Thermal Imaging Reports
by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko
InterNACHI inspectors know that the true product that they sell to their clients is their home inspection report. While your services include the wealth of your training, education, work experience, and eve
n your work ethic – right up until that next inspection, which would include all the inspections you performed just last week and even yesterday – what you leave your client with is your inspection report. That’s why the presentation, format, language, graphics, and even the software you use will combine to create a report that leaves either a positive or a negative impression. It will leave your client with the confidence that they made the right decision to hire you and that you really delivered based on your advertising, or they’ll wonder what they paid for and whether they should get a second opinion.
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
To make your report user-friendly, you should provide standard digital images side by side with your IR images. This will give your clients an accurate point of reference for the IR data, which is essential for mapping out improvements and repairs.
Interpreting the Data
This is perhaps the most critical aspect of providing a solid IR report, and goes hand in hand with the limitations of thermal imaging, as well as the depth of your own training and experience. Depending on the established baseline IR readings and the locations of the images, the results can either alert the homeowner to a critical repair needed – such as an electrical hot spot – or simply be an item that they need to keep in check – such as adding insulation at an exterior wall. Your clients are relying on your expertise to help them prioritize repairs, so treat the results as you would if they were for your own home. The clients’ safety is your first consideration.
Immediate, Short-Term and Long-Term Repairs
As mentioned above, help your clients prioritize the necessary repairs using a realistic and practical approach for an Action Plan. Not everything can be fixed now, but not everything should be put off till later. For example, electrical hot spots can quickly erupt into a fire, and electrical fires can spread throughout the home’s entire system without much warning, so these deficits should top your list of recommended repairs. Next come issues regarding moisture intrusion. This is something that the homeowner may begin to address him/herself, such as by removing obstacles to proper drainage, and pulling up wet insulation and replacing it with new. Some tasks may rely on the weather or season to address safely and fully. Also, impress upon your clients that while taking up wet insulation will prevent the spread of mold growth and allow wet spots to dry out, the source of the moisture intrusion must be located and adequately repaired to prevent a return of the problem. Also, mold growth that is not extensive can usually be cleaned out by the homeowner. In such DIY situations, always advise your clients of the importance of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect their health and safety. Such PPE includes eyewear, gloves and a face mask to avoid direct exposure to and inhalation of mold spores, particles of insulation, and other irritants and allergens. For homeowners inexperienced but determined to perform some of their own repairs, you can do things such as point out the location of joists in the attic and where they can safely step, but recommend professional repair whenever possible and practical.
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).
Thermal imaging equipment is expensive enough that not every inspector offers this type of ancillary inspection. Nevertheless, those who use IR cameras for both ancillary inspections and as part of their standard home and commercial property inspections will testify that it’s become one of the more indispensable implements in their toolkits. Discover the advantages of becoming Infrared-Certified® and offering thermal imaging inspections to your clients by clicking on the links below.
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InterNACHI’s Thermal Imaging Addendum
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