Home » Infrared Cameras Can Aid Building Inspectors in Detecting Roof Leaks, Water Damage, Mold, and Other Moisture Related Problems

Infrared Cameras Can Aid Building Inspectors in Detecting Roof Leaks, Water Damage, Mold and Other Moisture Related Problems

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Infrared imaging is rapidly becoming the norm for building inspections. With the proper tools and training, inspectors and property managers can spot roof and water leaks and water damage in order to prevent such problems from escalating into costly repairs. They can also look for termite and other pest 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 similar time-consuming and harmful techniques. 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. Without inspection, a ceiling or wall collapse may be the first indication that a moisture problem is present!

The finding of water damage underneath a dry exterior surface is often 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. Infrared cameras provide a way of “seeing” the insides of things. Since 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 inside. The use of infrared cameras allows building inspector is to see problems before they become serious issues. Infrared inspection also helps inspectors to diagnose not just the extent but also the source of many of these problems. This can result in a large reduction in costs.

With flat roofs, which are much more likely to leak than sloped ones, the inspector is usually required to climb up on the roof and view it from the top. The thermographer has the option of going inside and imaging the ceiling, which is safer and less time consuming. Water that accumulates from precipitation on a flat roof simply has nowhere to go. This build-up is the number one cause of leaks in a flat roof and infrared technology allows an invaluable early detection system.

Early detection of moisture inside a wall, for instance, allows for an early, simple, cheap fix which would not be possible after an extended exposure to moisture which could also create a pervasive problem with mold. Also insulation efficiency is reduced when wet, increasing heating and cooling costs. It is far cheaper to replace a 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 the leak to be readily determined. A small, slow leak in the plumbing can be found just by looking through an infrared camera, which is much 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 and always inefficient. The use of infrared cameras makes building inspection not just far more effective but also far more cost effective.

Infrared camera surveys detect the thermal difference between wet and dry areas. During the day, solar heat is absorbed into the wet areas (which have higher mass, capacitance and thermal conductivity than dry areas) and is retained long after sundown. In black and white images these warmer wet areas are displayed as lighter tones of gray than the cooler dry areas. False-color images can display the wet areas in “hot” colors; red, orange, yellow, etc.; if desired.

Black & White thermal image of flat roof showing wet area as light gray (warm).
Infrared image of roof (left) with warmer, moist area displayed in yellow. Image at right shows same area in visible light with no indication of moisture below surface. Images reproduced with permission from Infrared Imaging Services LLC, New City, NY 10956.

Infrared Cameras, Inc. (ICI), located in Beaumont, Texas, offers a variety of hand-held cameras that will meet or exceed the requirements of any and all inspection jobs. The DuraCam XT is an infrared camera designed for portability and usability in mind. Its FPA (Focal Plane Array) Uncooled Microbolometer provides a 384×288 pixel array. The DuraCam XT allows audio and data transmission by Bluetooth. It also has 11 color palettes and can take you from 8GB up to a 32GB SD card for plenty of photos. Use the built-in microphone to record 60 second voice annotations for each thermal image saved in JPEG format. USB provides for image transfer.

ICI DuraCam XT P-Series Camera
ICI DuraCam XT P-Series Camera

One of ICI’s newest products is the IR-Pad 320 P-Series camera. It consists of a vanadium oxide detector core with a 320×240 pixel array mounted on the back of a Microsoft Surface Pro. The software and camera are now integrated into one unit with no need to transfer images to another computer for analysis. A similar model has a 640×480 pixel array. It is small in size and light weight with low power consumption.

IR-Pad 320 P-Series Camera
IR-Pad 320 P-Series Camera

If a formal inspection report is needed, ICI Reporter, a professional report writing software package, will give an inspector the ability to create exceptional field reports. It features a number of tools that make post process analysis simple, with maximum flexibility. ICI Reporter creates fused image overlays in an easy to use package that allows you to insert images, text, and graphics with a few simple clicks. Images can be placed together to create a mosaic or to build one large image out of a group of smaller images. Temperature data can be output from each of these images. Multiple images can be placed on a single page with corresponding temperature data accompanying each image. ICI Reporter exports directly to MS Word. Software is included in the price of the camera unless otherwise stated. Call the company at 1- 866-861-0788 for details.

Using an infrared camera to detect moisture is a little more involved than just pointing the camera and clicking. Since there are conditions other than the presence of moisture that may cause warm or cool spots additional, non-destructive testing may be needed to verify that a moisture problem is indeed present. Also sudden temperature changes can affect readings as can variations in construction and materials. The weather should be sunny and clear the day before testing with no more than 15 mph winds during inspection.

In the hands of a professional thermographer, the application of readily available infrared technology in searching for roof leaks and other moisture problems has become the clear frontrunner in early detection. Professional roofers now have more options available to them than ever before. Infrared inspection saves the home or building owner time and money by preventing damage before it happens or repairing it at a lower cost. Detecting a leak prior to structural damage will insure not only safety within the structure, but less time and money spent on future repairs. Many roofs and other structures are damaged every day simply because the owner of the building neglected to use this method of maintenance. The benefits of using infrared cameras in detecting roof leaks and other moisture related problems should be clear. There is simply no better way to locate hidden leaks and moisture-prone areas on a roof or behind a wall.