This article was originally published in the September/October 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online September/October 1998



A telltale reveals or discloses something. On a sailboat, telltales indicate the trim of the sails. In a home, telltales are clues that provide useful information about its energy performance or the quality of its indoor environment. For example, an article in a recent issue of Home Energy introduced the problem of ghosting and its origins (see Black Stains in Houses: Soot, Dust, or Ghosts? HE Jan/Feb '98, p. 15). The soot and other deposits discussed in this article are telltales of various physical and combustion phenomena. Such telltales can reveal improper equipment performance, the presence of air pollutants, or damaged materials. The trick, of course, is to recognize the telltales and then link them to the correct problems.

The telltale theme continues in this issue with an article describing how to identify stains in the home (see Sampling Stains for Fun and Profit, page 12). This article discusses the many sources of stains in homes, including microorganisms such as mold and fungi that can create serious health problems.

The proper assessment of telltales like these calls for new tools and skills in a building energy specialist's repertoire. Microscopes and sampling kits, for example, are useful for determining the nature of some stains. The notion of mailing a sample to a testing laboratory is new to most of us, yet in some cases this may be the only way to truly exploit the power of telltales.

These telltales also remind us that houses are systems; that is, the presence of a stain in a home may be the only indication of a defective furnace or of harmful activity in a distant room, or even outside the house. For the present, the telltales provide mostly qualitative information-they reveal the presence or absence of something. But one day we will probably have even more tools like blower doors that will help us quantify what telltales can today only suggest.

Meanwhile, there's another important telltale described in this issue: the Telltale House. This schematic model house demonstrates the impacts of various ventilation and infiltration strategies through the use of small wind jennys and theatrical smoke trails that act as telltales, showing where air moves in the house. It is a simple way to demonstrate the concept that the house is indeed a system.

The Telltale House has appeared at several exhibits and conferences, and it's been the destination for many attendees. Home Energy and Affordable Comfort staff at the display have been deluged by questions and requests for demonstrations of special situations. In fact, several groups have offered to buy the Telltale House from us right off the exhibit floor! We are delighted and gratified by this response. We see the Telltale House as a unique educational tool and hope that we can provide it to others. Watch for it at upcoming conferences. You'll find it by the telltale crowd.

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