Your lateral thinking and knowledge of lab kit could help us solve a tricky measuring problem in building-physics.
One of the problems we get in modelling the heat demands of buildings, is getting an accurate number for the building's thermal conductivity as a whole. Even when we know the materials it's built from, variations in material quality, thickness, and build-consistency, mean that the calculation of the composite thermal conductivity is frequently wrong. Now, yes, if we could get all of the very specific information on the exact materials, and the exact locations of every thermal bridge, we could calculate the building's thermal conductivity from first principles. But that's very rarely possible. (incidentally, we also need to know the thermal mass, but the calculation tends to be a bit more forgiving about measurement inaccuracies, and close enough may be good enough)
So, it strikes me that there is almost certainly some kit in use by physicists in labs or industry, that could be co-opted for this purpose. Something that could be taken to different dwellings, to measure the thermal conductivity of specific walls, floors, or whole buildings, and that would allow the measurement to be done within one day. [edit 1:] Note that in general, we will have access to the inside as well as the outside of a building.[end edit 1]
It seems that the use of thermal cameras hasn't been entirely successful, due to problems with calibration, and with variations in reflectivity and emissivity of different materials.
Buildings are almost never in thermal equilibrium, and often have high thermal mass, so simply releasing a known quantity of low-grade heat in the dwelling and recording time-series of temperature of inner air, wall, outer wall, as well as recording times series of external air temperatures, could be doable, but it would typically be difficult to establish what the initial and final conditions are (e.g. how much heat is stored in the building, at the start and at the end).
Testing must be non-destructive: that is, we can't submit surfaces to tests that would damage them. So no super-heating or deep freezing, if it would cause permanent damage.
[edit 2: supplementary information prompted by a question about using historic information about energy consumption to deduce conductivity:]
Historic energy use of dwellings does provide some information; however, it is often hard to obtain for a lot of dwellings (being commercially sensitive); and, as generally we don't know the long-term pattern of internal temperatures, we can't deduce the building's thermal conductivity. We may know how much energy was used, but we don't know how much warmer than external temperatures did it keep the building, nor for how long. It turns out that observed thermostat settings aren't useful for this, for several reasons.
[end edit 2]
[edit 3]We are interested heat losses from both conduction, convection and radiation. Convection is sometimes estimated using data from a pressurisation test, which isn't always easy to do. And we're interested in conduction and radiation losses as well as convection losses. Some heat flux sensors have been tried, but apparently without much success. If there have been recent advances in heat flux sensors, I'd love to hear about them.[end edit 3]
I'm not inviting speculation: I'm looking for a factual answer about specific tests to yield specific measurements about the physics of dwellings.