Thermal Imaging (IR)

Basic thermal imaging is included in every home inspection at no extra charge.

An infrared (IR) camera is a versatile, lightweight and innovative device that enhances our understanding of a building’s different systems and components. Its ability to read heat as color and display this information, we can present our findings to homeowners in a way we can easily understand. This makes the IR camera an important tool for Gulf Coast Inspections to have in our equipment arsenal.

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) has certified us in thermal imaging. This means our inspectors have completed specialized training and they know how to spot trouble areas where this imaging is important.

Why Thermal Imaging Matters:

Thermal imaging allows us to capture more information than what is visible to the human eye. It can reveal hidden issues such as moisture in walls and ceilings, places your home is leaking air (and losing energy), even clogs in plumbing systems. It’s effective at finding things where access is difficult, such as behind dishwashers and appliances.

Our infrared cameras also can locate hot spots, including overloaded circuits, overheated equipment and electrical faults. They can help identify pest infestations, too. And at the end of your inspection, you’ll receive photo documentation so you can see any issues, along with a full explanation.

Common Infrared Inspection Applications Include:

  • Electric system inspection and component scans
  • Water and moisture intrusion inspection scans
  • Thermal insulation inspection scans
  • Flat roof inspection scans
  • Pitched roof inspection scans
  • Building envelope inspection scans
  • Air infiltration/Heat loss scans
  • HVAC component scans
  • Energy Audits / Surveys
  • And much more

Infrared cameras translate the heat signatures of objects into colors on a gradient scale, with higher temperatures appearing as lighter colors, and lower temperatures and wet areas appearing as darker colors. Also known as thermal imaging and thermography, IR technology captures the light that exists just outside the visible spectrum. Thermal images show surface-heat variations. We view abnormally hot electrical components and connections during an electrical inspection. We look at areas of moisture that may lead to leaks and structural damage based on these temperature differences. We quickly pinpoint heat loss and air leakage in a building envelope, and even areas of insufficient insulation.

Infrared Radiation and Emissivity

We use infrared cameras during all residential inspections and energy audits. We locate problems by viewing differences in temperature, which the camera sees as infrared radiation and presents as gradient colors. Every object warmer than absolute zero emits infrared radiation, which is invisible to the naked eye. Being able to view this allows us to locate problems that would otherwise be more difficult and time-consuming to find. Understanding data that the camera displays is essential for us in using IR technology correctly and to its fullest capabilities.

We use thermal imaging as a non-contact, temperature-measurement tool. Being able to measure temperature differences in this manner allows a quick evaluation of large areas. It can also present some challenges to interpreting the data. A major factor to consider is the amount of energy radiated by any object. This can lead to errors in interpreting the thermal images.

The emissivity of an object is dependent mainly on its surface qualities and the materials of its composition and construction. Non-metals and opaque objects with rough surfaces have a higher emissivity. Pure, smooth, un-oxidized metals and objects with shiny, reflective surfaces have lower emissivity. We still examine objects with low emissivity through thermal imaging but we take special care to ensure we interpret the images correctly. For example, a hot light bulb elsewhere in the room affects images of reflective surfaces. Taking into account the emissivity of objects being viewed, and scanning areas from different spots and angles can help ensure accurate interpretation of the thermal images. There are also many charts and guides available that show the relative levels of emissivity for different materials, which may be helpful for accurately interpreting and reporting the data.

Apparent Temperature and Quantitative vs. Qualitative Readings

In our industry, infrared cameras are mainly used to gauge what’s referred to as “apparent” temperature. Because of the differing levels of emissivity of different areas and objects, as well as other factors that can influence data, such as wind and weather conditions, the exact temperature of an anomaly can be trickier to determine with infrared alone. This is why the most common purpose of employing thermal imaging in inspections is to locate and document the problems.

For example, a dark area in the thermal image of a ceiling may indicate that there is moisture above it. Once this has been observed, a moisture meter can be used to confirm moisture intrusion. The pattern of the wet spot can be documented with the camera, and the area above the ceiling can then be examined through infrared in an attempt to determine the source of the leak.

In a case like this, which is a typical example of how infrared is often used in an inspection, the exact measurement of the temperatures– the quantitative measurement– is not relevant. The important thing is that the apparent temperature difference led the inspector to a problem area that could be documented and examined more closely. This makes inspection with an IR camera a qualitative measurement, rather than a quantitative one. Thermal imaging is used to locate anomalies through differences in apparent temperatures, analyze the patterns, and document the issues.

Thermal Images in our Inspection Reports

We use thermal imaging equipment to help you get the most of your home inspection. We use thermal images in our inspection reports and document problems found on-site. We present the image captured with our IR camera alongside a digital, visible-light photo, along with a description of the issue discovered. Including standard, digital images makes side-by-side comparisons easier to understand because it shows any obvious, visible defects. But IR doesn’t stop at the obvious. The IR image shows accurate evidence of a defect we can’t fully capture with the digital camera. For example, a digital image may show a dried water stain at a wall-ceiling junction, while its IR counterpart displays a dark spot in the same area. One clear advantage of thermography: while the digital images display what looks like an old stain, the IR images confirm moisture is still present, requiring further investigation to locate and remediate the problem.