A Book Review: All Through the House: A Guide to Home Weatherization
By Thomas Blandy and Denis Lamoureux, 1980, McGraw Hill, Inc.
Disclosure: I have known Tom and Sue Blandy for over six years, they are friends, and they are contributors to this website; nevertheless, I remain my cold, objective self.
There are four reasons I chose this to be my first Community book review. First, the book is well written, provides a lot of important information, and is very timely, in spite of it having been drafted between 1977 and 1980 (in part in response to the oil embargo, just concluded). The beginning of the first paragraph of the Introduction should help us understand how enduring and important the problem of energy is today:
“Surely energy conservation is a timely subject for a book, and more so every day. As we write we can no longer depend on oil from Iran, and the Saudis and Mexicans are unhappy with us … An atomic reactor in Pennsylvania threatened to go to pieces, and the confidential word from the Department of Energy is that natural gas will quadruple in price by 1990. Evidently, things aren’t going to get any easier…”
The second reason for choosing to write about this book is its stated objective:
“An energy book that hopes to motivate people into doing something about the situation must provide three things: information, inspiration and a working perspective on the first two.”
Replace “energy book” with “online Community” and you have our goal and objectives.
The third reason is because it is very helpful in passing on what was done in the years before cheap energy to heat a house and stay comfortable. Not only should these lessons not be lost, but they should be revisited and relearned. I have ordered three additional copies of this book – two to give away in Community contests and one to donate to the Community library. Hopefully we can get it digitized for future readers to enjoy, as it is getting hard to find this book on bookshelves today.
The fourth reason, as though I needed more, is a token of respect and appreciation to Tom Blandy and his wife Sue who contribute in many ways. They have been long time community supporters and activists, pioneering ideas and practices, and in general working to move our world ahead without losing perspective of what is good and decent from the past. We need more books like All Through the House and we need more people like Tom and Sue.
OK, let’s get on with what is in the book that makes it worth reading today! There are many golden nuggets…
The main topic is a guide to performing a comprehensive home energy audit (or what the authors called “The Diagnosis”); they explain much of the science involved, cover more areas than current state sponsored audits, and get to some useful numbers in a practical way to help you understand your situation and opportunities (a spreadsheet will make this even easier!). Even if you hire someone for an audit, working through this process first will make you a much better educated consumer and help you assess the modern audit for completeness and reasonableness.
The Diagnosis is a series of worksheets and thought provoking questionnaires, with a great deal of explanatory text. Overall the diagnosis covers the following and provides a relative ranking of areas that need attention and a rough estimate of the cost & savings in each area:
- Review of the entire shell for thermal loss
- Review of infiltration factors for thermal loss
- Evaluation of the site: climate conditions and exposure to wind and sun.
- Evaluation of the heating system, its operation and the potential use of wood
- Homeowner habits: space and window management; heating and electric use.
Back in the day, (1978 say) when the book was written, we used a lot less electricity. Today, I’m sure the authors would dig into this area more fully.
Another value of the book is a very understandable explanation of many aspects of building science and how it relates to economy and comfort. For example, Tom and Denis explain why a person is more comfortable in a house at a given temperature that has higher relative humidity than one with the same temperature and lower relative humidity. Later they explain why air leakage is bad and that air sealing saves heat (money) and helps a house retain its water vapor (higher relative humidity) and reduce uncomfortable drafts. And finally they give guidance on how anyone can economically do air sealing, which will both reduce fuel use and improve comfort. There are many mini-lessons (wood stoves & fireplaces, heat distribution strategies, site plantings, etc.) like this threaded through the book.
Clearly some of the material is dated (furnace and wood stove efficiencies, no mention of geothermal heat pumps, 1980 material and fuel prices, and window performance numbers, and some available materials, for example). I noticed a couple of details for which building science has evolved – crawl spaces are now known to be better treated by sealing and insulating around the perimeter, rather than insulating the floor and venting the space, especially in a climate like ours; now we try to keep the insulation in walls against the drywall; and vapor barrier practices are shifting with more attention being paid to air barriers. But so much is timeless and very relevant to today’s energy situation. And some important areas are covered here that other books overlook, for example the impact homeowners’ actions can have on their energy use, including the usual thermostat setback, but also window coverings and more strategic space management for the heating and cooling seasons.
An example of one of the many points that make this book relevant today is the note on “electric efficiency.” While the authors indicate that electric is 100% efficient at the point of use, they also point out that this does not take into account the “loses at the power plant and those of transmission, which bring the overall efficiency down to 20-30 percent.” This is a fact most people are not aware of today.
Besides auditing the house, the authors prompt you to put together a plan and get to work! They discuss various aspects of doing it yourself and working with a handyman or business contractor. One detail missing in our far more litigious society is a discussion on risks and insurance. Please consider the risks and consult with your insurance agent.
To complete the story, annual operations to care for and maximize your homes performance are placed in seasonal cycles. And a view to the future is given by discussing a solar home that uses many of the same concepts described for existing homes.
The two main reasons I recommend this book to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the options available in reducing home energy usage are: 1) the ideas presented are broad and varied; and 2) there is a great historical perspective from days gone by that are critical to pass on to the future. There are other reasons, but these alone will repay your time invested with interest. My only caveat is to check with manufacturers for the latest on material installation and current best practices, because some details have changed and building science continues to evolve; after all, it has been 32 years! All Through the House is a pleasure to read, with its many artistic diagrams, and it is truly a treasure trove of ideas that many can and should apply.
I will give a first edition copy of All Through the House to the first person who comments and adds, "I would like to read Tom's book!"
Dan Gibson is the Reporter and Chief Coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community (www.OEIC.us). Previously he was a participating contractor in NYSERDA’s Home Performance program and a rater in the New York ENERGY STAR Home program. He is currently building a 100% Solar Home. He can be reached at DanG@OEIC.us