Monday, June 23, 2014

Is the added cost of a Thermal Imaging Home Inspection worth it?

What does Thermal Imaging bring to a home inspection?   

This is a question I am frequently hearing, and the simplest explanation is that it allows the inspector to see more of the picture.  Most home inspectors are going to open up the electric panel and check for things like incorrect wiring, double tapped breakers, and aluminum wiring.  Some will even take the initiative to run an infrared thermometer over the breakers to see if they are excessively hot. With a thermal imaging camera, we can quickly see what is going on in the panel.  Not only will we see the hot breaker, we can also see wiring that is potentially overheating.

A breaker that is slightly warm, with a wire that is warm only in the first few inches.  This can be a sign that the wire is damaged, and should be evaluated by an electrician.
This overheating breaker is on a Federal Pacific Electric panel.  There is a lot of controversy about these panels, and I see them all the time.  This was the worst I have seen, and I recommended that the buyer have this panel completely replaced prior to moving in.  This is a fire waiting to happen.
One of the frequent electrical issues I've been seeing is hot receptacles.  If an electric outlet has nothing plugged into it, it shouldn't be hotter than the surrounding area (GFCI outlets are an exception).  
This receptacle was so warm that you could actually see where the wires were overheating behind the drywall (top left of the receptacle).
 Another common benefit to using thermal imaging is the ability to see where moisture is accumulating.  Water is normally cooler than the surrounding materials, which makes it stand out on the IR camera.  Water can also be seen before it causes stains or damage that is visible to the naked eye.

This kitchen ceiling looked perfectly normal, but once I looked at it with the thermal imaging camera, I saw a large area that was cooler than the surrounding ceiling.  The moisture meter confirmed that the drywall was 97% saturated with water.  We traced the source of the water to a leaking toilet above the kitchen.  This wouldn't have been found without the camera.

 By far the most common issue I find with the camera is missing or displaced insulation.  The hot spots in the next picture show areas where insulation wasn't installed.  I was able to verify this by looking in the attic.  What makes this even worse is that this was a new construction home.  The builder's rep was there, and when I showed him the camera and said it looks like you forgot some information, he told me I was wrong.  When I showed him pictures from the attic confirming my findings, he stormed off.  Of course this was an easier fix than the missing insulation I found in the walls of a couple other rooms.

Missing insulation in the stairwell to the attic.  The darker lines are caused by the framing.  
Unfortunately, the price of the equipment and training to perform a full inspection with a thermal imaging camera is expensive, and many inspectors can't afford it.  This also means that the price of an inspection with thermal imaging is more expensive.  But when you think about the problems it can uncover that the cheaper inspectors will miss, isn't it worth it.  This really lends credence to our slogan that "Anyone else is just looking around."

For more information, or to book your full home inspection, visit www.vhillc.com or call 210-202-1974.

We look forward to showing you the whole picture.