Inspectors Working in the Dark

by Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard

Inspectors spend a lot of time in dark places, such as crawlspaces and attics, so we’re always looking for the perfect flashlight -- something not too heavy that puts out a lot of light. And it helps to have something even lighter and smaller as a backup, in case your favorite flashlight burns up while you’re at the back of the attic.

Most of us are still using flashlights with batteries, although more of those batteries are rechargeable in one to three hours using a DC charger in the vehicle, or an AC charger back at home or at the inspection.

The newest in power is a flashlight that uses a capacitor instead of a battery. It runs for one to two hours on normal power, and about 15 minutes on high power. The run time can change because some of these flashlights are programmable.

These run times don’t sound like much, but the capacitor flashlights fully charge in about 90 seconds.

There’s one brand of flashlight out there so powerful that shortly after it’s turned on, it bursts into flames and fries itself to a crisp. This one may no longer be available. Others put out so much light that they can ignite paper or cook an egg.

There has also been improvement in bulb development. Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs last much longer than incandescent bulbs and are more impact-resistant. LED flashlights often use eight bulbs or more.

Most inspectors carry a full-size rechargeable flashlight on a belt loop as their main light. It’s a good idea to keep a spare on a charger in your vehicle, and alternate flashlights, so that the batteries last well.

There are lots of lightweight, inexpensive flashlights to use as backup. For about $5 at one of the home improvement stores, you can purchase two metal-case flashlights that run on three AA batteries and have LED bulbs. Some of these inexpensive flashlights have both LED and incandescent bulbs, and a laser pointer.

Headlamps are popular with some inspectors. Hands-free operation is easier, but headlamps don’t usually put out much light, so they’re usually used as a supplemental light.


In addition to getting around in the dark, you’ll also need to take photos. One of the trickier situations is trying to take close-up photos of a reflective material using a flash. You might find yourself in this situation when you try to photograph the label of a furnace or water heater. If you try to shoot close up and head on, you’ll have a picture of a large flash.

Some cameras come with an adjustable flash so that you can turn down the intensity when you need to shoot close up.

Another method is to move back and to one side of the item you want to photograph. You can then zoom in and the flash will be reflected away from the camera lens.

Another method is to not use the flash at all, but to bounce light onto your subject using your flashlight. The problem, often, is that you have too much light instead of not enough. You may want to use your smaller flashlight and use bounced light, or just the very edge of your flashlight beam.
Newer cameras have LED bulbs for close-up, low-light photos.  Others are capable of taking a quick series of images that the camera combines electronically for a single, finished photo.

A compact camera carried in a case on your belt works well. You’ll want a case that’s easy to open and close so that your camera stays secure. You don’t want to get back to the hatch only to discover that your camera is lying somewhere back in the crawlspace, or buried in the blown-in insulation in the attic. You also don’t want it falling to the concrete below as you’re coming down a ladder. Keeping your camera in its case will also help keep the lens clean.

A belt-mounted case is less likely to get caught on things as you move through tight places.
In summary, there are many small, lightweight and affordable options of flashlights and cameras for inspectors to use that will make working in dark spaces easier and more efficient.