What is Thermal Imaging, and why is it important to home inspections? Put simply, it's the use of an infrared camera to see differences in heat. Unlike the movies, it doesn't allow us to see through walls, but it does allow us to detect temperature differences that can help us find otherwise hidden issues. Some of the more common issues we find are hidden water leaks, overheating electrical lines, leaks in ductwork, and missing insulation. When we first learned how to use thermal imaging in a home inspection, we decided to include it on all home inspections at no extra charge. Yes, we feel it's that important.
This is absolutely one of my favorite Infrared pictures that I have taken. When I saw this in the camera, I knew immediately what was going on. The house had been flipped, and we found several issues throughout. This was on an HVAC chase that had been built to conceal the ductwork through a bedroom, and with the AC on, it produced a very noticeable heat signature. The owner/flipper was there, and I told him that he had covered over a vent. At first he didn't believe me, but eventually he decided to cut a small hole in the drywall to look. Sure enough, there was a vent sized hole in the ductwork blowing cold air into the chase. As you can see in the picture, the vent was not happy about being covered over.
The most common thing we find with thermal imaging is definitely water leaks. Most are from plumbing, but many are also from roofs and other exterior components. This first picture is of a water leak under a garden tub in a new construction home. After filling and draining the tub, I noticed a small cool spot (the blue area highlighted) in the kitchen ceiling that hadn't been there before. We used our moisture meter to verify that it was wet, and then (eventually) convinced the construction manager to cut a small hole to check. Sure enough, it was directly under the tub trap, and there was a very small drip from a connection the plumber forgot to glue. This was on a house ready to go, and my clients were going to be moving in later that week. If this hadn't been found, they would have had water, and possibly mold damage to deal with in the near future.
This image is of the garage ceiling in a new construction home selling for over $1 million. Three days before closing, I did the final walk through inspection and found this. The dark spots were all found to have very high water levels, but there was no visible staining on the drywall. A quick investigation revealed that the roofers hadn't caulked the roof flashing between the brick and the lower level roofs. The builder was able to quickly remove all of the damaged drywall along the front of the house, caulk the flashing, and get everything ready for my client to move in as scheduled.
We also use thermal imaging on every electric panel to look for abnormal temperatures. Most problems can be traced back to loose connections or overloaded circuits. This first image shows one of the main feed conductors coming into a service panel.
The conductor on the right is clearly quite a bit warmer than the one on the left. A quick visit by an electrician found that the connection was very loose, and once it was properly tightened, the temperatures were back to normal.
If you've ever ventured into an attic during the summer, you know how hot it can get up there. Unfortunately, sometimes the insulation is forgotten or gets displaced. This first picture was from a new construction home. The purple area shows where the batt insulation was laid over the sprinkler lines before the drywall was put in. The orange areas are where the blown in insulation should have been. Again, this was a house the builder had declared as fully complete. They couldn't believe there was no insulation in the attic. By the way, the code inspector had already signed off on the house. Guess he didn't look in the attic!
As you can see, we find all kinds of things with the thermal camera. It's still not a guarantee that we will find everything, but it certainly helps. Quality of the camera is a huge factor in the ability to find these issues. If your inspector shows up with a thermal camera that looks like a cell phone, they're using a toy. The image to the right was taken after writing on the floor with my finger. A nice demonstration of the sensitivity of a quality camera. Call us to see more!