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Infrared cameras, home inspections

By In Infrared Camera, NEW On January 10, 2017


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It’s been about seven years since my company purchased our first infrared camera. Since then, we’ve amassed quite a collection of infrared images. We used to have one infrared camera that was shared by me and Milind, but it got too difficult to juggle one camera, so we bought a second. Those two cameras became too difficult to juggle, so we bought cameras for everyone. Today, all of the inspectors in my company have the same infrared camera, the FLIR E6, and we use our infrared cameras during home inspections as we see fit for no additional fee. This is a change that we implemented at the beginning of this year.

The things that we find and report on through the use of an infrared camera have evolved over the years, and so has our use of infrared cameras. I just finished going over all of the infrared images that my company has captured over the last year, and I’ve put together a compilation of common things that we use our infrared camera for during home inspections.

Verifying heat or lack thereof

The quickest way to verify airflow at heat registers throughout a home is to turn on the heat or AC and then run around the house with an IR camera about 10 minutes later. The image below shows a non-functional kitchen toe-kick heat register at a new construction inspection.

Infrared no heat at register

It’s a snap to inspect radiators with infrared cameras. When a radiator doesn’t heat up properly, part of the radiator stays cool.

Infrared radiator heating improperly

Infrared radiator heating improperly 2

Ceiling stains

Infrared cameras can be used to quickly determine whether ceiling stains are active or not. This isn’t a definitive test for moisture, but when a ceiling is all the same temperature, it’s highly unlikely that the ceiling is wet. In the image below, the stained portion of the ceiling was dry at the time of the inspection.

Infrared ceiling stain

Collapsed glass

Collapsed glass is actually a new one for us. It’s a condition caused by the gas between two panes of glass escaping, which pulls the two panes of glass toward each other. In extreme cases, the glass panes can actually touch each other. This is not the same thing as a failed seal. When viewed with an infrared camera, collapsed glass appears as dark blue circles or ovals in the center of the glass. We’ll have a blog post about this in the near future.

Infrared collapsed glass 3

Heated floors

There is no other great way to inspect heated floors.

Infrared image of heated floor 1

Infrared image of heated floor 2

Infrared image of heated floor 3

Infrared image of heated floor 4

Tiled shower leaks

We use a shower dam to test tiled showers for leaks, and we use an infrared camera below to identify the leaks before water leaks out of the ceiling… most of the time. That doesn’t always happen, as some leaks are so severe that water starts pouring out before anything becomes visible with our camera, but we catch most of them first.

Infrared tiled shower leak

Infrared Leaking Shower

Insulation problems

Insulation problems are probably the most obvious use for an infrared camera. When insulation is missing or not installed properly, it’s quite obvious. This first image shows missing or improperly installed insulation at an attic access panel.

Infrared missing insulation at attic access panel

If a wall is not insulated, the studs will be the warmest part of the wall. The image below shows a nice comparison between an insulated and uninsulated wall.

Infrared insulated vs uninsulated walls

Insulation that is missing or improperly installed is also quite easy to spot.

Infrared insulation problem

Hot spots in attics

During the winter, infrared cameras make it extremely easy to spot places where excessive heat is transferred to attic spaces. In cold climates like ours, this can lead to ice dams, which is a big deal here. One of the worst offenders is recessed lights; especially those that aren’t supposed to be in contact with insulation.

Infrared recessed light hot

Missing exhaust ducts on bath fans are quite obvious with an infrared camera; they appear to be a big heat explosion.

Infrared missing bath fan duct2

Infrared missing bath fan duct

Mouse holes in insulation are also quite obvious. They turn the insulation into swiss cheese.

Infrared mouse holes in insulation

Attic bypasses are especially easy to find with an infrared camera. This is the first really useful “find” that we discovered with an infrared camera, and it changed the way that we talked about ice dams and attic problems. This first image below shows an attic air leak, or bypass, covered with insulation. It’s pretty obvious that something is happening under the insulation, right?

Infrared attic bypass covered

After pulling the insulation away, we found that the top plate of a wall wasn’t air sealed. This is just one of about a dozen common places for air to leak into the attic.

Infrared attic bypass exposed

Electrical Problems

We don’t find a ton of electrical issues with infrared cameras, but we do find them. The image below shows a very hot main breaker; over 350 degrees! This was unquestionably a problem.

Hot-main-breaker

When breakers are simply warm, sometimes it’s no big deal, sometimes it is. To know the difference, one must also use an amp meter to determine whether or not the circuit is overloaded. I blogged about that topic here: http://structuretech1.com/using-an-infrared-camera-to-find-an-overloaded-circuit/

Hot-Circuit-Breaker

Random

One of my favorite infrared images ever is this hot toilet. I stumbled across this by accident while scanning the room for a heat source. I may have given the toilet an extra flush or two just to make sure the heat showed up nicely on my camera. Maybe.  Edit 1/11: I should have explained what caused this. The toilet was plumbed with hot water instead of cold, and the water heater also happened to be cranked up much higher than normal.

Hot Flush

Finally, here’s a basement window that was covered over when the basement was finished.

Infrared covered basement window

If your home inspector uses an infrared camera during their home inspection, these are the kinds of things they might find. If you’re a home inspector who doesn’t use an infrared camera, this is the stuff you might not be finding. If you’re a home inspector who does use an infrared camera, this is stuff that you might want to look for. Did I miss anything that should be added to this list? If so, please leave a comment.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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About the Author

Reuben

Reuben is a second generation home inspector with a passion for his work. He grew up remodeling homes and learning about carpentry since he was old enough to hold a hammer. Reuben has worked for Structure Tech since it was purchased by Neil in 1997, and is now co-owner and President of the company.

10 Comments

  • Wes Fahlenkamp 3 WEEKS AGO

    Hey Reuben, great article - very helpful. While updating plumbing on an old duplex, I discovered a hot toilet also. They were literally flushing their money down the drain for who knows how many years.

    Reply
  • Gabe Sanders 3 MONTHS AGO

    Thanks Reuben. You've done a great job of showing us all how valuable your inspections are with a thermal imaging camera.

    Reply
  • Dave Christopher 3 MONTHS AGO

    Great article Reuben.

    Reply
  • Mark Parlee 3 MONTHS AGO

    Great info Reuben, Thanks for sharing this

    Reply
  • Tyler 3 MONTHS AGO

    Question about the hot toilet - would plumbing it like that mean I would never have to experience a cold toilet seat again??

    Reply
    • Reuben Saltzman 3 MONTHS AGO

      Tyler - unfortunately not. After the water has sat in the toilet bowl overnight, everything surely ends up cooling down to ambient room temperature :-(

      Reply
      • Brian C. 3 MONTHS AGO

        Possibly from a toilet anti-sweat (hot water) mixing valve, right? When I was younger and my dad was in construction, he told me these were standard installation to stop the bowl/tank from sweating. I honestly haven't seen one in years though, so not sure if they're even used anymore.

        Reply
        • Reuben Saltzman 3 MONTHS AGO

          Hi Brian, The toilet was actually plumbed with hot water, full on. What made this one especially hot was the fact that the water heater was cranked up much higher than normal, making the water coming into the tank about 150 degrees. Steamy!

          Reply
  • Doug Grover 3 MONTHS AGO

    I'm impressed that you valued the information gained from IR cameras enough to make the substantial investment for all your inspectors to have their own. I've seen plenty of situations in unrelated operations where staff were underproductive because someone wouldn't shell out for the tools they needed.

    Reply

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