profile picture

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)

wetness from roof leak  leak from bathtub drain plumbing  leak from2nd floor water softener  wetness from roof leak  bathroom drain plumbing leak  bathtub overflow drain leak  leakage from shower stall
  leakage from radiator pipe 

#1 Missing Insulation / Insulation Voids:

insulation not installed - built 1990  insulation not installed - new construction  skylights removed - no insulation installed  voids from settled insulation  void in attic insulation - above kitchen cabinets  voids / tunnels from rodent activity  voids / tunnels from rodent activity  missing wall insulation - new construction 

#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.

gap at base of furnace flue  air leakage where bath vent penetrates roof 
  kitchen vent blowing into attic space  air leakage where duct penetrates ceiling  heat loss at recessed light fixture 

  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.
overheating circuit  overheating bathroom fan  dimmer light switch overheating  overheating draft fan 


#5  Pet Urine:

pet urine  pet urine

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.

register covered by carpet


#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.

heating coils too close to wax seal  coils touching - overheating concern  inconsistent installation

This client did not know how this condo was heated.  We found heating coils covering almost every square inch of the ceiling.

electric ceiling heat

#9 Locate Leaks at Radiators:

Infrared can also check for leakage at covered radiators (helpful if the covers are difficult to remove)

heat visible through cover  radiator not heating completely


Services Offered
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.