Infrared Home Inspections; More Guesswork than Detection

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The short and simple explanation of an infrared camera is that it displays a picture that represents the various temperature readings of the surface it is focused on. The camera can’t see behind the surface. As a home inspector, you have to apply your knowledge and experience to ‘interpret’ the image. You could just as easily describe it as an educated guess. Well hopefully education is part of the analysis.

I am still skeptical about the use of infrared cameras during a home inspection. I could be convinced with a compelling argument and evidence of course, but in the mean time I question whether the use of infrared cameras should be part of a standard residential home inspection. While this ‘sexy’ new tool searches for markets to exploit, you might want to rethink how much value it brings to the table in a home inspection.

I’m sure there are enthusiastic proponents out there who sell the cameras and the required training needed to ‘interpret’ the ‘results’. The many inspectors who have invested the time and money to offer ‘infrared inspections’ have a stake in the game as well and may be emotionally and financially committed to the device.

All home inspectors are aware of infrared cameras but many choose not to use them. Even inspectors who have purchased them often seem to lose their enthusiasm for using them on home inspections. Price is less of a stumbling block than it was, as it has fallen considerably, but still infrared cameras have not swept the marketplace. They are just not necessary to do good home inspections. In fact, I think they take up time that can be better spent inspecting the property visually. The industry claims that with just a ‘few minutes per room’ you can add infrared inspection to your routine. Conservatively that adds over an hour to an inspection, or takes time away from current investigation activities.

I have attended about thirty home inspections with a trained infrared camera operator. Only once did he suggest to a buyer that he saw something of interest. It turned out to be a minor and totally meaningless observation that added no value to the inspection. One of his practices was to use the camera to confirm temperature of airflows from heat registers throughout the house. I can pretty much rely on my hand for the same purpose. In questioning the inspector, I can’t remember any great stories he had to offer of catches that otherwise would have gone undetected in the previous couple of years of infrared use. His own observation was that the camera was ‘mostly a marketing tool’; meaning that it looked cool and people might prefer to have their inspector use one but they wouldn’t pay extra for it. If infrared cameras were really that beneficial in home inspections surely by now the marketplace would be demanding their use and people would be lined up to pay an extra fee. The reality is nothing like this.

There is only so much time that can be spent on-site a a home inspection. There are lots of things to inspect and many signs to look for that help experienced inspectors to detect defects without the use of an infrared camera. I am not saying that once a problem is detected that infrared cameras might not help in assessing the extent and confirming the specific location of a problem. But I would suggest that it is more than just a coincidence that the inspectors who throw in a free infrared camera inspection tend to be the lowest price practitioners in the market as well. Before you fall for lure of the sexy technology on your next inspection, I would give more thought to what the inspector brings to the table in terms of know-how and genuine caring than his tool-bag.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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