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Thermography is Changing Home Inspections

December 3, 2009
Doranne Strama, REALTOR

Doranne Strama, REALTOR

Submitted by Doranne Strama, REALTOR®, Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty.  

There is no doubt the home inspection industry has changed tremendously since the early 1990’s.  Basically, a home inspection was performed using a simple checklist of the condition of the components of the house.  The most common procedure was to handwrite the report which evolved into a type written report that could be copied and faxed or sent via mail or courier to the agent and client.  This process proved to be very cumbersome and often slowed the agent’s ability to complete the process of purchasing a home. 

As the world slowly moved into the computer era, the industry developed computer-generated reports that were much easier to read and understand and became a more professional tool for the agent and client to use with negotiations. 

Today, most inspectors are able to produce an on-site, computer-generated report with digital pictures that can instantly emailed anywhere in the world!  

Insulation distrubed at roof vent
Insulation distrubed at roof vent

Inspection tools themselves have also changed.  From using a simple flashlight, screwdriver and an outlet tester, inspectors are now using very sophisticated tools, meters and measuring devices. 

The latest advancement in technology brings to the inspection industry the use of Thermography to aid in identifying problems in a house that cannot be seen with the naked eye!  

In simple terms, Thermography is the use of an infrared measuring device such as an infrared (IR) camera to detect and measure the thermal energy that is emitted from an object.  Basically, the higher an object’s temperature, the greater the IR radiation emitted.  

Infrared image of the photo of insulation showing the differences in temperature

Infrared image of the photo of insulation showing the differences in temperature

An inspector can use the thermal camera to capture and store the pictures, to document results for reporting and to suggest corrective action if issues in a house are found.  Thermal, or infrared energy, is light that is not visible to the unaided human eye due to its short wavelength, but becomes very easy to see and capture with the infrared camera.

What does this mean for an agent?  When building materials such as drywall, insulation, carpet and wood are or have been wet, the temperature difference between the wet area and the surrounding air will allow the wet area to be identified with the infrared camera. 

In other words, water issues behind walls, under carpets, or under shower stalls that are not visible to the naked eye, can now be identified.  Usually, the water source can be traced and corrective actions can be suggested.  The agent becomes the hero when water issues are found before negotiations are finalized!

Along with water issues, the thermal camera can also identify and document other problems in a house.  In a panel box, electrical faults can be noted before possibly causing a fire, along with identification of overloaded and undersized circuits and circuit breakers in need of immediate replacement.  Because of temperature differential, air infiltration in walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors can be seen. 

Moisture intrusion that could lead to mold growth, possible pest infestation in walls, and hidden roof leaks that could cause serious damage are all easily identifiable with the thermal camera under the right temperature conditions.  The use of the IR camera can also aid in the identification of air conditioner compressor leaks, possible missing framing members in walls, structural defects, broken seals in double pane windows, energy loss, dangerous fireplace flue leaks, damaged and/or malfunctioning radiant heat systems, plumbing leaks, and overheating equipment.  The list is endless!

The use of the thermal camera can be very beneficial in homes with a finished basement as well as with stucco homes in locating moisture behind walls.  A moisture meter is used to follow up on any moisture identified with the camera.  The key to having a good thermal scan on a home is to make certain there is a good temperature differential between the inside and outside of the home. 

Homes having no electrical power or HVAC systems operating would not be good candidates for a thermal scan.The home inspection industry is continuously evolving. 

It is in your client’s best interest for you to understand the most current home inspection technology.  This allows you, the agent, to provide your clients with the best possible advice concerning one of the most important purchases of their life.

Todd Lemoine has been a home inspector since 1995, and has conducted over 500 inspections.  He is the owner & CEO of Residential Inspector of America, and can be reached at 770-476-4963.

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