Thermal Scanning (Infrared)
Thermal Scanning has literally changed the way homes are inspected today.
How is Thermal Scanning integrated into my home inspection?
#1 Wetness behind finished walls / ceilings:
Wetness can be caused by leakage from the exterior - or from plumbing leaks. During this portion of the thermal scan, water is run through all of the fixtures for approximately 30 minutes. The hope is that if there is a drip / leak anywhere, it will have had time to dampen the back side of the finished wall / ceiling areas prior to scanning. We find leaks at a majority of our inspections using this method.
(scroll across the images for brief descriptions)
#1 Missing Insulation / Insulation Voids:
#3 Heat Loss:
One issue we look for inside attic spaces is evidence of air leakage into the attic (otherwise known as, "thermal bypasses). Thermal bypasses are the number one source of ice buildup on roofs (ice dams). With the use of our infrared camera, we can help locate the air leaks and can also provide recommendations for properly sealing them.
What else can thermal scanning find?
#4 Overheating Electrical:
While electrical systems cannot be completely evaluated during our cursory evaluations, we can try to look for overheating switches, outlets and circuits. Sometimes we do find them.
#5 Pet Urine:
#6 Concealed Supply Registers:
When homes are modified over time, it is possible (as unlikely as it may seem), for heating supply registers to be concealed.
#7 Air leakage:
Without performing a blower door test, air leakage is difficult to locate, so we do not claim to find air leaks. However, some leaks may still be detectable during our evaluation, like this one - at a window.
#8 Proper or Improper placement of radiant floor / ceiling heat:
Infrared is the only real way to evaluate in-floor, radiant heat.
This client did not know how this condo was heated. We found heating coils covering almost every square inch of the ceiling.
#9 Locate Leaks at Radiators:
Infrared can also check for leakage at covered radiators (helpful if the covers are difficult to remove)
Thermal Scanning is used at all homes - at areas of concern. There is no charge for this. The most frequent area where it is used is on finished ceiling areas, below bathrooms (leaks are often found below bathtubs or toilets with infrared). "Concerning areas" are left to the judgement of the inspector and this is based on experience (we have been using infrared in our inspections since 2004).
Existing Homeowner & Seller Scans
Thermal scanning is also available to sellers and existing home owners. The fees for this service are as follows:
Whole House Scan $295.00
Single Component Scan (one area of home) $150
Limitations of Thermal Scanning
Thermal scanning is a very effective tool that helps greatly improve the quality of your home inspection. However, there are limitations to this service and it is important to understand that thermal imaging does not remove the risks of concealed damage (i.e. water damage).
Listed below are some of the areas where thermal imaging can be used and the limitations of each:
Moisture Detection in Walls and Ceilings - Thermal imaging helps to identify water damage in walls, floors, and ceilings. The most common hope from buyers is that thermal imaging is the cure-all for moisture detection in exterior walls. Unfortunately, this is also the area where infrared (thermal scanning) is the least reliable. Why? Areas like these may not be detectable if they have been dry for an extended period of time. Moisture is especially difficult to detect from the exterior of the home, due to things like radiant heat from the sun, which can cause "thermal blindness", preventing any evaluation of the surfaces.
To have any chance of finding moisture in exterior walls, there must be a variance in temperature established between indoors and outdoors. This is no problem during the winter, or hot summer months, but during the other seasons, it often requires the aid of the HVAC system. This is simply not possible at times (particularly when outdoor temperatures are in the 70's).
Plumbing Inspections - Leakage from plumbing is much easier to find. Thermal imaging greatly increases our inspection for leakage below plumbing fixtures, yet even thermal imaging cannot guarantee that all leaks, or drips will be found.
Also note: Wetness behind certain types of materials cannot be viewed with infrared (i.e. concrete - and in some cases - wood walls / wood paneling).
Electrical Inspections - Thermal imaging can detect hot spots in the electrical system that are not visible to the naked eye (e.g. overheating circuit breakers, or circuits). However, since a load is not applied to all of the circuits during a home inspection, it is not possible to guarantee that all issues will be discovered.
Air Leakage - If air leakage is a primary concern of yours, you really need to have a blower door test performed, which is included with the purchase of an "energy audit". Unless the air pressure is removed from the home, there simply is no way to view most air leaks.
Flat Roof Inspections - Thermal imaging can be used to detect the precise location of flat roof leaks. Again, if the area has been dry for an extended period of time, the leakage may not be visible. The obvious benefit here is that the location of active leaks can be identified so that a contractor can more easily determine what repair options you have - saving time and money. Of course, complete replacement is always recommended when the roof is old.
Stucco & EIFS Inspections - Suburban Home Inspections does not perform stucco / EIFS moisture tests. It is possible to locate moisture problems in stucco walls and this usually appears as heat anomalies. However, there are many limitations, such as sun reflection, which greatly reduce the effectiveness for locating moisture in stucco walls. The ONLY sure way to know what is going on behind stucco walls is to have an intrusive moisture test performed.
Stucco homes built since the late 1980’s have a high potential for water intrusion, so we recommend intrusive moisture testing on every one of these houses. If your home fits this description, you should consult your agent and discuss whether you will be requesting this service. The company I have worked with for years is CMT – Certified Moisture Testing (Alan Powell – owner).
Note: We don’t recommend this service to ‘upsell’ our clients; we recommend it because there is no substitute for it.