By Bud Coburn
Infrared (thermal imaging) is an advanced, non-invasive technology that allows the inspector to show homeowners things about their homes that can’t be revealed using conventional inspection methods. Ancillary inspection reports are just as important as the reports you generate for standard home inspections. For something as specialized as a thermal imaging inspection, it’s critical that the information you present meets your clients’ needs for information they can use and act on.
DOs & DON’Ts
The art of an IR inspection is to interpret the results as accurately and reasonably as possible such that your client is given actionable information in order to proceed with necessary repairs. With that in mind, here’s a list of dos and don’ts:
- Explain the limitations of thermal imaging, including the fact that, as with any type of inspection, it can’t predict future conditions. However, a roof that is experiencing moisture intrusion which has been detected through thermal imaging will very likely lead to serious structural issues, if left unaddressed.
- Explain the capabilities of thermal imaging and how it can benefit your clients. Do you have marketing materials to give your clients that outline the various conditions that can be detected through infrared technology?
An infrared inspection can identify and document moisture intrusion, energy loss, and even unexpected hot spots.
In terms of energy loss, an IR camera can detect:
- heat loss and air infiltration in walls, ceilings, floors, windows and doors;
- damaged and/or malfunctioning radiant heating systems;
- air-conditioner compressor leaks;
- under-fastening and/or missing framing members, and other structural defects that can lead to energy loss; and
- broken seals in double-paned windows.
In terms of detecting moisture intrusion, an IR camera can locate:
- plumbing leaks;
- hidden roof leaks before they cause serious damage;
- missing, damaged and/or wet insulation; and
- water and moisture intrusion around penetrations and at the foundation and building envelope that could lead to structural damage and mold.
IR cameras are equally effective at locating hot spots in the home, including:
- circuit breakers in need of immediate replacement;
- overloaded and undersized circuits;
- overheated electrical equipment and components; and
- electrical faults before they cause a fire.
Additionally, based on the color gradients that thermal images provide, an inspector can locate:
- possible pest infestation, as revealed by energy loss through shelter tubes left by boring wood-destroying insects;
- the presence of intruders, such as rats, mice and other larger pests hiding within the structure and detected because of their heat signature that the IR camera captures; and
- dangerous flue leaks, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning of the home’s residents.
- Offer to re-inspect (for a fee) after repairs are completed. This is the only sure way to determine whether the repair work undertaken by your client and/or his contractor has effectively addressed the issues that your initial thermal imaging inspection discovered.
- unduly alarm your clients. An area that has been detected through IR as having potential moisture intrusion, energy loss or extreme heat must be further investigated in order to confirm such a condition. Depending on where the problem has been located, confirmation may be difficult, but relying solely on the IR image is insufficient for recommending that your client pull out the checkbook and hire a contractor. It’s the first step in diagnosing a problem.
- overwhelm your clients by using technical language that leaves them in the dust. The science of thermal imaging is fairly straightforward, but it requires extensive training, as does the use of the associated equipment. But your primary mission as a home inspector is to educate your clients, not dazzle them with your brilliance or impress them with your expensive camera.
- offer to repair problems that were discovered through your thermal imaging inspection if you perform this function as part of your standard home inspection. InterNACHI’s Code of Ethics prohibits this conflict of interest. While offering to make repairs and actually performing them are not specifically prohibited by the Code of Ethics if the IR inspection was performed as part of an energy audit or ancillary inspection, InterNACHI recommends that inspectors defer repairs to professional contractors to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, since this hurts the inspection industry, and the average homeowner will be understandably suspicious of your intentions, as well as the results of your IR inspection, even if they’re legitimate.
It’s important to include not only the basics of your inspection in your report, but also your interpretation of the results, which can help your clients determine what to do next in order to address any problems.
Technical and Factual Data
Provide identifying information regarding your camera and the settings used at the time of the inspection. Also, provide a brief narrative or even a checklist describing the weather and other relevant conditions in and around the home at the time of the IR inspection. This is so that you can compare the data to the future conditions when you do your follow-up inspection, after any necessary modifications or repairs have been completed. As with most types of energy audits, conditions for a follow-up should be comparable to the original conditions, so avoid conducting your inspection during unusual or extreme weather, if possible.
Your Client’s Concerns
It may be a good idea to start off your report with a brief narrative that acknowledges the reasons that your client requested an IR inspection in the first place, similar to a doctor’s report, which typically begins along the lines of: “Patient came in complaining of chest pains.” During an energy audit, one client told her IR inspector that the dishes in her cupboard were always freezing-cold in the wintertime, which led the inspector to look for and discover an air leak in the building envelope just behind her kitchen cabinets. While cold dishes weren’t the main reason this client requested an energy audit, never underestimate the value of any anecdotal information your clients can provide, nor the trust that they’re putting in you and your expertise to discover the causes behind their concerns.
Standard Images with Infrared Images
Schedule a Re-Inspection
Help keep your clients on track by scheduling a follow-up inspection. Put this in their report as the last item they need to address in their Action Plan. This will motivate them to make the most of their investment in the initial IR inspection by addressing the issues discovered in a timely fashion. A follow-up inspection sells itself because it’s based on protecting both your clients’ health and safety and their investment in their home. A follow-up can be offered for an additional fee (or at a discounted rate).