Our infrared imaging camera (imaging radiometer) measures and photographs the non-visible Infrared radiation that is emitted by all objects. This allows us to visualize and document very minute gradients in the surface temperatures of materials, such as walls and ceilings. Infrared technology is highly effective at detecting moisture issues (even before they become visible to the eye), insulation and air infiltration deficiencies and electrical component malfunctions. Our Certified Level-III Thermographer is trained and qualified to perform thermal scans in conjunction with your conventional home inspection or as a stand alone service.
What we Look for in Our Infrared Home Inspections
When performing a Houston infrared home inspection in conjunction with your regular home inspection, we focus on three key areas. These include: moisture related issues; electrical issues; thermal envelope (insulation deficiencies and air leakage). We employ standard protocols when performing these inspections to ensure that we can detect issues that exist and that our reporting is accurate and verifiable. We don’t just walk around your house waving a camera at random points. There are also a number of environmental factors which can influence the effectiveness of these inspections (e.g., infrared thermography won’t identify a roof leak on a ceiling in the middle of a drought because moisture must be present to be detected). Because we are performing the infrared inspection in conjunction with and at the same time as your home inspection, conditions may not be optimal for all aspects of the thermal home inspection. It’s important that both the inspector and the client are aware of these issues and their effect on the inspection. We will cover some of these issues in the detail sections below.
Window with a factory defect. The low-E coating is on the wrong surface
Infrared thermography is very effective for detecting and documenting moisture issues within the home. Moisture issues can come from a number of both external and internal sources. External sources commonly include roof leaks, flashing issues, improperly installed or sealed windows, stucco issues, etc. Internal sources typically include plumbing supply or drain leaks, spa tub leaks, condensation from AC systems, etc.
In preparing to perform an infrared moisture detection scan during a home inspection, we will set the house up by operating all plumbing fixtures, spa tubs and the dishwasher for several hours before we conduct our thermal scan of the interior. During warmer months, we will also operate the air conditioner. We will then proceed with our regular home inspection. After several hours we will come back and scan the interior, focusing on vulnerable areas for evidence of internal and external leaks. Any thermal anomalies that we identify are verified visually and with a conventional moisture meter, whenever possible. Our reporting will typically show a thermal image of the anomaly along with a digital image of the moisture meter reading, unless water is plainly visible. Verification of thermal anomalies is a very important part of the inspection and documentation process.
Thermal imaging for moisture related issues should be integrated into the regular inspection process. It is not a substitute for visual inspection or use of a moisture meter in detecting moisture issues in the home. It can greatly enhance the inspector’s ability to detect and document moisture issues which may be invisible to the eye. There are some limitations to infrared thermography for moisture detection that our clients need to be aware of. First, moisture must be present in order to be detected. Infrared thermography depends primarily on the process of evaporation (also thermal capacitance in some specialty inspections) to create a detectable temperature difference. If no moisture is present at the time of the inspection, the thermal imager will not detect the leak, even if there is a big stain on the ceiling. This is one reason why thermal imaging goes hand-in-hand with visual inspection techniques. For the most reliable detection of external leaks, the thermal inspection should be done within days of a significant rain event. Also, some materials, such as MDF (medium density fiberboard) commonly used for trim, tend to encapsulate and hold moisture. These materials do not allow for much evaporation, making thermal detection of moisture difficult or impossible. The inspector needs to be aware or these issues and employ visual and moisture meter inspection techniques to these locations.
Infrared Inspection of Electrical Panels in Home Inspections
Another common and effective use of infrared thermography is for the inspection of electrical components. This is one of the oldest uses of infrared thermography in commercial applications. Infrared thermography has the advantage of being non-contact. It can safely and effectively be used to detect issues with live electrical equipment. Few home inspectors perform and fewer still are qualified to perform these inspections. We are certified to perform both qualitative and quantitative thermal inspections.
Whether the issue is poor or high resistance connections, failing components or overloaded circuits, most electrical problems produce elevated heat. A quality infrared imager can detect this heat and a qualified thermographer can interpret the image to identify the thermal anomaly. In many cases, a qualified thermographer can go further and identify the specific issue (e.g., overloaded circuit vs. poor connection) and apply appropriate international testing standards for prioritization. We routinely find electrical issues while performing infrared electrical inspections in conjunction with our home inspections. Occasionally, perhaps surprisingly, we sometimes find these issues in new construction, not just older homes.
We incorporate the infrared electrical inspection into our home inspection process when a client requests our thermography service with their home inspection. In setting up the inspection, we will create a load on the electrical system by turning on the lights, available appliances that are part of the house sale (oven, dishwasher, spa tub, electric water heaters, etc.), depending on the season, we may operate the AC or electric heating systems to ensure that there is a load on the system. During the thermal inspection we will capture infrared and visible light images of thermal anomalies, calculating the actual temperature of components if the situation calls for it (i.e., quantitative thermography) and we will take load readings using a true RMS clamp meter if the conductors are accessible. Our report documentation will include identification of the component(s), the visible light and infrared images and an opinion of the likely cause, if we can determine. We will also assign a priority to the exception based on international electrical testing standards.
Excerpt of an infrared electrical exception from one of our home inspection reports
The primary limiting factor for electrical inspections is wether an adequate load can be placed on the equipment for the inspection. Often empty houses, new houses, especially those that don’t have kitchen appliances simply can’t produce enough electrical load for optimal thermal inspection conditions. Electrical systems that are not in use won’t produce heat, even if they are defective. While we often find thermal exceptions in lightly loaded systems, there is an increased potential for defective components to go undetected, simply because they were not carrying typical loads for an occupied house. It’s important that both the thermographer and client are aware when less than optimal conditions exist at the time of the home inspection.
Infrared Inspection of Insulation and Air Leaks in Home Inspections
Infrared thermography, under the proper conditions, is also quite effective at identifying insulation deficiencies and air leakage issue in the home. We routinely find deficiencies in newer and older homes alike, even homes that are energy star rated and blower door tested. It’s important to note that our thermal home inspections are not energy audits. We do not assign overall performance ratings to the house as is done by the energy rating services. With a blower door test as performed by many rating companies, if the house achieves an overall leakage rate below a certain threshold it gets passed. An entire wall or ceiling may be void of insulation, but if there is not a lot of air leakage, it will pass a stand-alone blower door test. In contrast, we use infrared thermography to identify specific deficiencies in the thermal envelope, pinpointing and documenting the specific areas that have energy loss or comfort issues.
This is not to say that infrared thermography is superior to blower door testing. These are complimentary rather than competing technologies. In fact, they are most effective when they can be done together.
When performing infrared inspection for insulation and air leakage deficiencies during a home inspection, we will operate the heating or air conditioning (depending on the season) in order to create a temperature differential (Delta-T) between the conditioned areas and the exterior and unconditioned spaces. Our goal is to attain a Delta-T of at least 18F° and maintain it long enough for the house to reach thermal equilibrium. We will also operate any available exhaust fans to help depressurize the house which will enhance our ability to detect air leakage (this is what a blower door does best). Because most of the houses we inspect are brick or stucco and solar loading can a factor at the time of day that we perform home inspections, we focus our scans primarily on the interior of the home.
Significant deficiencies will be noted and documented with infrared and visible light images depicting their location and scope. Where these deficiencies are accessible and visible from the attic or unconditioned spaces, we will often include a visible light image that depicts the specific deficiency. Our thermal imaging for insulation and air leakage can be particularly effective at detecting common deficiencies, including: air leakage and lack of insulation at door openings (unsealed gaps between jambs and framing); missing, displaced and compressed insulation; vertical insulation that is not in contact with the air barrier (sheetrock); Open chases that allow unconditioned air to circulate behind interior walls at fireplaces and duct chases; Unsealed HVAC returns which pull unconditioned attic air into the HVAC system; Duct leaks; Inadequately sealed and insulated attic accesses; Uninsulated areas behind tubs, etc.
Key limiting environmental factors that can result in less than optimal conditions for thermal inspection of insulation deficiencies include: Ambient temperature – hot and cold days work well for detecting insulation deficiencies because we can typically attain the Delta-T needed for proper surveying. Those in-between days (60s to mid 80F degree days and days that the temperature is changing rapidly are not well suited to these inspections because we often cannot attain or maintain the Delta-T long enough for the house to reach thermal equilibrium; Likewise, if the home’s HVAC system is not performing well, we may not be able to produce the desired Delta-T; Solar loading with direct sun on one or more walls can also affect readings.
Why do we charge for infrared thermography when other inspectors offer thermal scans for free?
The answer is simple: We provide professional level services; Our training is better; We’re more experienced; We employ professional grade thermography equipment; We know, understand and employ professional protocols and accepted standards in our work. We have invested greatly in our equipment, training and protocol development. Performing infrared thermography properly during a home inspection adds significantly to the time required to perform the inspection, analyze findings and incorporate them into a report in a detailed and informative manner. Infrared thermography during a home inspection is one area where the old adage “you get what you pay for” rings true. If you get an “infrared scan” as part of your home inspection for no cost, I can assure you that it was priced appropriately for the value provided. An untrained or under-trained home inspector traipsing around the house with a cheap consumer grade thermal camera, not employing accepted protocols or standards is likely to miss or misdiagnose more than they find. This average home inspector with a cheap infrared camera is not a Thermographer.
Our high-performance infrared imager provides greater sensitivity, far greater resolution and far greater range of measurement than the equipment most commonly employed by most Home Inspection Companies. We can see and measure things that they cannot. We also carry and utilize the necessary ancillary meters and equipment needed to properly evaluate, identify and describe thermal anomalies.
Chuck is Certified as Level-III Thermographer in accordance with the American Society for Nondestructive Testing standard SNT-TC-1A through Infraspection Institute. Chuck also provides commercial and industrial thermography services. If your home inspector does not carry a Level-I, Level-II or Level-III certification (III being the highest), your home inspector is not a qualified thermographer. Chuck has been performing professional Infrared Thermography Inspections since 2007.
The internet is full of inspector websites displaying tiny, poorly composed, out of focus, low-resolution thermal images claiming all manner of incorrect diagnoses. All too often, they publish example images which aren’t even their own (every thermal image that you see published on our site was produced by us). You would’t trust the neighbor kid with a cheap point and shoot camera to photograph your wedding, one of the most important events of your life, just because he’s willing to do it for free. Don’t fall victim to the offer of free infrared pictures for one of the most important purchases of your life. Value is determined by the return on your investment, not the smallness of the investment.
When evaluating someone offering infrared inspection services, look at examples of their work, ask to see samples of how they document findings in their report, examine the quality and clarity of their images, ask them to walk you through their process and compare them to ours. If a home inspector, offering infrared imaging services cannot describe how they perform their thermography services in similar detail to what we have done in the above articles, chances are they aren’t qualified to offer the service.
A quality image, produced by a qualified thermographer using professional grade equipment is neither tiny nor out of focus.
In addition to our primary certifications, we also have the following skills, qualifications and certifications.