Bill Spohn & Nate Adams – IAQ & Energy Instruments and Monitors

Air Date: 6-24-2016| Episode: 419

This episode IAQ Radio welcomed  Bill Spohn, PE President of TruTech Tools, LTD and Nate Adams of Energy Smart Home Performance. We discussed tools of the trade for IAQ and Energy professionals and an interesting comparison of home IAQ monitors….

This episode IAQ Radio welcomed  Bill Spohn, PE President of TruTech Tools, LTD and Nate Adams of Energy Smart Home Performance. We discussed tools of the trade for IAQ and Energy professionals and an interesting comparison of home IAQ monitors. Bill works every day determining which tools of the trade his customers need and Nate is in the field plus has produced a recent paper on home IAQ monitors. The two of them will make for a great tag team to discuss the topic.

Bill Spohn has designed, marketed and sold a wide array of test and measurement products in the last twenty-five years. He was design-engineering manager at Bacharach, Inc. for 10 years and HVAC Product Marketing Manager at Testo, Inc. for 10 years. Since 2009, he has managed and is now President, CEO and majority owner of TruTech Tools, LTD. He regularly presents technically complex topics to a wide range of audiences on the applications of testing and measurement instrumentation in building science, weatherization, and HVACR. He has worked on BPI, RESNET, GAMA, AHRI, OMA, RSES, NATE, and ACCA Technical Committees,and holds three US patents in instrumentation design. He also consults in instrumentation design,development and application along with expert witness work on HVAC equipment, heat exchanger, carbon monoxide and related issues. Bill is majority owner of and runs a consulting business, William P. Spohn, LLC, which engages in HVACR Expert Witness work, technical education and e-commerce consulting. Bill’s BS & MS in Mechanical Engineering are from the University Of Rochester.

Nate Adams is the founder of Energy Smart Home Performance outside Cleveland Ohio. Energy Smart started out as an insulation contractor for existing homes, but has evolved into doing Comprehensive Home Performance retrofits. Their projects are somewhere between a simple attic insulation job and a deep energy retrofit.These projects are sweeping in scope with thorough planning process and careful attention paid to what problems the client wants to solve, what the house needs, and what fits within the homeowner budget. No two projects are alike.Through substantial air tightness and insulation upgrades, and sometimes HVAC replacement, homes are made far more comfortable. Nate became concerned that they weren’t always far more healthy. Over the last two years he has dug into how his work affects the Indoor Air Quality of client homes and is beginning to draw some conclusions. He has recently completed a comparison of seven new or newer consumer grade Indoor Air Quality testing devices, and has found several of them useful in his practice. They are particularly useful for before and after studies as well as continuous optimization, which is making small adjustments to deliver better comfort and healthier conditions for clients. LEARN MORE this week on IAQ Radio!

Cliffs Blog

IAQradio episode 419 blog

Batman and Robin

Bill Spohn, PE and Nate Adams were the guests on today’s episode of IAQradio. Through his firm TruTech Tools, Ltd, Bill purveys a wide range of test equipment for home performance. Nate is an innovative home performance practitioner (Energy Smart Home Performance & One Knob blog).

Nuggets mined from today’s show:

Z-Man:  Bill, what equipment is needed by someone aspiring to be a home performance professional?

Bill:  The work needs to be done with Building Science in mind. Be sure to understand and use the “House as a System” concepts, and also look to the national standards written by ACCA,  the Building Performance Institute RESNET and others. Written National Standards help align processes and procedures so decisions can be made with reliable results.

A Blower door is used to check for air leakage through a building shell. The testing determines where leaks are and determine how much is leaking, Blower door system costs less than $3K.

A thermal imager shows where heat is leaking into or out of building to better visualize and understand home performance. Lowest cost is $249 module for cell phone, better image more rugged devices cost more $2.5K+.

Skill of the user is a big part, the job requires interpretation of the information and overlaying the information on the building. Inspector’s mind works inside the walls. Energy flow, heat flow, airflow. Sometimes inspectors have innate knowledge. Practitioners gain knowledge with more project exposure, experience and training to pick up the details.


Z-Man: What is home performance?

Nate: Home performance is a big question. Making a house perform to best ability from comfort and health experience and be more efficient.

5 priorities, 1) reduce air leakage, 2) reduce air leakage, 3)  reduce air leakage, 4) correct insulation levels and 5) the specification, installation and commissioning of the correct HVAC system.

Z-Man: What is an energy audit?

Nate: Energy audit- can be a simplistic checklist. Most audits gotten through utility company are incomplete. Provide large list not prioritized by needs and budget, doesn’t help homeowner make good decisions.

Z-Man: Are there benefits to an energy audit?

Nate:  Energy audit benefits; first, awareness for consumer (educate about building science and blower door); second, create understanding by presenting plans and understanding what is important and impactful; and third to create action so clients are likely to execute an effective project versus burning money. Energy audits done by utility companies may be free, clipboard audits cost $100-200, the audits Nate does (called a Comprehensive Planning Process) range from $750-1500.

Z-Man: What is an ice dam?

Nate: Ice dams form when there is snow on a roof and heat escapes the house getting into attic the attic where it melts a layer of snow underneath which enters gutter, fills it and then refreezes. Behind the ice, a puddle of water forms rising over the gutter which may penetrate the home and wetting walls, ceiling and floors.

Z-Man: What about store bought solutions such as heat cables?

Nate: Heat tape is an inelegant solution that is throwing energy at a problem when the root problem is energy leakage. Heat tape is a blunt instrument. The homeowner is paying twice for energy when using heat tape. There are times when they are useful. When 1,000 square feet of roof goes into 12 linear feet of gutter it’s always going to be a problem and this is where heat cable is useful.

Z-Man: What is a viable strategy for preventing or reducing ice dams?

Nate: Air seal and add insulation to stop the heat that melts the snow.

Z-Man: What is air sealing?

Nate: Air sealing is looking for any holes in the house through which air leaks and energy is lost. The total leakage of a home may only be a couple square feet, equivalent to one window open a couple inches. Look in attic anywhere pipes and wiring pass through the envelope: plumbing stacks, recessed lights, and around chimneys.

Air sealing seals indoors from outside. Client needs and budget determine whether attic space should be conditioned or unconditioned. In an unconditioned vented attic space the goal is for the temperature in the attic space to match the outdoors.

Z-Man: What is EUI?

Nate: Energy Use Intensity: is miles per gallon for houses and is agnostic of fuel. The calculation can rank houses against one another. Currently there is no way to understand efficiency. Efficient tight houses provide better occupant comfort, have fewer moisture problems, better durability, lower cost of energy and can add $5-%15K in value. In real estate there is no transparency regarding energy efficiency.

Z-Man: Text question from listener. What is your opinion of ASHRAE 62.2?

Nate: My opinion of ASHRAE 62.2 residential is similar to Joe Lstiburek’s that “the standard is on the heavy side”. On my projects I provide variable amounts of airflow 50%-150% of 62.2, run on low giving customer the option to increase when desirable.

Z-man: Bill, please outline the equipment requirements for someone aspiring to become a CIE?

Bill: Air and surface temperature measurements are important. For instance, in my own home a microclimate occurred in a closet where a plastic garment bag was adjacent to an outside wall, dew point moisture provided necessary moisture for mold growth. Spot surface temperature infrared guns cost $75-$100+.

Flow of water around building can be measured with moisture meters. Two categories are commonly used; penetrating and non-penetrating. Bill prefers the hybrid, contact and noncontact, that use radio waves in non-penetrating mode and contact use pin probes to measure capacitance in penetrating mode. $300 for a good hybrid device.

Thermal imaging cameras. To get temperature measurements you need a high resolution, high accuracy meter plus a very good understanding of thermography (certifications are available). Good one for $2500-$3K. Some models of thermal imaging cameras are hybridized with temp and RH, moisture meters. If you only need relative temp differences the lower cost devices ones come into play $250+; they are a bulk assessment tool, patterns jump out in area or zone and should take a closer look at.

Particle counters operate in size ranges. The more advanced counters with deeper diagnostics can measure pet dander, tobacco smoke, cooking particles, etc. and are able to report the range of sizes. The health impact of 2.5 micron particles which can bypass most of the body’s natural filtration system and lodge deep in the lung. Price range $2K-$5+

Gasses. Carbon monoxide is pervasive coming from combustion sources, cooking, appliances, water heaters and furnaces. CO is a problem when devices aren’t combusting properly and when CO leaks out. CO is a silent killer which cannot smell, taste or see. Symptoms of CO poisoning often mimic the flu. The most common CO alarms are built to the UL 2034 standard and have higher exposure thresholds before they alarm. And when they alarm, you get out! Others are low level alarms that give lots of notice before the situation becomes dangerous. Ambient CO detectors are used by investigators. CO can be measured inside the gas stream by using combustion analyzers equipped with special filters to extract substances (moisture, particulates, NOx gas) that get in the way of a good in-stack CO measurement.   The Building Performance Institute publishes standards on Basic Building Analysis and Energy Auditing.

Z-Man: Nate, tell our listeners about your interest and research into low cost air quality monitors?

Nate: Until now there haven’t been any affordable IAQ monitors. India, China and Asia have high levels of outdoor particulate, so much that it is unsafe to exercise outdoors. He started watching monitor products coming from Asia to the US. The US has high particulate in the rustbelt, California and the south. He sought to determine if any were worthwhile to recommend to clients to see if there were any issues or to narrow down factors. The monitors use different sensors, so comparing against each other is like comparing apples, oranges and bananas. He purchased, was given, or borrowed monitors. Over a 6 month period watched what they do during various events in his house. Noting which cleaning products set them off, what happened when food burnet, etc. He noted his likes and dislikes about the products in a blog. The monitors improve awareness and find targets for action.

Z-man: Bill, do you sell low cost air quality monitors?

Bill: We sell professional grade monitors and his firm is now building a “For the Home” section on the website where contractors and their clients can purchase low cost air quality monitors. Has established vendor arrangements with Foobot, Speck, low cost radon, low level CO alarm, etc. These are smart products for interested consumers who care about their IAQ.

Low cost devices aren’t equivalent to higher instruments. The role for low cost products is indicating trends, a sort of ½ step to a full diagnostic instrument.

When a customer has a complaint it could be a myriad of possible things. These low monitors provide more information and bring issues into focus.

With regard to the higher end products, equipment costs are coming downs, and we offer financing.

Z-Man: Should blower doors and infrared cameras be used together?

Nate and Bill: Blower doors and infrared cameras, when used together are the dynamic duo “Batman and Robin”. Doing a blower door test with infrared camera at right time of day and the right outdoor vs. indoor conditions (which you’ll know from training) provides information and answers. Take a thermal walk around the inside of the property and take photos to home in on the problem areas.

Bill: In the past 5 years, has had 2 performance audits done in two of his homes. The driver for the audits was improving comfort and resolving mechanical issues. Software used by the contractor provided info upon which to make informed decisions. It was a great experience to see the equipment he sells being used by a pro.

Z-Man: Some of the equipment you sell is highly sophisticated, does your firm provide training?

Bill: TruTech conducts training courses on instruments at tradeshows , seminars, provides video training on website, and webinars. The firm respects who the expert is. They draw in subject matter experts and manufacturer staff when needed.

Z-Man: Where are you seeing the biggest growth in instrument sales?

Bill: Biggest growth pattern is in air conditioning test products. Traditionally analog meters were used. Now there is strong current to measure AC parameters digitally, iManifold, has a free app, or tie into product. Terrific troubleshooting info is now available. The blower door industry is also making great progress in cloud based data exchange, etc.

Roundup Comments:

Bill: Don’t overextend your reach be sure to ask questions and understand your equipment. Some processes and procedures have hazards you need to be aware of. Spend 20%-25% of your instrument budget on training!

Nate; Energy Use Intensity, think about the value of a home performance project. If you sold your house in a year you might only get 10-20% of the cost of the project back. New cars lose 10-20% of value as soon as they are sold, Home Performance projects may lose 80-90%. Energy projects need to maintain value. EUI efficiency of home becomes part of the property value. When return on investment becomes better it may help open the home market.

RadioJoe- Is EUI just a number?

Nate: EUI is a calculation of total fuel use (electric, gas, propane, etc.) in kBTU per year per square foot. The DOE has been using it for some time; it’s both a well known and adopted metric. I’m trying to move it forward. Payback isn’t why people do these projects. (Bill had said he upgraded his homes for comfort.)

Radio-Joe: Bill, where is energy business going once utility programs slow down?

Bill: The future is IAQ, it’s the perfect overlay. Residential investigation is dynamic, pollutants get in and get out. It’s the logical next step for home performance to become part of the IAQ diagnostic.

Today’s Music: Inspector Gadget Theme & Addams Family Theme   YouTube

Z-Man signing off


The blower door as we know it today is rooted in a technology first used in Sweden in 1977, where it was actually a blower window. Name the Swedish researcher who brought the idea to the USA and Princeton University in 1979?

Answer: Ake Blomsterberg