The Benefits of Infrared Imaging in Building Inspection

Insulation of living room – north

There are many reasons why building inspections are conducted. Governmental agencies use building inspections to check compliance with building plans and with local codes and ordinances. Building inspections are a routine part of buying and selling homes, helping prospective sellers identify problems they are legally responsible for and helping buyers know what they are getting into.

Property manager is also use inspections for preventative maintenance. Building inspectors are called upon in the process of construction itself, to help the builders with structural design issues, storm water handling issues, and electrical concerns. As buildings age and settle, or weather storms, or undergo renovation or construction of additions, building inspectors are often called in to address safety concerns. Inspectors usually check the structure of the buildings as a whole, the foundation, the roof, the electrical systems, the plumbing systems, the interiors of walls, the attic, insulation, air conditioning, appliances, and pools.

HVAC_small-bannerThey also look for termites and other insect infestations, as well as mold and fungus growth. Many of the tests done on these various systems are invasive and destructive. They involve drilling holes in walls, removing whole sections of walls for inspection ports, and similarly time-consuming and harmful techniques. Tests of appliances and electrical systems often involve extensive work and analysis with various meters in order to catch any potential problems, such as overheating or short circuiting. It can be almost impossible for traditional building inspection techniques to catch water damage inside walls and under the surfaces of roofs. Even to the experienced eye, a roof or wall might look dry on the outside but in fact be ready to collapse from rot on the inside.

The finding of water damage underneath a dry exterior surface is a matter of trial and error, and is very invasive, involving a lot of drilling and cutting. When water damage is found, whole roofs or walls often have to be replaced in order to fix the problem, because there is often no easy way to determine exactly where the leak started. While X-ray systems are sometimes used to see inside of walls and roofs non-destructively, X-rays can only “see” certain types of materials, and not others. They are very expensive and require a lot of training to properly use and, of course, there are serious safety issues concerning their use. Infrared cameras provide a way of seeing the insides of things. Because infrared cameras detect heat, using them to scan for temperature differences on the outside allows building inspectors to get a very good idea of what is going on in the insideObjects with different sizes, densities, and weights all absorbed and emit heat differently. Therefore to an infrared camera, a wall that is insulated looks different from a wall that is grouted, and both of them look different from a wall that is just empty. Because an inspector with an infrared camera can see all the inside areas of any structure, he or she can instantly determined if components are damaged, missing, or out of place. Using infrared technology, there is no need for the destructive testing methods of randomly drilling holes and installing inspection ports. Infrared cameras provide a simple means of solving the problems of traditional inspection methods. Infrared technology allows building inspectors to see problems they otherwise would have missed such as water penetration of walls and roof, leaks in the plumbing, electrical problems, and defects in the insulation.

mold detection

The use of infrared cameras is not only able to detect hard to spot problems it also allows building inspector is to see problems before they become serious issues.  Infrared inspection also helps inspectors to diagnose not just the extent to but also the source of many of these problems.  This can result in a large reduction in costs. Early detection of moisture inside a wall, for instance, allows for an early, simple, cheap fix which would not be possible much later, after extended exposure to moisture creates a pervasive problem with mold. It is far cheaper to replace the small section of roof where a leak originated than it is to replace the whole roof. Infrared cameras provide a quick and effective method of moisture tracking that allows the source of any leak to be readily determined.

Infrared Inspection of air leaking into a room from the underside of a door

Because infrared cameras “see” heat, inspection with them can readily identify loose electrical connections, overloaded circuits, and shorts before electrical systems fail or, worse, start fires. A small slow leak in the plumbing can be found just by looking through an infrared camera, which is far cheaper than pulling out walls and ceilings and looking over every inch of the plumbing by eye. Old-fashioned methods of building inspection, such as visual surveillance, installation of inspection ports, and even the use of x-rays are often ineffective when and always inefficient. The use of infrared cameras makes building inspection not just far more effective but also far more cost effective.

by Jason Thompson

Interested in a career in thermography (the science of using infrared cameras)?

Visit our Infrared Training Center for more information on getting ASNT certified for thermography.  With all the trends leaning towards green energy buildings, now is the time to start a career in thermography!

One comment

  1. I really appreciate this article because I didn’t previously understand that because objects are different sizes and densities, they produce heat differently. My boss has some projects that he needs to be tested and inspected. I’ll have to look more into non-destructive testing and thermography to see if this will help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *