How To Use Thermal Imaging in Home Inspections
Infrared (thermal imaging) is an advanced, non-invasive technology that allows an inspector to show homeowners things about their homes that cannot be detected using conventional inspection methods.
The art of infrared inspection:
The art of an IR inspection is to interpret the results as accurately and reasonably as possible so that our client receives actionable information to proceed with the necessary repairs. With that in mind, here's a list of dos and don'ts:
Explain the limitations of thermal imaging, including the fact that, like any type of inspection, it cannot predict future conditions. However, a roof with moisture penetration that has been detected using thermal imaging is very likely to lead to serious structural problems if left untreated.
Explain the possibilities of thermal imaging and how it can benefit our clients.
Infrared inspection can identify and document moisture intrusion, energy loss and even unexpected hot spots.
When it comes to power 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 conditioning compressor leaks;
insufficiently fixed and/or missing frame elements and other structural defects that can lead to energy loss; and
broken seals in double-glazed windows.
When it comes to detecting moisture intrusion, an infrared camera can find:
hidden roof leaks before they cause serious damage;
missing, damaged and/or wet insulation; and
water and moisture ingress around penetrations and at the foundation and building envelope, which could lead to structural damage and mold.
IR cameras are just as effective at locating hot spots in the home, including:
circuit breakers requiring immediate replacement;
overloaded and undersized circuits;
overheated electrical equipment and components; and
electrical faults before they cause a fire.
In addition, based on the color transitions that thermal images provide, the inspector can find:
possible pest infestation, manifested by energy loss through shelter tubes left by boring wood-destroying insects;
the presence of intruders such as rats, mice and other larger pests that hide in the structure and are detected due to their heat signature picked up by an IR camera; and
dangerous flue gas leaks that can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning of the occupants of the house.
At LiteHouse Inspect, we will offer a re-inspection (for a small fee) after the repairs are complete. This is the only sure way to know if the repair made by our client and/or their supplier has effectively resolved the problems that our first thermal imaging inspection found.
Unnecessarily alarm our clients.
An area detected by IR as having potential moisture intrusion, power loss, or extreme heat must be further investigated to confirm such a condition. Depending on where the problem was located, confirmation may be difficult, but relying on an IR image alone is not enough to recommend that our client pull out their checkbook and hire a contractor. It is the first step in diagnosing the problem.
Confuse our clients by using technical language that leaves them fearful and uninformed.
The science of thermal imaging is fairly simple, but requires extensive training as well as the use of related equipment. But our primary mission as home inspectors is to educate our clients, not dazzle them with our brilliance or impress them with our expensive camera.
Offer to repair issues discovered by our thermal imaging inspection if we perform this feature as part of your standard home inspection.
Our Code of Ethics prohibits this conflict of interest. Our inspectors defer repairs to professional contractors to avoid conflicts of interest.
It is important to include in our report not only the basics of our inspection, but also our interpretation of the results, which can help our clients determine what to do next to deal with any issues.
Technical and factual data
We provide identifying information regarding our camera and the settings used at the time of review. We also provide a brief description or even a checklist describing the weather and other relevant conditions in and around the home at the time of the IR inspection. This is so that we can compare the data with future conditions when we carry out your follow-up review, after the necessary modifications or corrections have been completed. As with most types of energy audits, the conditions for the follow-up inspection should be comparable to the original conditions, so we avoid conducting the inspection in unusual or extreme weather conditions if possible.
Our client's concerns
We begin our report with a short narrative that acknowledges our client's reasons for requesting an IR inspection in the first place, similar to a physician's report that typically begins with, "Patient complained of chest pains." During an energy audit, one client told her IR inspector , that the dishes in her closet were always freezing cold in the winter, which led the inspector to look for and discover an air leak in the building envelope just behind her kitchen cabinets. Although a cold kitchen was not the main reason this client requested an energy audit, we never underestimate the value of any anecdotal information our clients can provide or the trust they place in us and our expertise to uncover the causes of their concerns.
Standard images with infrared images
To make our report user-friendly, we provide standard digital images alongside our IR images. This gives our clients an accurate reference point for IR data that is essential for mapping improvements and repairs.
This is perhaps the most critical aspect of providing a reliable IR report and goes hand in hand with the limitations of thermal imaging as well as the depth of our training and experience. Depending on the baseline IR values determined and the location of the images, the results can either alert the homeowner to a critical repair needed – such as an electrical hot spot – or simply be an item they need to control – such as adding insulation to an exterior wall. Our clients rely on our expertise to help them prioritize repairs, so we treat the results as we would our home. The safety of clients comes first for us.
Immediate, short-term and long-term repairs
As mentioned above, we help our clients prioritize the necessary repairs with a realistic and practical approach for an action plan. Not everything can be fixed right away, but not everything should be put off for later. For example, electrical hot spots can quickly burst into flames, and electrical fires can spread throughout a home's system without much warning, so these deficiencies should outweigh others.
Next come problems related to moisture penetration. This is something the homeowner can begin to address themselves, such as removing obstructions to proper drainage, pulling out wet insulation and replacing it with new. Some tasks may depend on the weather or season to be completed safely and fully. While the removal of wet insulation will prevent the spread of mold and allow damp areas to dry out, the source of the moisture ingress must be located and adequately repaired to prevent the problem from returning. Also, mold growth that is not extensive can usually be cleaned by the homeowner. In such do-it-yourself situations, the importance of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect your health and safety should be recognized. Such PPE includes goggles, gloves, and a face mask to prevent direct exposure and inhalation of mold spores, insulation particles, and other irritants and allergens. Anytime you feel the repair is above your capability, we recommend hiring a qualified professional contractor.
We offer follow up inspections for a reduced fee to evaluate any repairs for effectiveness. You can schedule a full Thermal Inspection at our website; www.litehouseinspect.com.