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Book Review: Measured Home Performance

Posted by Steve Mann on December 06, 2012
Book Review: Measured Home Performance

Measured Home Performance, by Rick Chitwood and Lew Harriman, is subtitled a “Guide to Best Practices for Home Energy Retrofits in California.” The market for this book is even smaller than the subtitle implies—it focuses on middle income housing with forced air systems. Even more specifically, it features homes with air conditioning. The audience for this book is California-based home performance contractors, almost guaranteeing that it will never be found on any best-seller lists.

This 135-page book is based on research funded by the California Energy Commission indirectly, and the Gas Technology Institute directly. The primary author, Rick Chitwood, is well known to probably every home performance contractor in California. He has been teaching a variety of HVAC and building science classes, including Home Performance with Energy Star, for years. He is widely considered to be one of the most knowledgeable home performance professionals in the state.

The book focuses on the classic Home Performance with Energy Star “house as a system” process where a contractor with building science, HVAC, and combustion safety expertise does an initial assessment of a house, recommends a comprehensive set of upgrades to that house, and does the work. The point of the process is to lower utility bills and improve occupant comfort, while guaranteeing a safe operating environment. Typical projects described in the book are comprehensive. Unlike Energy Upgrade California patchwork projects, for instance, which might focus on just mechanical equipment upgrades, whole-house projects usually cost multiple tens of thousands of dollars. The authors claim that the monthly utility savings generally offset the cost of financing projects of that size.

The first three chapters of the book, suitable for all audiences (including homeowners), focus on defining and describing measured home performance. Subsequent chapters walk prospective home performance contractors through the test-in site visit, proposal preparation and homeowner presentation, and best practices for HVAC improvements, air sealing, and window replacement. The best practices include such tips as proper sizing of duct systems, smart equipment selection techniques, and cost-effective air sealing. The emphasis throughout is on best practices by competent (but not super star) crews that continually measure and test their work.

Although Measured Home Performance contains a wealth of practical information based on the author’s years of experience, it is not a comprehensive guide to home performance contracting. For instance, there is no detailed discussion of choosing or properly installing insulation products. Although the authors discuss combustion testing in detail, they bypass specific common cases like multiple appliances venting into a common flue. Some topics, like refrigerant charge and windows, are discussed in too much detail. The overall content feels like it was guided by a research grant.

I’ve sat in many of Rick Chitwood's classes. He clearly is a dedicated professional with the highest standards. Those standards are reflected in the book’s content, but not in its production*. Bottom line: B for content, C for presentation.

*Since the time of this book review, Measured Home Performance has undergone another revision and proofing process, which cleaned up much of its production errors.

Measured Home Performance is available for purchase at Amazon.com.

 

Steve Mann is a HERS rater, LEED AP+ Homes, Certified Energy Analyst, serial remodeler, and longtime software engineer.

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