By now most of us know what a blower door does and the basics of how they work. All energy auditors and raters own one. A few insulating contractors I know also have purchased their own blower door. As a contractor, does it make sense to invest a sizable amount of money and then take the time to learn how to operate this piece of test equipment. I only know of a few contractors that have made the investment. Is it right for you? It can be, here are 5 reasons to own a blower door.
#1. The blower door is the essential tool for finding air leaks in a structure, and it’s a code required test in many areas. The 2012 IRC included the first code requirement in the US to test all newly built homes to verify the tightness level. The only way to verify is with a blower door test. Recent codes include the language: “Where required by the building official, testing shall be conducted by an approved third party.” (See reason #2.) You may not be able to conduct your own blower door testing for code compliance, but you can definitely test the home before the third party arrives. The blower door testing I conduct for code compliance will include additional charges if the house does not pass. Searching for air leaks and returning for a second test could all be avoided if you test and fix any problems before the compliance testing begins.
Combine pressure testing with thermal imaging or smoke tracing and an air leak can become visible. This can be important in both new construction and remodeling.
#2. An additional revenue stream for your business. I bought my blower door back in 2009 to supplement my contracting business during a downturn in the economy. I trained to become an energy auditor, a part of my business that has seen steady growth over the past 10 years. Testing homes and conducting energy audits isn’t as physically or mentally demanding as working as a builder. I can see myself supplementing my retirement by continuing to perform this type of work into my 60’s and 70’s.
#3. A multi-purpose tool. (At least a part of the blower door kit.) Blower doors come with several different components that apprise the tool. A frame and shroud that fit tightly in a doorway. A fan and fan speed control used to move air, and the brains of the blower door, the pressure gauge or monometer. I own a couple diagnostic tools that require a monometer, a pressure pan and exhaust fan flow meter. Conducting a duct blaster test also requires a monometer. Tests such as the combustion appliance zone (CAZ), that tests for back-drafting of combustion appliances requires a monometer. A monometer will also show if a room is being pressurized or depressurized by forced air heating and cooling equipment. A useful tool in today’s trust but verify mentality.
#4. No waiting for a test. I’ve owned my own blower door for a long time, I forget the complexity of scheduling and waiting for a test. I asked Travis Brungardt, partner in Catalyst Construction of Kansas City, MO why he has a blower door. “Scheduling an energy auditor for some time down the road when they are available costs us time and potentially looses that opportunity. The blower door is no different in that we can run the test whenever we need to in order to verify that we have located a problem (in concert with other tools) and then immediately after our attempt to solve it we can know if we were successful. The volatility of construction schedules makes planning these moments in advance extremely difficult so while we could hire a baseline blower door test before we start and another after we are done to confirm our efficacy, that would eliminate a lot of opportunities for us to be the most good while we are there. Performance improvement as a byproduct of convenience and knowledge is worth it.” Well said, test on your schedule.
#5. Educational Tool. Using a blower door will give a contractor a chance to learn where structures usually leak air. Foundation to framing connections, where the wall meets the ceiling, around windows and doors and through penetrations in assemblies are all some of the traditional leak points. Making changes to your building technique by understanding where the homes you build leak air may result in a better building. When you become experienced in using a blower door, you will have a better understand of what the test results are telling you.
I asked Jake Bruton of Aarow Buildings in Columbia, MO why he wanted his own blower door. He Replied “When I bought my first door in 2014 it was because I didn’t understand what the numbers meant. I figured the best way to understand it was to have one in hand. No one in my market owned a door back then, I believe I was the first. Since then the main reason I own one is that I need to verify prior to the expensive rater comes to verify. You don’t know until you know. If I can run the door the day before I can find any issues and resolve them. I also have the ability to play and find solutions that I wouldn’t otherwise find. When the HERS rater is onsite to run a blower door test, we want them in and out ASAP to keep costs low. When it is us, we can run the entire day and explore different ideas.” Jake originally bought his as an educational tool and it transitioned into the #1 and #4 reasons, no waiting or reduced time for a rater to do their job.
There you have it, five reasons to own a blower door. The tool does require an investment in both money and time (mine is the most expensive tool I own after my truck). It will take training to understand how to operate the equipment and to interpretate the information it provides. In my experience, the tool will pay for itself.