An infrared (IR) camera is a versatile, lightweight and cutting-edge device that can enhance an inspector's understanding of a building's different systems and components. Its ability to read heat as color and then display that information in a way that's easily understood by homeowners and other clients makes the IR camera an increasingly important tool for inspectors to have in their equipment arsenal.
Infrared cameras translate the heat signatures of objects into colors on a gradient scale, with higher temperatures appearing as lighter colors, and lower temperatures and wet areas appearing as darker colors. Also known as thermal imaging and thermography, IR technology captures the light that exists just outside the visible spectrum. Thermal images show surface-heat variations, which is why an IR camera is such a diverse tool for commercial and home inspectors that can be used for a variety of applications. Abnormally hot electrical components and connections can be viewed during an electrical inspection. Areas of moisture that may lead to leaks and structural damage can be located based on apparent temperature differences. Heat loss and air leakage in a building envelope, and even areas of insufficient insulation, can be pinpointed quickly and accurately during an energy audit.
In the inspection industry, infrared cameras are mainly used to gauge what's referred to as “apparent" temperature. Because of the differing levels of emissivity of different areas and objects, as well as other factors that can influence data, such as wind and weather conditions, the exact temperature of an anomaly can be trickier to determine with infrared alone, and this is why the most common purpose of employing thermal imaging in inspections is to locate and document the problems.
For example, a dark area in the thermal image of a ceiling may indicate that there is moisture above it. Once this has been observed, a moisture meter can be used to confirm moisture intrusion. The pattern of the wet spot can be documented with the camera, and the area above the ceiling can then be examined through infrared in an attempt to determine the source of the leak.
In a case like this, which is a typical example of how infrared is often used in an inspection, the exact measurement of the temperatures -- the quantitative measurement -- is not relevant. The important thing is that the apparent temperature difference led the inspector to a problem area that could be documented and examined more closely. This makes inspection with an IR camera a qualitative measurement, rather than a quantitative one. Thermal imaging is used to locate anomalies through differences in apparent temperatures, analyze the patterns, and document the issues.
Thermal images are generally used in inspection reports to visually document problems found on site. The image captured with the IR camera can be presented alongside a digital, visible-light photo, along with a description of the issue that was discovered. Some infrared cameras incorporate the ability to switch between standard, digital and IR-imaging modes for just this purpose. The inclusion of standard, digital images makes side-by-side comparisons easier for both inspectors and clients to understand because it shows any obvious, visible defects. But IR doesn't stop at the obvious. The IR image shows accurate evidence of a defect that can't be fully captured with the digital camera. For example, a digital image may show a dried water stain at a wall-ceiling junction, while its IR counterpart displays a dark spot in the same area. The clear advantage of thermography is that while the digital image displays what looks like an old stain, the IR image confirms that moisture is still present, requiring further investigation to locate and remediate the problem.
As thermography has advanced, thermal imaging has become popular in the field of inspection because IR cameras are fast becoming an indispensable tool in helping inspectors locate and documents defects quickly and accurately.
Consumers should always seek inspectors who are Infrared Certified by looking for the Infrared Certified logo below.
-Above text is an excerpt from InterNACHI's Article: IR Cameras: An overview for inspectors.
Consumers Guide to Infrared Thermograph Inspections
Clients should know that since Thermal Imaging is solely based on temperature, more importantly, in the differences in temperatures. Therefore, outside weather conditions effect the camera's ability to 'see'. As a result, during certain outdoor and indoor weather conditions, Thermal Imaging is not effective and the inspector will not be able to detect items that he might see otherwise. Also, Thermal imaging does not provide 'x-ray vision'; understanding the difference is important in interpreting data. Please read this disclaimer (which will also be provided with report).