Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


One body’s efficiency may be another body’s inefficiency.


When we have a motor or other piece of equipment that can get very hot, it will often be designed in such a manner as to promote heat dissipation.  Whether it is the fins on a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine or the fins on an air compressor (pictured below), the principle is the same. 


The more we can increase the surface area that is being heated the easier it will be to move that heat to the surrounding air.  If we push the lawnmower really fast around the yard we can assist in the cooling by increasing the air flow. Of course then we wish we had fins to dissipate the heat generated by all the running around.

In like manner if we want to improve the ability of something to heat the air---as in a baseboard heater---if we put lots of fins on the heater we can make the hot surfaces come in contact with more air and thus improve the efficiency of the heater in terms of how long it will take to heat up the room.

Some buildings unintentionally utilize this principle.  While there are lots of worse buildings than one in the following picture, it does make one wonder what is being accomplished by the way it is designed.


It is those dang unintended consequences again!


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspection in Seattle

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Comment balloon 14 commentsCharles Buell • January 25 2013 07:48AM


Morning Charles!  Yeah, I am number one, yippee, love that when that happens. Oh, and of course I enjoy your post too :-)

Posted by Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®, Giving Back With Each Home Sold! (RE/MAX Realty Center ) almost 6 years ago

I had never thought of this in regards to building design, but very good point!  Unfortunetly, plain box style  homes/buildings are not the most attractive.

Posted by Catherine Ulrey, Equestrian and Acreage Property Specialist (Keller Williams Capital City) almost 6 years ago

Thanks for pointing that out. Like Catherine, I hadn't really thought about all that surface on the outside of a building and what it might mean. Great post!

Posted by Rene Fabre, Marketing in the Digital Age (First American Title) almost 6 years ago

What you say, a principle in one realm can be applied to another?

Oh, 11th floor, just to the right of the balcony, the seventeenth brick in is a bit loose.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Where's the pull cord? How you supposed to start that thing? 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Charles -- but I am sure that they did their best to minimize heat loss. Those windows must all be at least triple paned.

Hope you have a fantastic weekend!

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) almost 6 years ago

Kristin, it is important to be "first" at everything we can :)

Catherine, yes---the human eye likes "interest" and there are lots of ways to do that in buildings that do not result in the building being inefficient

Rene, yup---a building can be seen as a radiator--any kind of building really, but the more fins the more efficient

Jay, yes---and the one just below and to the left also :)

Jim, it is on the other side :)

Steven, when this building was built they were not thinking about energy conservation at all. 
Glass has enough issues of its own without asking it to compensate for the non-window components.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 6 years ago



Many such buildings in big cities. I guess how efficient they are is largely tied to when they were built

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 6 years ago

Steve, one would hope.  However there is a brand new leeds certified green high-rise that is much worse than this one.  I have been trying to find a picture of it---will post if I can find it.

This is not the one I am looking for---but is another great example---and right near me in Bellevue, WA.


Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 6 years ago

Here is another good example---in the windy city yet!

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 6 years ago

Wait a second!  The fins look like they are really dirty.  Does that decrease the efficiency of the system?

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) almost 6 years ago

Charlie, Are you going to bring science into this now ; ) Thermodynamics works the same in many applications.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Pat, nothing like dirt for insulation :)

Don, dang science anyway!

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 6 years ago

I also never thought of this in regards to building design, but this seems a legit point! I like to call these inefficient people back pocket home inspectors. The American Home Inspector Directory must striclty check for such members.

Palos Verdes Certified Home Inspector

Posted by Remo over 5 years ago