INFRARED (THERMAL) IMAGING - Becoming a norm in home inspections

By
Home Inspector with Massachusetts Home Inspections MA. License#566

 

 

Even though the real estate market has slowed down quite a bit (compared to three years ago), Home Inspectors are getting more requests for infrared imaging than ever before. There are many home owners that are not familiar with IR inspections and I'd like to explain what infrared imaging is.

Now, there is so much information regarding this spectacular technology that I'm going to break this down into sections in order for you to fully understand infrared technology, and its uses and applications. Thermal imaging (IR) is highly advanced technology that was originally developed by our high tech military for use in enhancing night vision in advanced weapons systems during the Korean War. It was used extensively by our ground forces for general theatre scanning, target acquisition and sighting enemy objects in the midst of darkness. This truly amazing camera technology is so astonishing, that it is slowly migrating into the residential and commercial inspection field. Thermal Imaging is quite possibly, the most important technology to be utilized in the Residential and Commercial inspection profession today.

In the hands of Certified, Trained and Experienced Thermographers (such as myself), an infrared camera allows me to detect hidden issues behind finished surfaces of any building by evaluating the camera's images and temperature readings. Thermography is basically the use of an infrared imaging and measurement camera that can actually "see" and "measure" thermal energy emitted from an object. The camera can only sense the temperature difference that transfers to the most outer surface of a wall, ceiling or floor (and if the Delta T, or temperature difference, cannot conduct this difference to the outer most surface then I am unable to see it clearly with an infrared camera). So it's crucial to have a temperature difference of at least ten degrees Fahrenheit between inside and outside temperatures. Most materials that are moist or located inside inaccessible surfaces will have an absolute temperature difference in a seasonal situation due to conditioning the living areas with heat in the winter and A/C in the summer. In New England's ever-changing weather, the inside and outside temperatures will contain sufficient differential most of the time. If the A/C or heat is not conditioning the home, and the outside temperature is the same as the inside temperature, then the infrared camera can not perform its intended function. Temperature differential is absolutely necessary for me to better interpret the camera images and its indicators.

Now that you understand what Thermography is, I'm going to be more explicit as to "How this technology actually works". Thermal, or infrared energy, is light that is not visible because its wavelength is too long to be detected by the human eye; it's the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we perceive as heat. Unlike visible light (in the infrared world) everything with a temperature above absolute zero will always emit heat. Even very cold objects (such as ice cubes), will emit infrared images. The higher the object's temperature, the greater the infrared (IR) radiation emitted. By detecting those differentiating thermal patterns that are invisible to the naked eye, I'm able to point out concealed issues that need attention now. These findings enable homeowners to perform repairs in a predictive fashion rather than in a reactive manner, which is going to be far more expensive and time consuming when these invisible issues finally become apparent. Everything from faulty wiring whether it is in the wall or exposed, to the presence of concealed Termites, or concealed wet insulation and Mold build-up will affect the surrounding temperature of a surface. Heat-sensitive photography (IR) can reveal these and many other serious issues that cannot be seen by the naked eye or with conventional or digital photography.

My infrared camera enables me to detect extremely small but crucial heat patterns from one area of a structure to another. Even though thermal anomalies are invisible to the eye, temperature variations will clearly show up on my infrared camera's view screen as "cold" or "hot" spots. These spots will contain color variations along with excessive temperature differentials if hidden issues are lurking behind surfaces of your building. The spectrums of light will allow me to analyze what's going on in specific areas throughout your building. As you and I walk through your building, I will be pointing out any areas of concern and then interpreting my camera readings to you. Once my infrared inspection is finalized, my findings will be compiled into a professional report which will contain plenty of pictures and descriptions for easy understanding.

In order for me to complete your formal report in a professional manner, I have specially designed software that allows me to present your infrared findings and your digital photos in a side-by-side photo comparison format. This type of reporting system allows you to view both, the real time digital photo alongside the highlighted thermal photo of the area of concern. There will be no confusion in comprehending my easy-to-understand report. I will be including close-up infrared photos of all issues of concern along with digital wide angle views, so that everyone reading my infrared report will understand the exact location of the issues in question. Directly under these images, you will find my interpretations of what's actually going on behind particular surfaces of your home. SAMPLE IR REPORT

I am an expert who has a solid understanding of heat transfer laws, thermal dynamics and properties of why objects are hot or not or appear to be hot or not. Thermal imaging allows me to identify hidden problem areas much faster and (in most cases) can avoid building owners from using invasive and destructive measures in order to pinpoint problem areas behind finished surfaces. Scanning a building with my infrared camera provides me with crucial information about issues that may be hidden behind walls, ceilings, roof surfaces or any other inaccessible finished areas throughout your building. In providing this optional infrared service, I am now fully able to detect, interpret and document hidden faults and anomalies for immediate corrective action. I can even prioritize specific repairs to certain concealed areas of your building if the issue is serious. Without utilizing my infrared camera, there may be hidden defects that can normally go undetected in the course of my standard visual inspection.

Stay tuned for my next BLOG post, which will include the many applications that infrared imaging is used for and how easy it is to locate serious issues that are totally concealed behind your walls.

Additional information pertaining to infrared(thermal) imaging can be found at ....http:www.massinfrared.com

 

Comments (22)

Michael Reel
Integrity Home Inspections LLC - Parkersburg, WV

Good Morning to you all,

I certainly do see the value of adding this as a service to inform clients of moisture intrusion or sub-standard insulation. I really only see one major issue with them being part of a normal general home inspection. It goes against all of our Standards of Practice in that the typical inspection is a "visual evaluation of reasonably accessible areas"  Again, I think they are great and should be used at some times but I believe that they should be offered as an ancillary service as a result of a Home Inspection findings where conditions would throw up a red flag, or the the customer requests it. If we were to make it a part of the general home inspection there would really be some deals broken because the average Joe would not understand and would automatically think BIG dollar repairs. I do believe that people have to be as informed as we can possibly make them. This was not meant to be sour grapes, I just think that they have a place but not as a  part of the General Inspection process.

Mike, Integrity HI LLC Williamstown WV

Jan 21, 2008 12:24 AM
Anonymous
David Valley

Mike,

I would never include IR inspections into my Standard inspections. This is definitely an optional ancillary service and all HI's should look at IR inspections the same way, but they don't.

IR inspections will not locate every last concealed defect in a typical building and that is exactly why I have developed an IR inspection agreement that must be signed by my client. I do my best to locate every little defect with my IR camera, but there are novices out there today who are purchasing this camera and guessing at what they are actually looking at in the camera's screen.

What really bothers me (at this point), is seeing many HI's performing these inspections with no experience whatsoever. They think they can look at the colors and interpret the readings but they are actually doing an injustice to their clients when they really have no idea what the camera is looking at.

 

Again, I will say it a thousand times, always make sure your HI is properly trained before hiring them to scan your building.

Jan 21, 2008 12:58 AM
#4
Michael Reel
Integrity Home Inspections LLC - Parkersburg, WV

David,

I do apologiize if I came off to strong. I agree with you re: the usage and believe there are some owners of IR devcies improperly trained.  

Jan 21, 2008 01:04 AM
Anonymous
David Valley

Mike,

I don't think you came off too strong at all, Bud. 

I'm just stating my recommendations more than once. Usually overemphasizing important recommendations absolutely gets the word out to everyone involved in RE transactions.

AGAIN......DO NOT HIRE ANYONE FOR IR INSPECTIONS, UNLESS YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY PROVE THEY"VE BEEN PROPERLY TRAINED BY AN INFRARED FACILITY.

Jan 21, 2008 01:16 AM
#6
Aaron Flook
AM Inspection Services, LLC - Pittsburgh, PA

Hey everyone,

I love to see blog such as this pushing the envelope of what is a home inspection.  Our industry has grown so much, so fast because of ideas such as this and people willing to take a chance to improve things.  I have been using infrared inspections as part of my standard inspection package for almost four five years.  I was actually the first person in my area to use thermography as part of our inspection. 

I will agree with David, that this is not a piece of equipment that should be used by just anyone.  Only a certified Level 1 thermographer should use an infrared camera, and only a qualified Home Inspector should be performing your Home Inspection.  Without the thermography training you can't interpret the picture properly, and without the proper home inspection training you can not understand how that picture identifies problems in a home properly. 

I will also agree with David that an infrared camera can not find every issue, wrong with a house.  However, I will disagree with Davids choice to not include the use of an infrared camera into a standard home inspection.  I choose to include it and I been saved many more times than I have been hurt by the use of the camera.  It allows me to improve my ability to provide my clients a better level of service, because of that I have been able to raise my average ticket price.  It is a tool that I use to differentiate myself from my competitors. 

As to the infrared camera being against ourstandard of practice, I do not agree with this statement.  Our inspection is still only a visual inspection of readily accessible area.  This only give you a wider area of readily accessible areas.  This is a not intrusive maner, that is not technically exhaustive, and can applied by a trained individual improve the accuracy and totality of the inspection. 

In five years I have not seen any increase in liability, just the opposite, infrared thermography, has in at least 10 inspections saved me by finding issues that would not have been found by a typical inspection.  If used properly (like any other tool) infrared can simplify and improve your inspection business.

Aaron Flook

AM Inspection Services, LLC

Jan 22, 2008 05:02 AM
Anonymous
David Valley

Aaron,

 

My equipment and training was very expensive and IR inspections are quite revealing. Including this service into my standard inspection simply doesn't make sense unless of course I raise my HI prices.

I'm not ready to raise my prices as of yet, until the R/E market kicks it up a notch.

For legality reasons, I have my all clients sign a waiver on my Standard inspections that state "They do not wish to use my optional Infrared service, which could detect concealed defects behind ceilings and walls".

Jan 22, 2008 06:39 AM
#8
Aaron Flook
AM Inspection Services, LLC - Pittsburgh, PA

I did not mean to state that you were underqualified or that your equipment was substandard.  I actually agreed with almost all of your points.  The only disagreement between you and me is in our choice of applications. 

You understand your business and your place in your market better than I or anyone else does.  I appreciate and approve 110% of the measures you have taken in getting your agreement signed.  Those are all wonderful business decissions.  I chose another path. 

In my market we have way too many unqualified inspectors trying to cloud the waters.  In their desparation to build market share, they are killing themselves and my profession. I have taken very stong measures to separate myself from those kind of inspectors (which I do not think you are)  Infrared has been one of the biggest tools that has allowed me that separation.  I have successfully taken a large share of the realtors in my area and positioned myself so that they don't think of me as a "home Inspector", but as a building consultant. 

Another benefit that I have received from using infrared, has been a net increase in my yearly profits.  My profit was up 25% at least each of the last five years.  This has been in not the best market.  Also my kill rate (calls or leads turned into inspections) has gone from below 50% to 85% because of offering something different then my competitors. 

To come to the point, Don't just look at your possitions short-term.  Infrared is a phenomenal tool that can not only save you time, effort and heartache, it can impact your bottom line dramatically.  I am looking at double the profits over cost of the infrared equipment if trends stay level. 

I am just giving another point of view to anyone interested in infrared.

 

Jan 22, 2008 10:18 AM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Aaron,

How can you use successfully use the camera in adverse or unfavorable conditions? As David stated the delta T is the most important parameter to yeilding good information from the device. There are times of the year when conditions are extremely unfavorable to using infrared.

How do you use the camera during those times?

Jan 24, 2008 12:40 AM
Rick Bunzel
Pacific Crest Inspections - Anacortes, WA

I disagree with David

The IR manufacturers have jumped into the inspection market and trying to sell the next great gadget to the industry. Does it have some benefits, yes. Should you use it on every inspection, not in my opinion. If there is a problem house out there then it is a good tool to have. Businesswise the economics just don't justify the investment.  By the time you have paid for the camera it will be old technology. Do the math....

When I got into radon testing it was easy for me to look at the economics and justify the cost of the schooling and equipment plus radon is a health hazard to my clients. The Sun Nuclear test units were $600 a piece and I could charge $125 a test. Easy math there.  No with IR your go to invest how much and how many of your clients are going to spring for a house scan?

 The second reason for reluctance is liability, IR takes you way beyond a visual inspection. Now you do have Xray eyes and if the house goes down the tubes, a lawyer is going to have a field day with you while you tried to explain delta T's etc. 

//Rick


Rick Bunzel 
Pacific Crest Inspections

Affiliate of the Year 2006-2007
WWW.PacCrestInspections.com
360-588-6956
Fax 360-588-6965

Toll Free 866-618-7764

 

 

 

Jan 24, 2008 02:10 AM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Rick,

I disagree in part with your comments. I have done the math and have paid for my camera. I do not use it for general home inspections. My focus is on energy auditing and separate (not with a home inspection) building diagnostic inspections using the camera. So as far as what you're saying regarding the manufactures, I do agree.

I am intrigued however by Aaron's obvious success using the camera on every inspection. As such I am awaiting his reply to my query above.

Jan 24, 2008 02:25 AM
Anonymous
Anonymous

Rick,

I have to disagree with your comment regarding recouping the costs of the camera before the camera is OLD TECHNOLOGY.

I've been doing new construction energy audits at $350.00 a pop and I will have my camera paid off my next year. If my camera becomes old technology by next year (which is highly doubtful), then I simply return my camera to the manufacturer and pay a bit more money for the updated version. It's simple math.

I can tell you that there is no way an IR camera will become old technology in one year. Now if a Thermographer is not marketing his business and the calls aren't coming in, then you've got problems with recouping your camera cost.

Jan 24, 2008 07:58 AM
#13
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

David,

An energy audit is much more than just using an infrared camera. My audits use infrared as part of the audit. An audit means you are evaluating costs associated with energy improvements.

I also do the type of "audits" you have shown on this blog as an example. I get significantly more than $350 for that kind of inspection. Having the ability to provide a service few others are able to provide gives you an edge over the competition. Don't be afraid to charge accordingly, I do.

Jan 24, 2008 08:34 AM
Anonymous
David Valley

James,

 

There are different levels of Energy Audits that are performed (IMO). I'm simply supplying my clients with an IR report which depicts allthe air infiltrations in their building. No Blower door involved. I simply turn on every fan in the house including the dryer and ventilator (above the stove) and the low pressure builds up enough to bring air into the cavities and then I scan the building in under an hour.

I'm definitely thinking of raising my prices in the near future.

Thanks.

Jan 24, 2008 09:06 AM
#15
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

David,

Not to debate, but an energy audit is largely an evaluation of the home for energy deficiencies. An infrared camera and or a blower door can also be used for these audits. The report is solely focused on costs involved in energy improvements and their payoff times through energy savings. What your doing, as well as myself on occasion, is an infrared inspection. It is not a quantified energy audit.

The service you are providing however is valuable and I think you are charging way too little, but it is not an audit.

If you would be interested in auditing send me an email and I will tell you about how to get started.

Jan 24, 2008 10:09 AM
Peter M . Christopher
Fairfield County Home Inspection LLC - Fairfield, CT
Residential & Commercial Inspections in

David,

You have made this statement in your blog,

I am an expert who has a solid understanding of heat transfer laws.

I am not here to bash you, But I must assume that your education must be more that in building science to make this claim, You are only showing a certificate for building science class dated 11/08, That class does not focus on the use of a Thermal camera, It is a building science class focused on building and not the use of a camera or even interpretation of Images.

FYI I would not use that report you have as a sample report.The one thing I will tell you. Is you clearly have your reference points in all of the images wrong giving you a false reading to report on.

Jan 26, 2008 01:49 PM
Anonymous
David Valley

Peter,

I am a Level 1 Thermographer and I am still waiting for my ID and Certificate to arrive from ITC. These will be posted on my credential web page just as soon as I get them in my possession.

I do not advertise false credentials and never will. When I state that I have a full understanding of heat transfer laws, I actually do. If you or anyone else has any questions regarding heat transfer laws, I can definitely answer your questions.

A for the sample report, there are no issues with the pictures themselves. I do agree that I do have some revisions to make in the comment areas, I just haven't had time to revise them yet. I'm going to work on them on my spare time, if I can manage to find that time. I've been too busy with home inspections and IR inspections, that spare time is just not on my side right now. I can't believe how many requests I'm getting for infrared inspections. I didn't think IR inspections would keep me this busy.

Jan 26, 2008 10:24 PM
#18
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Peter,

I see some things in Davids sample report that need revision, However the reference point is not important for this type of inspection. I perform these type of "energy" scans very regularly. The client only requires to know where the home is deficient regarding heat loss. I never include any spots or other references in the image. The client has no use for them. The image is to identify and show where problems exist.

When I perform these type of inspections the IR camera is only one part of the service. I inspect the house first then pull out the camera. In this way I have referenced the home and can more easily identify and understand what I am seeing with the camera.

David,

Your report is very basically the format I use for this type of inspection. One thing I will point out, on page 6, that's the header over the window.

Jan 26, 2008 11:24 PM
Anonymous
David Valley

Peter,

 

Thank you for your comments. I perform my IR scans the same way you do. I wait until the end of my home inspection, then I request that my clients walk through the home next to me while I point out the inefficiencies.

Thee is no perfectly sealed home out there, so every home will have inefficiencies whether they are minor or excessive.

Regarding the header area, thank you.

Jan 26, 2008 11:40 PM
#20
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

David,

It wasn't Peter who wrote the above comment. I was directing one response to him the other to you. I really did not see anything wrong with your report. The temperature point of reference has little importance for the type of scan you are performing. The client wants to know where the house is deficient. Some scans don't have to be that complicated.

Jan 26, 2008 11:58 PM
David Valley
Massachusetts Home Inspections - Methuen, MA
Massachusetts Home Inspections

Thanks again, James.

It's early. I intended to write your name.

I do have a few improvements to make (in my comment areas) of the SAMPLE report.

 

Just to avoid the indifference's amongst viewers, I am removing the SAMPLE until I can get this accomplished. 

Have a great day.

Jan 27, 2008 12:06 AM