How a Thermal Camera Boosts Home-Inspection Accuracy
by Brent Lammert
Fact: A home inspection is a valuable service that can provide key insight into the systems a homeowner relies on. As a home inspector, you can provide an even more elevated quality of inspection and reporting by using a thermal camera to perform home inspections. Thermal imaging gathers data that can be interpreted by trained professionals to provide robust energy and systems reports.
As technology evolves, home inspectors can add value to their services by using thermal imaging to increase the accuracy and thoroughness of inspection reports. But as Bill Fabian says, who is the vice president of Monroe Infrared Technology, every inspection type has condition requirements. So if you’re going to add thermography to your inspection services, don’t do so without proper training first.
According to Fabian, the finds can be endless. “1,452 degree Fahrenheit connection in an electrical panel, bee infestations, a leaking shower pan that was $4000 to repair before the sale could be completed.” Those are just a few he’s been witness to. Here’s more information about how thermal imaging can help boost your inspection value.
Key Home-Inspection Issues
A seasoned home inspector knows that there are about a dozen different systems and components that need to be thoroughly examined. These include heating, central air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, roof, attic, walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors, basement and structural elements. You’ve likely seen it all, from shoddy foundations and roofing that may as well be non-existent to pest infestations and leaky plumbing. But there are three top issues that a thermal camera in particular can help with, commonly found and hard to see with the naked eye.
The enemy of almost everything when it’s in the wrong place, hidden water can wreak havoc on insulation, wood, electrical components and, eventually, finishes when it does reveal itself. Prospective homeowners often think water leaks will be obvious, but plumbing can leak onto ceilings below and into walls without any visual sign.
As long as the conditions are right, this issue can be found with thermal imaging which shows the temperature variances between water and surrounding materials. “Wet areas will cool due to evaporative cooling and become visible to an infrared camera,” says Fabian. However, he adds an important note that not all cool areas are wet and an inspector should still carry a moisture meter to confirm results.
Electrical Hot Spots
When an electrical component or device is overheating inside a wall undiscovered, it can cause devices to fail. Additionally, hot spots can be a serious safety issue, with the potential to start a fire. Thermal imaging can be an early warning system to locate electrical elements that are running hot and repair or replace them before they cause serious damage or costs. Note that electrical faults can only be truly inspected while the home has power turned on and the connections are under load.
Missing or Failed Insulation
When insulation is missing in walls or rafters, it can cause energy loss and increase heating and cooling costs. It can also create thermal variances that interact with outside weather to create issues such as ice dams. When precipitation in cold weather meets heat leaks, it can create a thaw/freeze cycle. Eventually, water trapped behind ice dams can make its way into attics and walls. Thermal imaging can help identify areas with energy loss, especially those in hard-to-reach locations or behind walls.
But again, keep in mind that conditions have to be right; it requires a difference in temperature between inside the home and outside. “On a day when it is 70F inside and 70F outside, it’s not conducive to finding missing/non-performing insulation,” says Fabian. You won’t be able to accurately detect temperature variances that indicate missing or non-performing insulation. Remember, every inspection type has condition requirements, which is why Fabian recommends inspectors attend the Certified Residential Thermographer training to learn all the required conditions for the various applications.
Thermal Cameras Best Suited to Home Inspection
The process of a home inspection is methodical, and diligent inspectors have honed their method for providing a thorough evaluation of systems, structures and potential hazards. Those who have incorporated thermal imaging into their services have found that thermal cameras are not all created equal.
Different makes and models of thermal cameras can range in resolution, field of view, video frame rate and of course price point. The variables between these features can make a big difference in the quality of inspection reporting, and create a competitive edge as a valued service.
When choosing a thermal camera for professional home-inspection services, there are a few key points to keep in mind. First, a camera with better resolution will produce better images. These will be more useful as a communication tool with homeowners and more professional to include in a home-inspection report. At a minimum, a resolution of 160 x 120 (19,200 pixels) or more. As an upgrade, consider cameras at 384x288 (110,592 pixels). This level of performance has recently become affordable for home inspectors and is particularly helpful with wider fields of view.
Another consideration is the thermal camera’s field of view. As home inspections occur mostly indoors, the field of view can be limited. A thermal camera with a wider field of view helps provide more comprehensive imagery. A camera with a lens similar to an SLR’s 50 mm lens provides a perspective similar to the human eye’s field of view. Consider cameras with a FOV of 35 Degrees or wider for most inspections.
The process of home inspection needs to be thorough and efficient. As home inspectors quickly scan walls, ceilings, floors, windows and equipment looking for anomalies, a thermal camera needs to keep pace, otherwise it will impede the inspection process rather than help. A thermal camera that offers Wi-Fi connectivity and a fast video frame rate of 25 Hz is ideal for keeping up with a home inspector's workflow.
Thermal Imaging: Value Added for Inspectors
As the technology of thermal cameras advances, they are becoming more common in home-inspection services. While some inspectors always include thermal imaging, others offer it as an add-on service for an additional fee of $75 to $150. By using thermal imaging in their service package, inspectors can justify a higher fee for their work. In this way, thermal cameras are providing higher-quality inspections and creating additional revenue for service providers.
Forbes.com - How a Home Inspection Protects You