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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Henry Gifford Publishes a Book

In Buildings Don’t Lie, Gifford explains how to read the clues provided by building stains

Henry Gifford is the author of Buildings Don't Lie, a lavishly illustrated hardback book. Because of his firm grounding in building science principles, Gifford is an excellent guide to the art of reading building clues.
Image Credit: Henry Gifford

Henry Gifford is a plumber with a New York accent, working-class roots, and deep erudition. He’s also a well-known designer of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.

Gifford is smart, provocative, funny, and ubiquitous. He’s been profiled in The New Yorker; he’s given a presentation at the Building Science Corporation Summer Camp; he was featured in the “Legends of Home Performance” series created by Home Energy magazine; he has published a guest blog on GBA; and he’s been the subject of a GBA interview.

Gifford’s latest accomplishment: he has published a 571-page hardback book called Buildings Don’t Lie. It’s an excellent book.

Many of the books I review for GBA (including, for example, Residential Energy by Krigger and Dorsi and Essential Building Science by Racusin) start the same way: with a discussion of how heat, moisture, and air move through building assemblies. Gifford’s book is no exception. You know the drill: the difference between conduction, convection, and radiation; how buildings become pressurized or depressurized; and a discussion of vapor diffusion.

After the obligatory “introduction to building science” chapters, Gifford gets down to the business at hand: teaching us how to look at buildings. His book includes dozens of photos of buildings with a variety of stains — stains caused by water, mold, dust, and efflorescence. The photo captions help train the reader’s eye, leading readers to understand how subtle clues reveal how buildings work — or don’t. Gifford has taken some great photos, and his explanations all ring true.

[Photo credit: Henry Gifford, Buildings Don’t Lie.]For example, Gifford noticed that the pattern of efflorescence on a brick parapet exhibited a “sine wave” shape, or what Gifford calls a “W pattern.” The stain was caused by water leaking through seams in the coping (the…

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  1. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #1

    The duct mastic picture rocks!
    The fully-manicured with nail polished look is always what I'm looking for in construction instruction manual! :-)

    I wonder how long she managed to keep it out of her hair? (It's a GREAT hair setting gel- lasts for weeks! )

    The disconnect reminds me a bit of German automotive repair & maintenance manuals published by the manufacturers back the 1960s & 1970s where the hand model with the shiny-new wrench is wearing a suit coat, complete with cuff links, working on something too clean to have ever been in service. I always dressed to the nines when going to change the oil or adjust the valves on an air-cooled VW, just so I could look as cool the mechanic in the pictures... didn't everybody? :-)

    Henry Gifford is a pretty cool customer though, very low key and understated in his delivery. I really liked his presentation here:

    "I'm a believer in the theory that air is lighter than water"

    Just tellin' it like it is, I guess!

  2. Charlie Sullivan | | #2

    Anyone know a good editor?
    I suspect Martin has plenty to do already, but I can't help but think that it would be better for everyone if they'd hire him to do a pass at editing these books before printing the first edition. But I'm glad to hear there's plenty of good stuff in there.

    It's taken more than 150 years, but someone finally followed up on Joule's waterfall measurements: a careful-sounding study in 2015 found a 1 to 4 C rise in temperature for a 350 m drop, of which 0.8 C can be accounted for by the analysis Joule invented.

  3. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    Response to Dana Dorsett
    The well-dressed European worker is not just a relic from the 1960s. He's still alive in Switzerland.

    There's at least one guy like that left -- I call him "Vest Man." Siga hired Vest Man for almost all of their photos. I think he started out in a three-piece suit, but perhaps the photographer decided that was overkill. He took off his jacket -- maybe it was Casual Friday in Zurich -- and he became Vest Man.


  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Response to Charlie Sullivan
    I'd like to imagine that somewhere, James Joule is smiling. I'm glad someone was able to confirm his hunch about waterfall temperatures. Thanks for the link.

  5. user-6930238 | | #5

    source your photo?
    Hi Martin:
    The photo of "where water leaves the roof and dribbles down the wall" is not in Gifford's book. Would you clarify that it's your own illustration so as to not be misleading?
    Thank you!
    Leah Kreger, RA

  6. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Photo credit
    The photo credit for the roof photo was inadvertently dropped. I've corrected the omission.

  7. Anne Lawrence | | #7

    "A stumble"?
    Why is a photograph of a woman applying duct mastic, "a stumble"? If it were a photo of a man not wearing gloves, would that be worthy of inclusion as "the punchline"? As a woman who has worked many years in construction, including applying duct mastic (with gloves), what is the point of dedicating ~10% of the length of this review to this one photo? Is it illustrating a pitfall that is repeated throughout the book? I don't see that, as there are few photos of "hands-on" installation in the book. Does it help the reader decide fairly whether to read or buy this book? I think not.

    I see this as possibly private job site humor, not worthy of a book review intended for an inclusive audience. Perhaps instead, Gifford was the one who was inclusive, using a variety of models.

  8. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #8

    Response to Anne Lawrence
    I can assure you that I was simply making a mastic joke, which is famously messy to apply. I was also making a dig at posed photos that don't involve actual construction workers.

    I have the utmost respect for women who work in construction. When I needed help finishing my own house, due to compelling life circumstances, I hired Polly Jerome, one of the best finish carpenters in northern Vermont, to help me. Polly wears gloves on the job site.

  9. Malcolm Taylor | | #9

    As a woman in the construction trades I'm sure you have encountered a fair amount of lamentable sexism during your career, but you are fishing up the wrong river on this one. Martin is a vociferous defender of women. Read everything you can of his writings. You won't find anything to reproach him with.

    i've put my fair share of mastic, acoustical sealant and roof goo on while not wearing gloves. But that's just me being stupid.

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