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Infrared Thermal Imaging and Home Inspections

Superman had x-ray vision. Doctors use x-rays and MRI’s to look inside your body. The military and police use infrared to find suspects hiding in the bushes. Each application allows the user to observe things that are not visible to the naked eye and allows them to do a better job.

A few top notch home inspectors are starting to use Infrared Thermal Imaging Cameras (also known as IR cameras) for the same reasons. With this technology, they are able to detect some problems that are not visible to the naked eye.

We use the latest FLIR Thermal Imaging Technology

While it does not give the inspector super-human powers, it does give them an edge on finding anomalies in a house that might not otherwise be discovered. So how do we use this technology to do a better inspection?

First let’s talk about temperature and thermal mass. You can think of thermal mass as the inertia against temperature change. That means items with different thermal mass will change temperature at different rates. In reference to building materials, a dry item will heat up more quickly than an item with more moisture. Dry sheetrock will warm up more quickly than a 2 x 4 piece of wood. Or for the purpose of our discussion, wet areas of sheetrock will change temperature at a different rate than dry sheetrock. The change in temperature is referred to as “Delta T”. So what does all this mean to a home inspection?

Infrared Cameras “see” in the infrared spectrum, or in other words, it “sees” the heat emitted by items and converts it into an image that humans can see. Since everything has a temperature, the camera is a very effective tool to show us how items are heating or cooling. Even items in your freezer have different temperatures based on their thermal mass. An ice cube has a different thermal mass than a frozen piece of bread, and the bread will heat up more quickly than the ice cube when removed from the freezer.

The art of an IR inspection is to interpret the results as accurately and reasonably as possible such that our client is given actionable information in order to proceed with necessary repairs.  

Thermal imaging limitations: IR inspection can not predict future conditions.  However, a roof that is experiencing moisture intrusion which has been detected through thermal imaging will very likely lead to serious structural issues, if left unaddressed.

An infrared inspection can identify and document moisture intrusion, energy loss, and even unexpected hot spots.

In terms of energy loss, an IR camera can detect:

heat loss and air infiltration in walls, ceilings, floors, windows and  doors;
damaged and/or malfunctioning radiant heating systems;
air-conditioner compressor leaks;

under-fastening and/or missing framing members, and other structural

defects that can lead to energy loss; broken seals in double-paned windows.

In terms of detecting moisture intrusion, an IR camera can locate:

plumbing leaks; hidden roof leaks before they cause serious damage;
missing, damaged and/or wet insulation; water and moisture intrusion

around penetrations and at the foundation and building envelope that could

lead to structural damage and mold.

IR cameras are equally effective at locating hot spots in the home, including:

circuit breakers in need of immediate replacement;
overloaded and undersized circuits;
overheated electrical equipment and components;
electrical faults before they cause a fire.

Additionally, based on the color gradients that thermal images provide, an inspector can locate:

possible pest infestation, as revealed by energy loss through shelter tubes left by boring wood-destroying insects; the presence of intruders, such as rats, mice and other larger pests hiding within the structure and detected because of their heat signature that the IR camera captures; dangerous flue leaks which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning of the home’s residents.

The only sure way to determine whether the issues that your initial thermal imaging inspection discovered have been effectively addressed is to have the property re-inspected.