What is a Thermal Imaging Home Inspection?
Thermal imaging is heat imaging via a infrared wave detection device. It is a process that involves a technology used to look at warm and cold heat signatures. It is conducted using a special camera that can detect infrared radiation.
We can only see the colors of the rainbow – the colors between ultraviolet and up to infrared, but our eyes can’t see into the infrared or electromagnetic spectrum. And what the infrared can see is heat energy or lack thereof.
A thermal imaging camera can see in the infrared spectrum. The infrared spectrum will reveal warm and cold heat signatures. The colors of a warm-looking image are white and red. In contrast, a cold image is yellowish and blue.
Water and moisture absorb heat energy which causes it to have a cool signature. The infrared camera detects these cool signatures. So with a thermal imaging home inspection, we’re looking for those cool signatures to indicate that there’s possibly a water leak somewhere – a leak not visible through any other means and that can, left undetected, turn into a catastrophic issue.
Most leaks don’t happen overnight. It may take many weeks or even months before the issue turns into a full-blown leak. And by then, it’s usually done a lot of damage along the way. The goal of the thermal imaging inspection is to identify the hidden trouble spots early on so needed repairs can be made.
A certified inspector will use a thermal imaging camera, called a FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared), to conduct the thermal imaging home inspection as an add-on to a home inspection.
How is a Thermal Imaging Home Inspection Performed?
A thermal imaging home inspection is different from a regular home inspection. A complete regular home inspection is done first. After that, the inspector goes back through the home conducting a separate thermal imaging inspection. In preparation for the thermal imaging inspection, we’ll run gallons of water throughout the house’s sinks, toilets, showers and bathtubs during the ordinary course of the home inspection.
Because gravity brings the water down, we’ll start at the top and work our way down. First, we’ll see if any small leaks or signs of moisture show up after running the water. Then, on a multi-story house or finished basement, we’ll go down to the next level, taking pictures with the FLIR around fixtures and below grade and even into any crawlspaces.
Common Areas to Inspect Using Thermal Imaging
During a thermal imaging home inspection, we will look at all the areas we have access to in a top-down approach. Here are the key areas we focus on and what we look for:
Starting at the top, we’re looking for roof leaks by looking at ceilings on the upper floor, any knee walls, or anywhere that roof leaks could be coming through. Next, we’ll look at skylights and vents.
It’s important to note that we’ll use our FLIR camera to look at ceilings in areas below any fixture or appliance that uses water.
We then use thermal imaging to see any penetrations through the outside walls, doors or windows. Next, we’ll shoot around the windows, where the chimney meets the wall and the exterior roofline. Finally, we want to know if there’s any potential caulking or flashing issues.
Plumbing Fixtures and Surrounding Areas
Level by level, we’ll look at all the plumbing fixtures, the cabinets, floors, and the areas around fixtures and appliances. These include things like:
- sinks and the sink base
- ice makers
- bathtubs and shower units
- supply lines, and more
Finally, we get to the lowest point of the house, the basement, crawlspaces, and the foundation itself. Everywhere we can go, our thermal imaging camera goes with us to tell the story of what it finds.
So is a Thermal Scan for a Home Inspection Worth the Investment?
The fee for a thermal imaging home inspection is about 50% more on a typical home inspection. So is it worth it?
Keep in mind that ordering a thermal inspection eliminates surprises, which means mitigating risks. It will give you peace of mind knowing that if there are issues, the cost to repair them now is minuscule compared with having to spend potentially tens of thousands of dollars for undetected water issues.
Research shows that the average leak damage cost of a bathroom is well over a thousand dollars. In addition, average repair costs can be upwards of eight thousand dollars or more. So catching these leaks early, when it’s maybe a few hundred dollars to fix, is definitely worth the investment.
And knowing there are no problems present offers its own valuable certainty.
Conclusion on Thermal Scans
It should not go without saying, not every anomaly is moisture or a hidden water leak. Our highly-qualified and experienced inspectors aren’t just looking for anomalies within the pictures. They’re also looking to understand what they’re seeing and will rule them out, if warranted, before putting them as key factors in the report.
Leveraging a thermal imaging home inspection empowers home buyers to extend their knowledge on the status of the home beyond what the human eye can see. It’s an add-on service that provides peace of mind during a fast-paced time of high excitement.