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Infrared cameras show surface temperature differences, which can give clues to a host of different problems with houses.
We offer infrared inspections as part of our standard home inspection, as well as for single-item troubleshooting inspections. All of our home inspectors come equipped with an infrared camera which can be used to help discover problems that wouldn’t normally be identified with the naked eye.
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 to the left shows a non-functional kitchen toe-kick heat register at a new construction inspection.
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 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.
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.
There is no other great way to inspect heated floors.
Tiled shower leaks
We use infrared cameras below tiled showers to identify leaks, and we run a lot of water at tiled showers.
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.
If a wall is not insulated, the studs will be the warmest part of the wall. The image above shows a nice comparison between an insulated and uninsulated wall.
Insulation that is missing or improperly installed is also quite easy to spot.
Hot spots in attics
Missing exhaust ducts on bath fans are quite obvious with an infrared camera as they appear to be a big heat explosion.
Mouse holes in insulation are also quite obvious. They turn the insulation into swiss cheese.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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: Using an Infrared Camera to Find an Overloaded Circuit
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.
Finally, here’s a basement window that was covered over when the basement was finished.