt on their meat and some a little less. And some don’t like meat at all. One rule that covers all the ways to eat a steak simply wouldn’t work. We could have committees and conferences and technical papers ad nauseam but we would still never come up with the perfect rule. When a committee or a society or a club self-perpetuates by simply constantly making changes to a set of rules, the original point is lost. No doubt we are learning more and things change, but we’ve lost the link to common sense. There is no room in our rules or codes or standards for the application of common sense! And we need to just stop and try to remember why the rule or code or standard was written in the first place!

What is the fundamental, bottom line point for the existence of the ASHRAE 62 Standard, for example? (Having been on that committee for over ten years now, I feel that I have a right to use it as an example.) The Standard says, “This standard defines the roles and minimum requirements for mechanical and natural ventilation systems and the building envelope intended to provide acceptable indoor air quality (IAQ) in low-rise residential buildings.” That sounds pretty reasonable. The basics of the standard are great – segmented and detailed to define important stuff. Why can’t we just finish it? Maybe tweak it a little once in a while as we learn more and technology improves. But a huge amount of brain power and hours of discussion and tons of paper go into the constant adjustment of the standard.

When a 747 is landing, it is important for the pilot to line the plane up with the runway accurately so that that little or no adjustment is need to keep the plane rolling straight when it touches the ground. At those speeds, any moderately radical change of direction would be disastrous. A consensus standard is the result of general agreement about diverse views. Can you imagine what would happen if a 747 was landed by a committee? A compendium of diverse views doesn’t always allow room for common sense.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful. Publishing date is June 1, 2015.  Add your name to stay in touch.  Thanks.

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KSAs – Teaching the ‘A’

March 16, 2015

What are KSAs?  Kosher Supervision of America?  Knights Saving Armadillos? In building science terms (and others) KSA is an acronym for Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities.  There is no question about the Knowledge part.  You definitely have to know what you are doing when you are working on a house.  You have to know about the concept of the “house as a system”.   You have to know how to do basic math.  You have to know what ACH and CFM mean.  That knowledge can be presented and learned.  You can read it in a text book or hear it from a trainer.

Attic soffit stuffing

KSAs in an attic

There is also no question about Skills.  You have to have the skill to operate a blower door or a combustion analyzer.  Once you know how to do it, you can develop the skill by continuing to do it.  Some people can play their manometers like Stradivarius violins.  That’s a skill.

And there really is no question about the requirement for Ability to get the job done.  The problem is that you can’t teach ‘ability’.  Ability is either there or it’s not.  No matter how much knowledge you have or skills you have learned, if you’re not able to do the job you can’t do the job.  It might be better, however, to consider that the ‘A’ stands for attitude.  Ability and attitude go hand in hand.  When someone says, “I can’t!”, does that really mean that they lack the ability to do the job?  Or is it that they lack the right attitude?  They don’t feel like doing the job or the task or the event?  You can’t teach attitude either.  Maybe it’s in the motivation.  Maybe it’s self confidence or desire or the reward for getting it done or the punishment for failing.

Imagine you are in a hot attic sealing duct work and you are there by yourself.  It’s the end of the day and you are tired.  It’s dirty and dusty and cramped and your legs hurt and your arms hurt and your head hurts from bumping it on the underside of the roof.  There is one last joint off there in a corner.  No one will ever know if you finish the job and seal that joint . . . no one but you.  You have the knowledge.  You have the skill.  And you have the ability.  But do you have the attitude?

A quality control inspector has to have the knowledge and skill and ability to read the crew members’ attitude.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.

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What’s Your Quality Control Mission Statement?

March 9, 2015

Even with the best intentions, mistakes get made.  The meaning of mistake is defined by your Mission Statement.  A Quality Control Inspector moves the result of a project one step closer to perfection.  To do that, the inspector has to be a generalist and understand all the aspects of the project and have the experience of making his or her own mistakes and have learned from them.  The weatherization of a home has many parts from an initial analysis to determine what needs to be done, to understanding the systemic nature of construction, to appreciating the needs and resources of the homeowner, to the capabilities of the crew performing the work, to the verification that the results match the initial expectations.

A Quality Control Inspector is a residential energy efficiency professional who ensures the completion, appropriateness, and quality of energy upgrade work by conducting a methodical audit/inspection of the building, performing safety and diagnostic tests, and observing the work.
Imagine that there is a small house owned by a nice old lady who is struggling to meet her bills and tolerating exceptionally cold 090831_1474conditions in the winter and excess heat in the summer, conditions that make her life miserable.  The house fits into the local weatherization program and a BPI (Building Performance Institute) certified energy auditor has visited the house and created a work order to make improvements.  He did a blower door test to measure the leakage, measured the insulation depth in the attic, determined the existing insulation in the walls, and tested the atmospherically vented combustion, gas fired water heater, furnace and oven for safety.  And the crew comes in and begins to work.
The weatherization crew consists of a certified Crew Leader and a good crew who perform consistently good work.  You are the quality control inspector on the job and during an in-progress inspection you find that the auditor mis-identified the building envelope and the installers are not insulating a wall between the conditioned and unconditioned space, a living-room and enclosed porch. They will complete wall insulation this afternoon, according to their schedule. If you stop the job, you will miss the completion time and extend the job.  If you don’t stop the job, will you be doing your job as the quality control inspector?

Life is full of compromises.  A compromise means that you give up something to accomplish something else.  It’s the greatest good for the greatest number kind of thing not the end justifies the means.  Someone on the crew needs to understand where the thermal envelope is and point it out to the Crew Leader.  Certainly, the Crew Leader should know.  The Leader should have pointed it out to the Energy Auditor because it was wrong on the work order.  The homeowner is the one who is going to lose out because she is completely unaware of the mechanics of the problem, although she may feel uncomfortable in that room.

As the Quality Control Inspector, you should be able to turn to your mission statement to answer this question.  If your mission statement is focused on cost effectiveness, then you have to weigh the cost impact of stopping the job.  If you mission statement puts the comfort of the homeowner first, then stop the job and do it right.  But you can’t know that you have achieved success if you haven’t defined what success means to begin with.

A mission statement defines the organization’s purpose and primary objectives.  If the mission statement says that your organization’s purpose is to provide the most energy efficient, comfortable, and safe homes to your clients, then there is no question about what should be done for this home





If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

If we’re going to do the job at all, we might as well do it right!

March 2, 2015

Gas ChecksDespite our best intentions, everybody makes mistakes.  It may be from lack of knowledge.  It may be from laziness.  It may be from just not paying attention.  Some mistakes have no consequences.  Some mistakes can kill people.  There are a lot of skills that go into making a house more energy efficient.  You can learn the fundamentals of the laws of thermodynamics and how to operate a blower door or an infrared camera, but the only way you gain wisdom is through experience.  When you are in  a crawl space sealing up the ducting joints and there is one more joint way back in the corner that no one will ever see except you  and it is damp and dirty and you’re lying on the floor covered with building rubble, are you going to go back there and get the job done?  Are you just going to work your way back out of there, shrug your shoulders, and justify it to yourself?  That’s what KSA means: Knowledge, Skills, and . . . Attitude.  Some people say it’s Knowledge, Skills, and Ability.  And you do have to have the ability to get the job done.  But you also need to have the right Attitude.

Quality Control Inspectors are the last line of defense.  They must have the right attitude.  The energy auditor checks out the house and creates the work order.  The crew comes in with the crew leader and gets the job done.  The quality control inspector makes sure that the ‘i’s‘ are dotted and the ‘t’s‘ are crossed and . . . that last connection in the crawl space is sealed.  Sometimes the QCI is called in because there is a problem like excessive humidity on the windows.  Sometimes is just a matter of signing off on the job.  If everyone did their jobs perfectly, QCIs wouldn’t be necessary.  And who’s going to check the QCI?d

The BPI Home Energy Professional (HEP) certifications take a lot of knowledge, skills, ability (attitude), and experience.  You have to prove that you know a lot about a lot of things.  To assist in that process, I am creating a Quality Control Inspectors Handbook.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) Job Task Analysis (JTA), what the certification is based on, covers a lot of fundamental and soft skills.  The book will go through all the Domains and Tasks in the JTA as well as all the elements that are included in the BPI field exam.  There is a need for more QCIs to meet the states’ Quality Work Plans.  My goal is to provide a resource that can support these efforts.  If we’re going to do the job at all, we might as well do it right!

If you would like to stay updated on the progress of the book, click on Keep Me Updated!  QCI Handbook Cover copyThank you.

BPI Building Analyst and Envelope Professional Problems

March 11, 2014


I just taught a BPI Introduction to Building Science course last week that included both the information required for both Building Analyst and Envelope Professional.  There is an enormous amount of complex information included particularly for someone who may never have been in an attic or framed a house.  It’s all new from the second law of thermodynamics to R value to convection and boilers.  We are asking them to take in and understand and retain all of that information which has likely been shoveled at them in a week-long course.

On top of that we are working off two different Standards.  There is some information that is in the Building Analyst Standard (17 pages long) and some information in the 1200 Standard (47 pages long) (which is still a draft).  I have serious doubts that many people will actually read the new standard and refer to Paragraph to determine an action level for spillage!

And even more confusing is that the trainers have not been informed as to what needs to be taught for the tests, or if the proctors are looking for different things than the trainers think they are training for.

The 1200 Standard has removed the need for “values” – actual numbers for CAZ depressurization and draft (if it’s higher than x it’s good, lower, it’s bad).  And in fact draft doesn’t even have to be measured.  The standard only indicates if it’s bad if it spills.  Yet we are now asking for CO Airfree on some things and not on others and not all test equipment displays CO Airfree so it has to be calculated.  And the 1200 Standard says “The draft table is provided by permission of the American Gas Association” although it is referring to a table that is in draft form not to a level of pressure.  It is hard to tell what an auditor is supposed to do besides telling the homeowner that their boiler or furnace needs servicing.  Do we really need to have auditors buy an expensive combustion analyzer for that one measurement, something they probably don’t understand and can’t do anything about?

And for gas leaks we need a device that actually measures LEL which is not what the Leakator (the common combustible gas leak detector) does now so it is another piece of equipment students will have to buy and proctors will have to have available.

There are various other discrepancies that make these confusing issues a challenge to teach.  on top of those there are the various categories: Building Analyst, Energy Auditor and Home Energy Professional.  I had students go to the BPI website per my suggestion, and they down-loaded different knowledge lists.

We need an Intro to Building Science Course that one could attend to get an introductory Building Analyst Certification, Building Analyst 1.  That should refer to a “Getting Started Standard” that combined the good parts of both the old Standard and the new 1200 Standard.  The Getting Started Standard should be no more than four pages long.  Maybe it should have a bunch of pictures like the instructions that come with a new computer.


I refuse to teach to a test.  I think the students should understand what they are learning and not just memorize numbers and hose positions.  But there should be a block of maybe twenty-five items that the beginning participants could be taught that would be clear and simple.  Do we really expect them to go to Section 7.8.5, ANSI/BSR Z223.1/NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code, Table G-6: CO Thresholds?

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Building Diagnostics and Infrared Cameras

November 20, 2013

Infrared photography for thermal analysis has changed dramatically in the last thirty years.  The cost of the cameras has dropped to the point where just about anyone can buy one.  But that doesn’t mean that anyone can understand the information they are providing.  I know someone who uses his infrared camera to find his dog when he lets him out at night!

Most of the infrared cameras come with an adjustable palette.  When I am using the camera for diagnostics, I use the Door leaksblack and white palette because it allows me to quickly identify areas that are colder or hotter than they should be, places where air is leaking in.  These spots are amplified if I am running a blower door at the same time; the air is steaming in, streaking the wall with cold fingers.  That quickly tells me where the weather stripping or the air sealing should be improved.  Note that the difference in color is only a difference in temperature.  It may only be a small difference.  When an infrared camera is used for electronic or mechanical equipment diagnostic, the actual temperature is important.  In diagnosing a house, the difference in temperature not the actual temperature     is tAttic Hatchhe important element.

This image is an uninsulated attic hatch.  It is clear that the insulation level of hatch is different than the insulation level surrounding it.  But unless we look at the temperature scale and know the temperature of the attic, we don’t know if the hatch insulation is R1 or R30.  Looking at the temperature scale, the hottest point in this image (right around the edge of the hatch) is 75 degrees F and the coldest point on the ceiling is 68 degrees F.  The colors make it look much more extreme.  When you are using an infrared with a customer, the color palette is a great sales tool.  And people use them to sell all sorts of things that may or may not be there.

Attic StairsOr look at these attic stairs.  These stairs had cellulose insulation blown in around them and the temperatures are pretty even.  The temperature in the hottest spots (those little white areas at the corners of the steps) is 54.9 degrees F and temperature in the black areas is 46.3 degrees F.

I have tested ducts in houses where the sheetrockers sheetrocked right over the top of one of the supply registers.  The infrared camera made it easy to find when I cranked up the heat and that part of the wall glowed in an attractive, rectangular pattern!  Or if you are thinking of cutting into a wall, you may be able to see where the pipes are before you cut the wall (and the pipes) open.

Infrared cameras do not xray the wall.  They only show you surface temperature and the surface temperature can be changed by external elements particularly the sun.  One house I worked on had a window beside a slider.  The amount of solar gain passing through a window is rated as SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient).  The window had an SHGC of 0.32 and the door had an SHGC of 0.27.  The sun was pouring through the glass and warming the hardwood floor.  It was easy to see the difference in temperature  with the infrared.  I wouldn’t have known what the SHGC number was without the sticker on the glass, but I could certainly tell that they were different with the camera.

Infrared cameras are wondrous tools, but until you clearly understand them and know how to use them, the information they provide is interesting but not definitive.


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