Infrared Thermal Imaging 101

What is Infrared Thermal Imaging?  How does it make Absolute Inspections, LLC a better inspections company?  Why should you care?

First let’s talk about what is infrared?  The official definition is that Infrared refers to the part of the invisible spectrum that is contiguous to the red end of the visible spectrum and that comprises electromagnetic radiation of wavelengths from 800 nm to 1 mm.

Okay?  And that applies to home inspections how?  Let’s talk in basic real world application terms and leave off some of the pure science to better understand how we use this great technology.  Everything gives off infrared energy or wavelengths.  We simply cannot see them with our eyes.  This is where the Infrared Camera comes into play.

The infrared camera uses a special lens to pick up the passive infrared waves.  It then uses an algorithm to convert that information to a temperature reading.  When you look at an infrared imaging picture each color or pixel point represents a certain temperature.  For simplicity sake, I often tell clients to think of the infrared camera seeing temperature.   

Depending on the quality of the infrared camera – sensitivity and resolution – We are currently using a FULKE Ti 400 High Performance Infrared Camera – the picture can differentiate down to minute temperature increments that are quite small.  We use the ability to “see” surface temperatures to look for temperature anomalies throughout the home.  These anomalies can be indications of problems, often serious issues, which are not visible to the human eye.

Why does Absolute Inspections, LLC insist on including an Infrared Thermal Imaging scan on every home inspection?

We have invested tens of thousands dollars in Infrared Thermal Imaging equipment and training.  Why?  It is not required.  It exceeds the Standards.  Many Home inspectors refuse to invest the money and see the technology as going too far beyond what is required by minimum standards of practice.  Then they tell clients that they can find anything we can.  This is simply not true.

We have used the technology for over 8 years on every single inspection.  Over that time, we have found countless major defects that we readily admit we would not have found without the infrared equipment.  That is why we use it.  It helps us do a better inspection.  It helps protect our clients.  Every client wants to be informed of potential foundation issues, major component failures such as Air Conditioning or water heaters, Roof deficiencies.  It just makes sense to find the serious issues that the Infrared thermal Imaging technology helps to find that need to be negotiated.  It is not magic.  It is not smoke and mirrors or sleight of hand.    It has very definite limitations and restrictions, but it is an amazing and invaluable tool for helping to provide the best home inspection possible for our clients.

The following are some examples of the types of different thermal anomalies we have found on real home inspections and the types of problems they can point to:

  • Active Moisture from exterior penetration – Building materials that are wet have different thermal properties and show up quite distinctively on the infrared image.  Examples include moisture from exterior water penetration from roof leaks, door and window leaks, wall leaks, water penetration over the slab or from flooding.  Sometimes there are also visual indicators such as stains, but experience has taught us that at least 50% of the time there is no visual indication.
  • Active Moisture from plumbing leaks (supply and drain)- The active moisture caused by testing or normal use of the plumbing produces thermal anomalies that show up to the infrared camera.  Examples include pipe leaks in walls or ceilings, leakage around or under toilets, leakage under sinks, leakage at wall valves, leakage at dishwashers, etc.
  • Active Moisture from shower enclosure leaks –  This is one of the most serious and alarmingly common leakage issues we find with our infrared equipment.  Water escaping a shower enclosure.  Causes or examples include faulty or failed shower pans, leakage around enclosure glass, and leakage BEHIND tile that is seeping out of the enclosure.
  • Missing insulation – While some older homes are expected to have less than adequate insulation installation, newer and new construction homes should have good consistent insulation.  We find minor cases or missing insulation in almost ALL homes we inspect.  Roughly 20% of the time we find major and significant missing insulation.  Things like the entire master bedroom ceiling not being insulated.  How could this happen?  Isn’t the home inspected by an energy efficiency rater?  Because they only look with their eyes.  Typically the problem was caused by lack of access or by installer error.  Typically the repair is simple.  Surprisingly, not all homeowners notice the problem, though many do notice that a particular room is very uncomfortable and hard to heat and cool.
  • Excessive air infiltration – With our inspection procedure we create a negative pressure in the home (while testing the exhaust fans) that helps to exaggerate air penetration from the outside.  We are then able to “see” the cold or hot air infiltration with the infrared camera.  Realistically, all penetrations may leak a bit.  But often the leakage is excessive and can be improved.
  • Improperly installed HVAC ductwork – It is not uncommon on newer construction to find supply duct that have been terminated at the drywall, but the drywall was not cutout for the register.  Unfound, this will lead to condensation problems and comfort issues.  By using our infrared camera, this is easy to find.
  • Electrical hotspots and overheating – while not terribly common (thankfully) we find 5 – 10 occurrences every year of overheating electrical.  Typically, this is found in a breaker panel at a circuit breaker.  Finding this defect is particularly satisfying.  Knowing that you possibly prevented a house fire that would cause major damage and possibly loss of life is the ultimate at working hard to protect our clients.
    We constantly find new and interesting defects because we our infrared imaging Camera on every inspection.   Often we realize there is no way we would have discovered a particular important major defect without the infrared camera.  It constantly reinforces our firm position that we will not do inspections without the infrared imaging scan.  Keep in mind that specialized limited infrared only scans are available.


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