Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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"One Home Inspection please, with an Infrared Scan on the side."

 

 

We've been using an infrared camera at random home inspections for the past several months, and we've decided that this is by far the coolest home inspection tool in the world.  Thankfully, we've also figured out how to add real value to our home inspections with the use of this camera.  Today I'm going to share some of the problems we've been able to identify with this camera that we might not have identified without. 

Roof Leaks

With all of the ice dam inspections we've done in the last month, we've looked at a ton of leaking houses.  For each photo in the series below, I made a duplicate of the original image, then overlaid the thermal image on top of the original.  It's pretty easy to identify the wet areas in the thermal images, but they're not apparent in the original photos.

All of the homes shown below had roof leaks from ice dams.  As with all of my blogs, you can view a larger image by clicking on it.

IR Image - water leak 1

IR Image - water leak 2

IR Image - water leak 3

IR Image - water leak 4

IR Image - water leak 5

IR Image - water leak 6

IR Image - water leak 7

IR Image - water leak 8

IR Image - water leak 9

IR Image - water leak 10

I could share more, but I'm pretty sure I've made my point.  Thermal imaging can be used to find roof leaks.  The one caveat to finding roof leaks is that the conditions have to be right; if it's a hot summer day and there hasn't been any rain for a week, forget it.

Hot Spots In Attics

Warm attics cause snow to melt, which is what causes ice dams.  I've found an infrared camera to be invaluable while troubleshooting the causes of ice dams.

The photo below shows a warm spot in an attic that I never would have identified without an infrared camera.  The culprit was a flush-mounted light fixture with light bulbs that had too high of a wattage.  I don't make a habit of taking apart light fixtures to check the wattage on light bulbs, but I'll do it if something tips me off.

IR Image - warm attic

Uninsulated ductwork in an attic is also a problem; the heat loss is quite obvious with an infrared camera.  The photo below came from an attic with an insulation value of R-60.  Who would have thought it?

IR Image - uninsulated ductwork

Recessed lights are a huge contributor to warm attics, whether they're airtight or not.  I'll be writing a blog about this soon.

IR Image - recessed light2 

Improper Insulation

This is one of the most obvious uses for an infrared camera.   The photo below shows an attic access panel that wasn't properly insulated.

IR Image - attic panel

This next image shows an interior wall that was very cold, because there was a missing section of insulation in the attic behind this wall.  

IR Image - cold wall

The photo below shows the same section of wall, as seen from inside the attic.

Attic Insulation 3

In the photo below, there is an obvious cold spot where the insulation was missed or improperly installed.

IR Image - missing insulation

Heating Systems

If a radiator doesn't heat up properly, it will be quite obvious with an infrared camera.  The photo below shows a radiator working properly; while I'm not demonstrating a problem here, I just thought this was a cool image to include :)

IR Image - radiator

If there are voids or leaks in heating tubes for in-floor, in-wall, or in-ceiling heat, an infrared camera will probably find them.  The photo below shows an inconsequential gap in the tubing at this heated ceiling.

IR Image - ceiling heat

I'm sure I'll have plenty more interesting photos to share as the months go on, but these photos should help to answer the question everyone asks: "why would I want an infrared scan with my home inspection?"

For the record, one thing we don't offer and never will offer is infrared scans on stucco homes in lieu of invasive testing.  I'll have more on that topic another day.

 

 

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 20 commentsReuben Saltzman • January 25 2011 05:59AM

Comments

Reuben, that is pretty awesome.  I am not sure if any of our home inspectors use this technology but you can bet, I will be asking!  Thanks for showing the photos...its makes it pretty interesting!

Posted by Shawna Green, The key to your real estate needs! (Keller Williams Realty-Fayetteville) almost 8 years ago

That is Way Cool!  I'm with Shawna...I don't know if any of our inspectors are using them, but I will definitely ask! 

Posted by Amy Hahn, Realtor/Broker - Crystal Coast, NC (Pine Knoll Shores Realty) almost 8 years ago

Shawna - thanks.  If the home inspectors in your area aren't using IR cameras yet, just wait.  I guarantee they've already heard of 'em, and they've thought about using them, but just haven't taken the plunge yet.

Amy - agreed, it's a pretty cool thing.  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

We had a home inspector who uses infrared scan come to our office, nice guy.  Newer to the business and I know a couple of home inspectors who have been around for awhile use it too.  One who was the home inspector blogger on my WordPress blog (only did a couple of posts and gave up blogging is NOT for everyone) showed a buyer and I how it worked on an inspection.  We knew there was missing insulation because of the icicles and then he could see the builder had not insulated a section.  

The cameras are not widely used in my market.

Posted by Maureen McCabe, Columbus Ohio Real Estate (HER Realtors) almost 8 years ago

It's quite amazing to find out how many older homes (and we have plenty of the in Twin Cities) leak air.

Posted by Marzena Melby, Realtor, Twin Cities Minnesota Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Burnet Realty) almost 8 years ago

Great post, Reuben - I had to go over it a few times to make sure what color meant lack of insulation!  But now it is pretty obvious.  We had someone come into our office to talk about this a while back, but I don't think many inspectors use it yet.   Thanks for the information.

Posted by Peggy Chirico, REALTOR® 860-748-8900, Hartford & Tolland County Real Estate (Prudential CT Realty) almost 8 years ago

Although they can be a great diagnostic tool, Infrared cameras are not widely used for 2 reasons.

 

The first is cost. They are a big-ticket item. You have to have a need or market for it to take to plunge.

The second is litigation, supervised training and litigation, and IR photo miss-interpretation and litigation. Oh, and did I mention litigation.

Most people, your clients, the majority of realtors and at least half of the inspectors out there DO NOT UNDERSTAND the technology and ARE NOT AWARE OF how badly the photos can be miss interpreted.

Some people actually think they are seeing into the walls, etc. like X-rays. They are not seeing anything more than surface temperature variations.

They do not see water or cold air. They see surface thermal changes that could be caused by what is behind the wall, but they can also are affected by what's going on in front of the wall.

Calibration; every time you set up a shot for the IR camera it has to be re-calibrated for multiple factors (ambient temperature, exterior temperature, and output colour frequency range, an infinitely variable range, to name but a few.

Verification; Even with good calibration and experienced careful interpretation the suspect condition should be verified, by any means practical (small hole and probe scope if no other access is available).

 

Errors in calibration and failure to verify equals litigation.

User beware!

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, very interesting stuff.

I think the one of the interior (closet) wall looks like a ghost kid.  You could start an urban legend about "cold ghosts" with that shot.  :)

Did the leaks all get detected because the cold water running behind the walls?

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, C.O.O., Winslow Homes (Winslow Homes) almost 8 years ago

Hi Reuben, a nice tool in qualified hands.

Posted by Dale Ganfield almost 8 years ago

Maureen - as far as I know, IR cameras aren't used a whole lot in my area either, but I'm pretty sure they'll be standard equipment within ten years.

Marzena - unless drastic work has been done to the houses, it's pretty much all older houses :)

Peggy - I figured it would be easy enough after a minute or two.

Robert - you're right, it's very easy to mis-interpret the results of an IR scan.  

I think the first point you brought up, cost, is the biggest reason most home inspectors don't already do this.  If the cameras sold for $100 each, most home inspectors would have a camera.

As for litigation, the remedy is communication.  It's all about setting clear expectations of what thermal imaging can do, and letting people know what the limitations are.

Personally, I don't think calibration is as critical as you're making it out to be; the camera finds differences in temperature, and that's about it.  Whether is calibrated or not, it will still show differences in temperature.  It's up to the home inspector to use the clues they're given by the IR camera.  

Jeremy - lol, I see the ghost kid you're talking about.  Yes, I detected all of those leaks because there was cold water in the walls.  I also verified these were leaks by using a moisture meter.

Dale - I agree.  These are very useful, especially for troubleshooting problems.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Glad you could see the "ghost kid".  I made me laugh, as I immediately thought of the cardboard image behind the curtain in "3 Men and A baby" that everyone said was a ghost.

Neat tool!

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, C.O.O., Winslow Homes (Winslow Homes) almost 8 years ago

I just noticed on the last photo you can see a red light being reflected on the lamp cover glass.  Is that the IR light?

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, C.O.O., Winslow Homes (Winslow Homes) almost 8 years ago

I see you're making good use of the camera. I have to agree with you on the calibration and temperature. In the context of what we as home inspectors are using IR to find, the actual or precise temperature is often not that relevant. In other applications it certainly may be a more critical factor. Robert does make a very good point regarding verification. It is important to confirm what the camera sees. I have run into many false alarms through the years.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jeremy - I know the ghost you're talking about :).  And yes, you're correct about that light - that was my IR camera.

James - you bet, this camera has been very useful in the past month.  As for calibration on the camera, it really doesn't mean much for what we do; it's just about temperature differences.  As for verification, I agree completely.  I've seen a lot of 'blues' that are pretty meaningless.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

The IR camera is one of many great tools.  I can remember using the old Polaroid IR film... , but back to the IR camera. 

To the best of my knowledge the use of an IR camera is not part of any State Home Inspection.  Home Inspectors may offer optional services such as the IR camera.  In MA home inspectors are required to charge a fee comensurate with their services.

Buyers and other home inspector client's should expect to pay more for an inspection that includes the use of an IR camera.  To the best of my knowledge, home inspector fees are not regulated.

How much extra should a home inspection client expect to pay for an IR camera inspection?

 

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) almost 8 years ago

Jim - Some inspectors in my area include an IR scan with their inspection services, while others charge as much as $250.  Naturally, we decided $125 would be a fair price. 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Reuben, 

Was just talking about this inspection beauty today!  It's worth it's weight in gold, well, maybe not in today's gold prices, but invaluable in understanding water and insulation issues. 

We highly recommend it!  

Also am going to re-blog. 

All the best, Michelle

Posted by Michelle Francis, Realtor, Buckhead Atlanta Homes for Sale & Lease (Tim Francis Realty LLC) almost 8 years ago

Great post Reubs!  And I too agree with your and Jim's comments about calibration.  Why?  Because I have been doing IR for 7 years.

Sure you have to be careful.  If a home inspector does not UNDERSTAND how IR can be misinterpreted, he's a dope and it's is because he has not gotten enough training and has not played, yes played, with the camera enough.  It is training, training, training and practice, practice, practice.  Period.  Doing so is time consuming and expensive, but worth it.

For Robert, here is a former post of mine:   http://activerain.com/blogsview/1921798/thermal-imaging-is-sometimes-science-and-sometimes-art

Of course you have to know what you're doing! 

My camera was twice as expensive when I bought it 7 years ago as it is now.  And I made my money back THEN in a few months.  Marketing you know...  changing mental paradigms, showing people what it could do, etc.

I LOVE THE DISCOVERIES I MAKE WITH MY CAMERA ALL THE TIME!  Kind of like you Reubs, and probably Jim, and anyone else who uses their camera frequently. 

Litigation?  C'mon - construct a smart agreement that people sign.  Make certain your clients understand what they are getting into and what the IR tech is TRYING to do.  It is an art!  You want to sue me for my interpretation have a good time.  At most what I am responsible for is damages.  So someone cut into drywall and didn't need to?  That's damages.  Big deal.  I cannot be held responsible for a whole roof or huge foundation repairs because something looked wet and was in a spot that is conducive to such wetness.  Those aren't damages! My agreement spells out the limits of my liability and I have never been challenged.  Damages are eye for an eye, and it means just that - it isn't eye for a new house.  But when I do an IR inspection, I am giving it my best shot.  Have a good time if you want me to be responsible for that and making a mistake.  That's why I have insurance.  I have much, much more opportunity to make a mistake on a regular home inspection.  That's why I have insurance for that too.

If you want a good IR agreement, contact my son, who drew one up for me.

To your post Reubs!  While my camera is still a good one (160/160), it does not have the software you have with the side by side.  I love that and it tempts me to get another camera just to have that pic-in-pic capability!  Great shots Reuben.  And great interpretations.  I love how that little corner shelf traps cold underneath.  Great lesson there.

My IR camera is the sharpest arrow in my quiver.  Anything that makes me a better home inspector is worth its weight in gold.  It's just SMART to have better tools.

Again, great post Reubs!  You da man...

It appears you've moved in!  But settled?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

I actually have TWO IR cameras and this time of year they find mush less than any other time of year.

Why?

Because we havent had any rain in over a month, the outside temps are 65-85 and everyone has their doors and windows open when I get there.

If it is not a plumbing leak on an electrcial issue, I can find more with a simple visual inspection.

However in anothe month outside temps will be over 100 and I will able to see much more. But I will never see the ice dam shots you got.

Posted by Scott Warga (ACSI American Construction Specialists & Investigations) over 7 years ago

I don't know how I miss all these comments...

Michelle - Thanks for being an advocate!

Jay - I agree with your take on the contract and the insurance, and the general liability of doing the inspection.  I'm really not worried about being sued.  The people that should be worried are the people that are sending out emails saying they can see through walls with their cameras.  

I know what you're thinking... nobody actually claims they can see through walls, right?  True story, a real estate agent just forwarded me an email from a home inspector in my area that is sending out mass emails with the subject line "SEE THROUGH WALLS ON INSPECTIONS!!!".  IMHO, he needs to be sued.

Scott - ditto what you're saying about the temps.  I haven't found anything interesting with my IR camera in the last month.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

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