Thermography, or Thermal Imaging, has been around for many years. The first time I remember seeing thermal imaging was in the movie “The Predator” back in the late 1980’s, where the predator creature chased Arnold using thermal imaging to find its prey.
It was a super cool, cutting edge and very expensive technology back then. These days, it is still just as cool for me and fortunately the price of the technology has come down to the point where a professional home inspector can afford to carry a handheld unit. At the same time, the sensitivity and resolution of the sensors has also improved dramatically.
This post will explore some of the ways in which I have used thermal imaging during my home inspections to find my prey, the “construction defect”.
Missing Wall Insulation
During the winter, missing wall insulation shows up as a cold area. There is no mistaking the wall stud cavity where the builder has omitted the insulation in this very chilly over-the-garage room. The dark blue area shows that the wall temperature beside this fireplace is 9 deg C compared the 16 deg C on the neighbouring wall areas.
Missing or Displaced Attic Insulation
This image of a master bedroom ceiling was taken on a warm spring day where the sun was shinning on the roof deck making the attic very warm. The missing attic insulation is hard to miss. I bet the home owners never knew why their bedroom was so warm and stuffy in the summer.
Inadequate Garage Ceiling Insulation
How many of you reading this article have bought a brand new house only to find the room over the garage is very cold in the winter. As there is no way to see this concealed insulation, the best way to assess the performance of the house is to check it during the winter months. While you could feel the cold in your feet, the thermal camera allows you to quantify the temperature difference and provide documentation that could be used as evidence to prompt the home builder or owner to make repairs. In this house you can see the 4 deg C difference between the bedroom and the hallway. This child’s room was quite chilly.
Foundation Water Leaks
While thermal cameras show temperature, under the right conditions they will often show wet areas as well. When the air is dry you get evaporative cooling as the heat leaves the surfaces in vaporized water, leaving the damp areas colder than the surrounding dry regions. This was the basement of a multi-million dollar home that has a foundation water leak from a sprinkler system. While there was very little evidence that you could see with your eyes, the wet carpet (and my hot foot prints) are evident in the thermal data.
In this home, I noted that the shower head piping in the newly renovated 2nd floor bathroom seemed quite loose when I inspected it. On a hunch, I used the thermal camera to scan the ceiling of the room below and detected the location where the water was dripping onto the living room ceiling. I was able to confirm that the area was wet using my moisture meter. There was not yet staining on the ceiling that would suggest a leak. My clients were very happy about the find. This would have been very hard to find without the camera.
I often see signs of rodent activity in a house but it can be difficult to gauge the extent of the problem. Often the rodents will tunnel in the wall or attic insulation leaving air pockets as they displace the insulation. The extent of the problem may not be evident without the use of this tool.
Radiant Heating Performance
The camera is also a great way to quickly check the performance and placement of radiant floor heating. The location of the heating elements is very obvious but can be difficult to gauge when using your hands to try to judge where and how warm the floor is.
As you have seen, I have found many uses for the technology during my inspections and will undoubtedly find many more.
My next goals are to use the camera to find an electrical defect such as an overheating wire, circuit breaker or receptacle and to diagnose hidden Stucco water damage.