The evolution of thermal imaging technology offers home inspectors the ability to assess a house in a brand new, effective way.
With the infrared sensor in thermal imaging camera is capable to detect temperatures and heat emitted from any object, it can quickly reveal problems in residential property and commercial building that would have otherwise been missed by solely using traditional ways.
We’ve compiled this collection of videos, with case studies highlighting the 10 most common uses and benefits of thermal imaging camera in home inspection and improvement.
1. Thermal Imaging for Electrical Inspections
Thermal imaging is used for inspection of electrical systems in commercial building and residential houses to early detect electrical faults and hot spots, for both high voltage installations and low voltage installations.
Electric heating is caused by increased resistance which is usually a sign that something is wrong. Most times there is no way to see this heating effect until burning starts occurring which may already be too late.
Thermal imaging camera is an effective diagnostic tool for defects in electrical components and connections. These faults may be caused by loose fittings, overloads, unbalanced loads, open circuits and other factors like age of component that contributes to component heating.
This video shows case studies of using thermal imaging to detect electrical anomalies.
Thermal imaging can even perform inspections when electrical systems are under load, as this technology offers a safe non-contact method of inspection that does not interrupt system operation. A thermographer can easily scan the electrical system or an equipment from a safe distance, and analyze the thermal data offline.
Early detection of electrical faults during predictive maintenance can reduce unscheduled downtime, lower repair costs, increase equipment life, and improve safety by preventing catastrophic failures like fire that can cause asset damage, human injury and death.
According to the U.S. National Fire Protection Association, about 45210 reported home structure fires involving electrical failure or malfunction resulted in 420 civilian deaths, 1370 civilian injuries and $1.4 billion in direct property damage annually.
2. Detection of Unwanted Heat Gain and Heat Loss
Studies show about 60% of total energy consumption for buildings in Europe goes to heating, while heat losses caused by ventilation and infiltration can amount to 50% of the total heat loss from a building, that’s a staggering number.
It is recommended that heat loss detection using thermal imager is done in the evening when the weather is cooler and the heater is on, for better accuracy. Under these conditions, thermal imagers will show areas through which warm air escapes based on the differences in temperature, and locate the points where heat loss occur.
On the other hand, unwanted heat gain can really increase your utility bill.
The following video shows case studies of unwanted heat gain detected by infrared thermal imaging technology, and what have been done to fix the identified root-causes.
Taking actions on heat flow anomalies detected by thermal imaging camera, including unwanted heat gain during summer and abnormal heat loss through the building envelope, can help to greatly improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption costs.
3. Home Insulation Efficiency Improvement
Heat loss usually results from air leakages through poorly sealed doors or windows that cause energy wastage as heat seeps out.
As home insulation (including garage door insulation) provides resistance to heat flow and make a house more energy efficient by keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer —
many house owners use thermal imaging camera for home insulation efficiency improvement, because it is the most practical way to lower heating and cooling costs while improve comfort.
Not only that: Home insulation improvement indeed can directly help to reduce the effect of global warming, as the less energy our home uses, the less impact it has on the environment.
Check out the case study below that shows thermal imaging camera revealed insulation efficiency issue at the wall and ceiling intersection of a master bedroom.
Recommended read: The 5 Best Thermal Imaging Camera for Your Home Inspection
4. Detection of Moisture in Buildings and Walls
The presence of moisture poses long term threats to buildings. Moisture gradually deteriorates the walls from the inside slowly and gradually unseen by the naked eyes. Sometimes the water that causes this comes from roof leakages or from flooding disasters.
Thermal imagers help locate the points of moisture, they don’t see the moisture itself but they see the effects of the moisture in that the thermal signature of moist surfaces differ from that of dry surfaces of similar material.
The image produced on the thermal imaging cameras will show moist areas as darker areas hereby helping inspectors detect areas of concern, after which further investigation can be carried out with a moisture meter.
In the case study below, thermal imaging successfully detected critical areas with moisture anomalies that were missed by original inspection that was solely using moisture meter.
It is also important that the inspectors have a knowledge of building construction as this would make the moisture detection process easier and faster. It is recommended that the thermal imaging cameras have a resolution of at least 120 x 120 and a sensitivity of 0.1°C or better.
5. Mold/Mildew Testing and Detection in Home Inspection
It is in ‘wet’ conditions or in the presence of moisture that mold growth is encouraged. When an object is compromised with moisture, its heat signature changes, this change is picked up by the thermal imaging camera.
Sometimes, before houses are bought, home inspectors with the aid of a thermal imaging camera and software create a report to show areas of the house where mold is likely to grow. This includes below ground basement as a common place where moisture collects, either from ground water or humidity.
Aside from causing structural damage, mold also inflicts allergies and other health problems on occupants of a mold infested building. As such, it’s important to prevent mold growth – which can also be a problem after flooding, when excess moisture in the affected house and the indoor air quality provide breeding conditions for molds.
The thermal imaging camera does not act as a moisture meter but it serves to highlight objects or areas for further inspection for mold growth, as shown in the examples below.
Also, when mold removal processes are done, infrared thermal imaging cameras are used to ‘see’ how effective the removal process was.
6. Water Leaks/Damage and Plumbing/Pipe Clogs
Using thermal imaging cameras to detect very small changes in temperature makes it possible to find water intrusion, leaky water pipes, broken sewer line or sewage leak, clogs in drain pipes, weak foundations and so on without damaging the structure of the building.
The same principles apply here apply here as with mold and moisture detection. Infra-red imaging makes it possible to find the source of the water leakage and affected areas.
The usage of thermal imaging cameras makes the detection process easier, no need to dig or drill holes to find leakages. All that is needed is a thermal imager and an experienced building construction and plumbing team, the rest is history.
This video shows a case study on how professional plumber used thermal camera to help investigate hot water leak under floor slab, in order to fix the problem and reduce water bill.
7. Diagnosis of HVAC Air Flow Problems
HVAC refers to the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning systems that perform heating and/or cooling for residential houses and commercial buildings.
With air flow problems represent a real challenge when balancing an HVAC system, thermal imaging camera can help your diagnosis to determine the causes – including identification of blocked vents and registers, blocked or leaky ducts, obstructed condenser unit, and more.
And don’t forget the attic, an important yet often overlooked area in a home inspection, because attics that are left unattended can easily have ventilation and heating issues.
Inconsistent airflow can result in uneven heating and cooling throughout the house, and make a big impact on your utility bills. So why not invest in a thermal camera to help achieve better energy efficiency and long term utility cost saving?
Check out this case study when infrared thermal imaging inspection revealed a supply duct that was covered with drywall, causing loss of conditioned air.
8. Roofing Inspection with Thermal Imaging and Drone
For roofing, thermal imaging is used to find wet areas and possible leak sources.
During the day, when the sun is up portions of the roof that are dry absorb less heat than wet portions, dry regions also take lesser time to cool off than wet zones. It is this property that thermal imaging cameras exploit in detecting areas of fault.
The inspection process is usually done in the evening when the sun has set. Good ‘dry’ portions would have cooled down while the wet portions would still retain some heat. The temperature difference between the good and the bad spots is usually quite little, so thermal imagers of high sensitivity are required.
Nowadays, some people even combine drone with thermographic imaging to inspect roofing system of commercial buildings and residential house with steep roof, as shown below.
Thermal imaging for roof inspection is cost effective and non-destructive, nonetheless varying weather conditions like high wind or heavy dew may render results inaccurate.
9. Thermal Imaging Camera for Mechanical Inspections
Some commercial buildings and residential houses have machinery or equipment/tooling that can be easily susceptible to malfunction parts.
Infrared thermal imaging inspections of mechanical rotating parts can help identify early stage problems by detecting anomalies such as excess heat caused by friction and wear. Examples of such mechanical rotating parts include valves, belts, bearings, couplings, and shafts.
Taking actions to address the detected anomalies can help to prevent mechanical parts failure and prolong its lifespan to reduce replacement cost, while avoid unscheduled downtime caused by mechanical breakdown.
The video below shows the various application and benefits of using thermal imaging cameras for mechanical and electro-mechanical inspections.
10. Termite Inspection and Pest Control Management
Termites are silent destroyers that may damage the structural supports of a building. These wood-devouring insects can also damage the non-structural areas of a house, including drywall, paneling, and even your furniture.
The usage of thermal imaging technology for termites control and pest management is getting more popular, because it is an effective and non-invasive technique that has its advantages over the many traditional methods of checking for termite presence — including tapping on wooden structures with a screwdriver’s handle, or invasive digging and holes drilling that damage wall.
The presence of termites will change the normal heat patterns of walls and floors, with concentrations of active termite activity can alter the surface temperature and heat patterns of wall lining enough for the thermal imaging camera to detect it as a warm spot.
Thermal imaging inspection and analysis by trained pest control personnel can help to determine the location of termite infestation, just as the examples shown in video below.
Uses of Thermal Imaging Camera in Home Improvement
Infrared thermal imaging is an advanced non-invasive technology that can really help building inspection and home improvement to prevent human injury and asset damage, while achieve energy efficiency and utility cost reduction that make the thermal camera pay by itself.
As recap, below shows the application of infrared thermal imaging for home inspection.
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Consider >> These Top 5 Recommended Thermal Camera for Your Home Improvement
(Thermal house image source: Adapted copy from Wikimedia.
Featured picture credit attribution: Black Hills Professional Home Inspections LLC, Black Hills Thermal Imaging located in Rapid City, South Dakota. 605-209-6766)