What can an Infrared Camera tell you during a Home Inspection?
How does an Infrared Camera work? It measures the surface temperature of materials. On the camera screen these temperatures show up as different colors. These different colors can give you clues about the condition of the material or about outside influences on the temperature. Sometimes the influence is caused by something on the material, such as water or paint. The influence can be caused by a heat source, such as the sun or hot air or by air conditioned air. Warm areas show up as yellow or red and cool colors show up as blue or purpule.
An Infrared Camera does have limitations. It cannot see thru walls, although at times it can help you can determine the difference in temperatures behind the walls or in the walls. There must be a contrast in temperatures so that conditions show up. For example if the inside temperature of a house is 70 degrees and the attic temperature is around 70 degrees missing insulation will not be indicated since the temperatures are so similar.
An infrared camera is a tool that points a home inspector to a potential problem area. That area should always be verified visually or with another tool such as a moisture meter.
What type of problems can a infrared camera help uncover?
1. Moisture in walls or on the ceiling. Many times moisture is hidden and cannot be visuallly seen. The infrared camera typically shows moisture as a dark color. This is because evaporating moisture cools the material that is moist. Moisture in ceilings can be caused by roof leaks or leaks around roof penetrations, by plumbing leaks or by condensation. These can all be indicated by an infrared camera, but should then be verfied with a moisture meter. If it has not rained lately or the conditions are not right for condensation the camera will not be able to indicate those conditions.
2. The infrared camera can also indicate hot conditions in ceilings and walls caused by missing insulation. This shows up as yellow on the camera. This helps the inspector know where to look in the attic.
The bright yellow areas show heat from an attic. It appears that insulation is missing in these areas.
The door into this walk in attic is bright yellow and shows how much heat is radiating into the room.
In the winter, the attic may be colder than the house and areas without insulation may show up as blue or purple.
3. The Infrared Camera may also show electric switches or outlets that are abnormally hot. The Home Inspector once identified a switch that was 30 degrees hotter than the surrounding area. He was able to determine that this was a result of the use of Chinese Drywal. This drywall contains sulphur which corroded the switch and caused it to heat up.
An Infrared Camera is a tool that The Home Inspector uses on each inspection. It is not foolproof but it can help the inspector locate problems he could not see with the naked eye.
The author, Eric Wheeler is a very warm person (the camera doesn't lie). He is a licensed and certified home inspector and enjoys serving his clients.