Using Building Science to Conduct a Building Assessment

COVID-19 & Curriculum Development

For several years, our local Sustainable Energy Outreach Network (SEON) has been developing a High Performance Building Associate certificate program ( ). In early March 2020, we were in the middle of the 2-day class in northern Vermont when everything changed. Pretty bad timing, given that the second day of the curriculum is all about building assessment, clearly an in-person day in the field.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to bite the bullet and create a completely online version of the Day Two Building Assessment content, using some starter materials from GreenBuildingAdvisor content (all free content, much of it blogs that I have written over the years), my iPhone, and YouTube. This was no small task, and I am definitely NOT a fan of online education–especially for hands-on content–but we do what we have to do.

Building Assessment Online Curriculum

What follows below is a detailed outline of all the online content for conducting a building science-driven assessment of an existing residential building. Think of each section of the outline as a chapter in a book, but in this case mostly driven by video clips. Happy reading and viewing!

Prep readings on Building-Wright

  1. “Hygrothermal Building Assessment” –
  2. “Building Science Puzzles: The Jigsaw Approach” –
  3. “The Jigsaw Approach, Revisited” –

Prep readings on GBA

  1. “How to  Look at a House like a Building Scientist (Part 1: Air) –
  2. “How to  Look at a House like a Building Scientist (Part 2: Heat)” –
  3. “How to  Look at a House like a Building Scientist (Part 3: Temperature, Humidity, & HVAC Systems)” –
  4. “How to  Look at a House like a Building Scientist (Part 4: Water)” –

Using Our Home for the Building Assessment: 208 Fairview GBA Content

Building Performance Assessment Video Outline: 

Below is a video tour examining all aspects of hygrothermal performance of 208 Fairview St., comparing the building as it existed in 2000 and how it performs today (2020).

  1. Bulk water assessment
    • site surface water – YouTube video resource:
      • sloped blue-stone driveway
      • dry well
      • building perimeter and lot surface water patterns
    • Assessment Highlight – the importance of March… – the combination of frozen soil, piled up snow, and the rain can create a rare phenomenon of hydrostatic pressure from a column of water right along the foundation wall ( )
  2. Foundation/Basement – YouTube video resource:
    • Bulk water leaks?
    • Air leakage
    • Vapor?
      • Slab
      • Walls
    • Assessment: “let-in” floor joists and moisture? (pin-type moisture meter)
  3. Attic – YouTube video resource:
    • Assess bulk water
      • Wood staining (rafters and roof sheathing boards)
      • Flashing at chimney and plumbing vent
    • Air sealing? None
    • Drying potential?
      • Slate and sheathing boards
      • Adding gable vents?
    • Air sealing
      • Initial “handwaving” from above
      • Taped interior “continuous” rigid insulation
      • Round two: guided by powerful window fan (entirely qualitative; see blower door testing section)
  4. Foundation/Basement
    • Air sealing/insulating
      • Non-structural 2 by 3 walls and open cell spray foam
      • Overspray clean up big issue
      • Radon – YouTube video resource:  
      • Before air sealing: 6.2 pC/l (basement)
      • After air sealing: 12 pC/l (basement)
      • Living space 1st floor: 3.5 pC/l (depends on time of year, frankly)
      • Connect porch/office crawl to basement/continuous exhaust
      • Basement: 13.1 pC/l; 1st floor < 3 pC/l
      • Assessment: RSSI alpha-tracker canister vs. Siren Safety III electronic monitor
  5. 2nd floor bedrooms (exterior walls wood-framed) – YouTube video resource:
    • Gut interior
    • Cavity fill fiberglass insulation
    • Ceiling rigid taped (interior)
    • Strip exterior, including sheathing boards
    • 1-inch continuous XPS, taped plus housewrap/spacer mesh, clapboards
    • Ladder-frame gable “apron” roof
  6. 1st floor (exterior walls hollow core concrete block) – YouTube video resource:  
    • Concrete lags for angle brackets secured to mortar joints
    • Bolted vertical 2 by 2s
    • Extension jambs at windows/doors
    • Closed-cell spray foam – 3+ inches (IMPORTANT: surface temp of concrete block prior to install)
    • Insect screening top and bottom
    • Clapboards
    • Continuous water/air/thermal layers with drying potential to interior
    • Sustained spray foam performance? Visual inspection
  7. SIPs Kitchen addition – YouTube video resource:
    • Triple-check dimensions (to fit gable on exterior/flush align to existing finished floor in kitchen)
    • No panel routing for window openings or mechanicals (wiring)
    • Pier foundation
    • SS metal roof… (drying potential?)
  8. Blower door –
  9. Fog test –
  10. Lessons learned – DISCUSSION based on closing powerpoint presentation slides

Building-Wright is… 

It’s me Peter Yost; I made it up. But it captures pretty much everything that I do: analyze, review, research, investigate, and teach about buildings and how they work…or sometimes don’t work.