Thermal Imaging for Home Inspections Explained

December 29, 2022 | 
Thermal imaging for home inspections

The home-buying market depends on professional Home Inspectors to provide detailed inspections for property sales. While visual inspections are thorough, there is only so much the human eye can see and detect. To determine if a home is experiencing plumbing or HVAC system leaks, the best Home Inspectors complete thermal imaging for home inspection.

One of the first items taught during Home Inspection training, regardless of the State, is learning how a building is constructed. This is known as building envelope science, or how the different layers of a building work harmoniously together to form a solid structure.

A Home Inspector’s strong understanding of these principles can integrate different inspection tools and techniques to serve their clients better.

Infrared inspection is one of these vital tools for experienced Home Inspectors. But what exactly is a thermal imaging inspection? Are infrared home inspections the same as thermal imaging inspections? What tools are used, and are there best practices for following infrared thermography inspection?

These are all questions that we’ll explore in the information below.

What is a Thermal Imaging Home Inspection?

Home Inspectors complete thermal imaging for residential property buyers and sellers across the United States. This imaging test is conducted using a thermal imaging camera. The test aims to detect warning signs of water leaks within any residential or commercial property’s foundation, walls, attics, or hard-to-see spaces.

A thermal imaging camera can see in the infrared spectrum and detect warm and cold heat signatures. The colors of a warm image are white and red, while a cold image is yellowish and blue. In case you’re not aware, water and moisture absorb heat energy, which causes them to have a cool signature. The thermal imaging camera detects these signatures to identify potential water leaks.

How Does an Infrared Thermography Inspection Work?

The process of completing a thermal camera inspection follows a basic structure. The Home Inspector will pass the thermal image camera over the surface of the interior and exterior walls, ceilings, floors, and all other accessible areas of the property.

As the camera passes over each surface, it produces a thermal image translated into various colors depending on its detected temperature signature. These color variations help the home inspector identify potential problem areas that may require further investigation.

Once the thermal imaging inspection is complete, the home inspector will review the images with the buyer or seller and point out any areas of concern.

How are Infrared Home Inspections Different from Regular Home Inspections?

A typical home inspection is a visual review of the overall conditions of a property. It will include a detailed inspection of the home’s electrical, plumbing, HVAC, foundation, roofing, landscaping, and exterior features. While the inspector will use several specialized tools to gauge the quality and integrity of these systems, an average home inspection does not include thermal imaging.

Thermal imaging is often an elevated service – that can be conducted as part of a regular home inspection or as a standalone service. While a thermal imaging home inspection can identify potential problem areas that may require further investigation, a standard home inspection cannot.

What are 3 Benefits of Using Thermal Imaging for Home Inspections?

While thermal imaging is not a replacement for a regular home inspection, it’s a great complement that can provide additional peace of mind. Suppose customers are buying or selling a property. In that case, thermal imaging home inspections are a valuable tool to help them avoid costly repairs.

There are many benefits of thermal imaging for home inspections, but these are three of the most important:

Benefit #1 — Thermal Imaging Helps Identify Potential Water Leaks

Water leaks can cause extensive damage to a property if left unaddressed. The problem is most of them don’t visually appear until the damage has been done. Thermal imaging can help identify potential water leaks early on – by detecting the minuscule amounts of moisture before they have a chance to cause significant damage.

Benefit #2 — Thermal Imaging is Non-Invasive

Unlike other types of inspection methods, thermal imaging does not require any demolition or opening of walls. The thermal imaging camera needs access to the surface area in question. This makes thermal imaging a very non-invasive inspection method that won’t cause any damage to the property.

Benefit #3 — Thermal Imaging is Quick and Easy

A thermal imaging inspection can be conducted quickly and easily in just a few hours. And because it’s such a non-invasive method, there’s no need for the buyer or seller to be present during the inspection. This makes thermal imaging a very convenient option for busy buyers and sellers who want an accurate picture of the property without disrupting their schedule.

3 Types of Devices Used in Infrared Inspections

Believe it or not, the thermal imaging camera is not the only device available to Home Inspectors. Three general types of machines can help an experienced or starting Home Inspector provide value to their clients.

Device #1 — Thermal Imaging Camera

A thermal imaging camera is a device that uses infrared technology to create thermal images or heat signatures. Thermal images are created by translating the thermal energy emitted from an object into a visible image. This thermal energy is invisible to the naked eye, but a thermal imaging camera can detect it.

Thermal imaging cameras come in various shapes and sizes but use the same basic principle. The camera uses a lens to focus on the thermal energy emitted by an object and then translates that thermal data into a visible image.

How is a Thermal Imaging Camera Used in Home Inspections?

During a thermal imaging home inspection, the inspector will use the camera to scan the property for any areas of concern. The thermal images produced by the camera will be used to identify potential problem areas that may require further investigation.

Thermal images can also create a thermal map of the property. This thermal map can detect patterns or trends indicating a potential issue.

There are two main types of thermal imaging cameras.

  • Uncooled thermal imaging cameras use a sensor to detect the thermal energy emitted by an object. This type of camera is less expensive and can be used for various applications.
  • Cooled thermal imaging cameras use a cryogenic cooler to cool the sensor. This helps to increase the sensor’s sensitivity and allows the camera to produce higher-quality thermal images. Cooled thermal imaging cameras are more expensive than uncooled ones but are often used for more sensitive applications.

Device #2 — Spot Radiometer

A spot radiometer is a device that measures the thermal energy emitted by an object in a specific area. This thermal energy is then translated into a temperature reading.

Spot radiometers are often used in conjunction with thermal imaging cameras. They are often referred to as point radiometers. The spot radiometer can then measure the thermal energy emitted by these areas and confirm the presence of an issue.

How is a Spot Radiometer Used in Home Inspections?

During a thermal imaging home inspection, the inspector will use the camera to scan the property for any areas of concern. The thermal images produced by the camera will be used to identify potential problem areas that may require further investigation.
The spot radiometer can then measure the thermal energy emitted by these areas and confirm the presence of an issue. This thermal energy can identify potential problems such as moisture leaks, drafts, and electrical issues.

Device #3 — Thermal Line Scanner?

A thermal line scanner is a device that measures the radiant temperature along a given line. Thermal line scanners come in various shapes and sizes but use the same basic principle. The scanner uses a lens to focus on the thermal energy emitted by an object and then translates that thermal data into a visible image.

How is a Thermal Line Scanner Used in Home Inspections?

The thermogram produced by the scanner shows both the temperature readings and an image of the area being scanned. This allows for easy identification of areas with higher or lower temperatures, allowing quicker diagnosis of insulation issues or potential hot spots.
During a thermal imaging home inspection, the inspector will use the thermal line scanner to scan the property for any areas of concern. The thermal images produced by the scanner will be used to identify potential problem areas that may require further investigation.

Good Practices for Infrared Inspectors: 3 Useful Tips to Successfully Conduct a Thermal Inspection

Successful Home Inspectors know the value of following best practices. Not only does it reduce the potential of critical errors, but it can also protect your business from possible litigation, civil lawsuits, or insurance claims.

A home inspection that includes thermal scans is no different. By following these tips, inspectors can successfully use thermal imaging to perform home inspections and help their clients make informed decisions about their property.

Good Practice #1 — Make Your Client’s Safety Your Top Priority

During a thermal inspection, infrared inspectors rely on thermal imaging cameras to identify potential hazards. These hazards could be anything from electrical issues to moisture leaks. Inspectors must take the time to explain the potential dangers to their clients and ensure they understand the importance of safety.

Inspectors should also take precautions to ensure their safety. This includes wearing appropriate clothing and using the proper safety equipment. Inspectors should also be aware of their surroundings and be prepared to evacuate the area if necessary.

Good Practice #2 — Understand the Limitations of Thermal Imaging

While thermal imaging is a powerful tool, it does have its limitations. Thermal imaging can only detect surface temperature changes and cannot see through walls or other obstacles. Additionally, thermal images can be impacted by environmental factors such as wind, sun, and rain.

Inspectors should be aware of these limitations and consider them when interpreting thermal images. Suppose an inspector is unsure of what they see in a thermal image. In that case, they should take additional measurements to confirm their findings.

Good Practice #3 — Calibrate Your Thermal Imaging Camera

Inspectors must calibrate their thermal imaging cameras before each use. This ensures that the thermal images are accurate and can be relied upon to make decisions. There are several ways to calibrate a thermal imaging camera. The most common method is to use an object with a known temperature, such as a hot plate or a cup of boiling water.
Inspectors should also regularly check their thermal infrared cameras for damage or wear. This includes checking the lenses and sensors for dirt, debris, or scratches. Thermal imaging can be a valuable tool for home inspectors. Still, inspectors must follow good practices to ensure the accuracy of their thermal images.

3 Mistakes to Avoid While Performing a Home Inspection Infrared Scan

It should be clear by now that integrating thermal imaging into your home inspection services is a great way to provide additional value to your clients. However, this is a service that requires having the right tools, experience, and procedures that will ensure quality and consistency.

Below are three essential items to avoid as you onboard thermal imaging into your home inspection solutions.

Mistake #1 — Don’t Offer Thermal Inspections Until You’re 100 Percent Competent

As with anything new you integrate into your home inspection business, thermal imaging should only be performed once you’re confident and comfortable with the technology. This means being familiar with operating the thermal camera and knowing how to interpret what you see on the screen.

If you don’t yet feel comfortable offering thermal inspections as part of your home inspection services, that’s okay. It’s better to wait until you’re confident in your abilities than to offer a service you’re unprepared to provide.

Mistake #2 — Don’t Use a Thermal Imaging Camera That You Don’t Own

While it might be tempting to borrow or rent a thermal imaging camera for your home inspection business, this is not a good idea. Thermal imaging cameras are expensive, and you could damage the equipment if you are unfamiliar with the technology.

Additionally, thermal imaging cameras need to be calibrated regularly to ensure accuracy. You can’t do this if you don’t own the camera.

Mistake #3 — Don’t Use Thermal Imaging as a Replacement for a Visual Inspection

Thermal imaging is a great tool that can help you find issues that you might not be able to see with the naked eye. However, it’s important to remember that thermal imaging is not a replacement for a visual inspection. There are many things that thermal imaging can’t see, such as electrical issues, plumbing leaks, and termites. As such, performing a visual inspection in addition to a thermal scan is essential.

Inspector Requirements to Conduct Thermal Imaging Inspections

The home inspection is regulated on a state-by-state basis. Some states, like Florida and Texas, have stringent testing and certification processes and policies. At the same time, others are more lenient with their training and certification requirements.

However, in most US States, the inspector should accomplish the following: to ensure thermal imaging is conducted correctly during a home inspection.

  • Be certified by an accredited thermal training program
  • Possess a strong understanding of building envelope science
  • Have a working knowledge of HVAC systems
  • Understand how to interpret thermal images
  • Be able to identify potential issues based on thermal patterns

Final Points on Thermal Imaging Inspections

Most leaks don’t happen overnight. It may take weeks or months for an issue to turn into a full-blown plumbing issue that can damage the structure of a building. However, if left undetected, a small leak can cause catastrophic damage when it’s discovered.

That’s why thermal imaging home inspections are necessary for buyers and sellers of residential or commercial properties. Like any other home inspection service, using the right tools to complete the inspection, document findings, and communicate with clients helps a Home Inspector build strong relationships with the homeowner or future buyer.

HomeGauge offers a suite of home inspection solutions, from cloud-based complete business operations software to website development and more — designed for the beginning or experienced Home Inspector. After completing your thermal imaging inspection, you can easily fill out a home inspection report and send it directly to your clients from any device.
Please get in touch with our team today if you’d like to learn more about our Home Inspector’s business solutions.


Can a Thermal Imaging Inspection Detect Moisture?

Yes. That’s essentially what their primary task is during thermal imaging inspections. A thermal imaging camera can be used to detect moisture in a variety of ways. For example, thermal images can identify areas of high moisture content, structural defects, heat loss, roof leaks, leaking pipes, water leaks, air conditioner leaks, and damp walls or ceilings. They don’t determine electrical faults or failures with electrical systems. Thermal images can also monitor the drying progress after water damage or leakage has occurred.

Can a Thermal Home Inspection See into Walls?

Yes and No. Thermal imaging can see through walls in some cases. However, the ability to see through walls depends on various factors, such as the type of wall material and the thickness of the wall. Additionally, thermal imaging can only detect heat signatures. This means it can’t be used to see electrical wiring or plumbing pipes. Home buyers trust inspectors to use a thermal camera with a physical inspection to identify energy loss and explain temperature differences. Sometimes, missing insulation can be the cause of infrared imaging data.

Will Snakes Show Up on a Home Thermal Imaging Inspection?

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to detect snakes using thermal imaging. However, thermal imaging can identify potential hiding places for snakes, such as areas of high moisture content or cracks in walls. Thermal images can also monitor the drying progress after water damage.

How Much Does an Infrared Scan for Home Inspection Cost?

Like most home inspection services, the rates charged by Home Inspectors will vary based on multiple factors. Some elements that determine how much a client will pay for a thermal imaging inspection may include the size of the home or the property, the type of construction, how many floors or rooms are scanned, and the time required to complete the project. It’s common for an initial home thermal imaging inspection to cost clients anywhere from $100 to $500.

Why is Thermal Imaging Important?

A home inspection is intended to provide a detailed overview of the quality and condition of a residential or commercial property. Thermal imaging is crucial because it can help you detect issues that you might not be able to see with the naked eye. Thermal imaging can also monitor the drying progress after water damage has occurred.

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