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Using an Infrared Camera to Detect Missing Insulation and How to Avoid False Readings

Updated: Feb 22

In the world of home inspections, uncovering hidden issues is paramount. One such challenge is identifying missing insulation within the walls. Thankfully, advancements in technology have brought us the infrared camera—a powerful tool that enables inspectors to visualize temperature variations and pinpoint areas where insulation may be lacking.


Living in Texas means enduring hot summers, which is why it's crucial to ensure your walls and ceilings have proper insulation. Improper insulation often results in certain areas of the home being several degrees hotter than they should be. A certified residential thermographer can help diagnose the issue by using an infrared camera.


The power of Infrared Cameras:

Infrared cameras, also known as thermal cameras, have revolutionized the inspection industry. By capturing and interpreting infrared radiation emitted by objects, they provide a visual representation of temperature differences. This allows inspectors to identify areas of the home where heat transfer is occurring, revealing potential insulation gaps that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.


What is the difference between thermal and infrared?

Thermal imaging and infrared imaging are often used interchangeably, as they both involve capturing and interpreting thermal radiation. However, there is a subtle difference between the two terms.


Thermal imaging typically refers to the process of using specialized cameras to detect and visualize the heat energy emitted by objects. These cameras, often called thermal cameras or thermal imagers, can detect and display temperature variations across a surface or within an object. The resulting images, known as thermograms, represent the infrared radiation emitted by objects based on their temperature.


On the other hand, infrared imaging is a broader term that encompasses various technologies and techniques used to capture and analyze infrared radiation. Infrared radiation falls within the electromagnetic spectrum and includes wavelengths longer than those of visible light. Infrared imaging can refer to any method of using infrared radiation for imaging purposes, including thermal imaging.


In essence, thermal imaging is a specific application of broader infrared imaging that focuses on capturing and visualizing thermal radiation to detect variations in temperature.


Limitations of Infrared Cameras:

While infrared cameras are incredibly useful, it's important to understand their limitations. They cannot directly "see" insulation or determine its R-value. Instead, they detect temperature variations on the surface of objects, which can be indicative of missing or inadequate insulation. Additionally, certain factors, such as wall coverings or exterior cladding, may affect the camera's ability to detect thermal anomalies accurately. The inspector needs to take many factors into account to help get as accurate of a reading as possible.


Conditions needed to check for missing insulation:

Performing an accurate infrared camera inspection requires specific conditions to ensure reliable results. First and foremost, it is crucial to conduct the inspection during normal temperature conditions. When inspecting for missing insulation, a temperature differential from outside to inside would ideally be greater than 20°F and the sun would not be a contributing factor.


Extreme weather, such as excessive heat or cold, can affect the accuracy of the thermal imaging readings. Additionally, it is essential to perform the inspection under stable environmental conditions, avoiding strong direct sunlight or drafts that may interfere with the thermal patterns. The area being inspected should be free from obstructions, such as heavy furniture or clutter, that could impede the camera's line of sight. By adhering to these conditions, an infrared camera inspection can provide reliable and insightful results, assisting in identifying missing insulation and potential energy loss in a home.


A thermal/ infrared photo that captures the thermal data of everyting in the image. This image specfically contains the front door that has the sun hitting it, so it is making the door hotter near the bottom. It shows a difference in surface temperature.

This photo on the left, shows the sun hitting the front door of the home. This is not allowing an accurate reading of the seal around the door. The inspector should resort to using their eyes, hands, and maybe a smoke test to check for air leakage.





Non-invasive alternative:

Traditionally, inspectors may have resorted to invasive methods like punching holes in walls to inspect the insulation visually. However, infrared cameras offer a non-invasive alternative, saving time and effort, and minimizing potential damage to the property. By simply scanning the walls, ceilings, and other surfaces, inspectors can quickly identify areas that require further investigation.

Energy loss due to missing insulation:

The consequences of missing insulation extend beyond comfort levels. Energy loss occurs as heated or cooled air escapes through gaps, leading to higher energy bills and environmental impact. According to studies, homes with inadequate insulation can experience up to a 30% increase in energy consumption, placing a significant financial burden on homeowners.

 

Common areas prone to missing insulation:


1. Interior walls & ceilings:

Insufficient insulation in these areas is a common issue. When the conditions allow it, a quick scan of the home can determine problem areas that can be further evaluated by destructive testing methods. Infrared cameras can reveal temperature variations along the wall surface, indicating potential gaps or voids in the insulation.



A infred/ thermal photo where the celing and walls meet. The photo shows the exterior air is hotter and leaking into the interior walls.
A normal photo take next to the thermal photo. This photo is just of the wall, celiing, and window. It just a before photo.

The photo above shows missing insulation or damaged insulation behind an exterior wall above the garage. To confirm the thermal anomaly, the wall would need to be opened up so it is important to make the right call.


An inspector's tip: When inspecting the corners of a room located on an exterior wall, it's crucial to understand that what you're observing is the presence of studs. It's common for insulation to be sparse or even missing around these corners, and it's generally not considered a major concern. This is primarily because achieving stable insulation in that specific area can be challenging, and the thermal bridging effect of the studs might be contributing to the observed conditions. This is why training and joining internet forums are extremely helpful for gaining knowledge and making the right calls.


2. Attic and roof spaces:

They play a crucial role in maintaining the energy efficiency of a home. However, inadequate insulation in these areas can lead to substantial heat loss, impacting both comfort and energy bills. By utilizing infrared cameras during inspections, professionals can effectively identify areas where heat is escaping, visually showcasing the spots that require additional insulation or weatherstripping.


3. Doors and windows:

Improperly insulated gaps around doors and windows can lead to drafts and energy inefficiency. Weatherstripping and other defects can be visible. Infrared cameras can identify temperature differences around these areas, guiding inspectors to recommend weatherstripping or sealing measures. Infrared cameras can also be used to detect argon deficiencies in windows. Argon is a gas that is often used to fill the space between the panes of a double-paned window, which helps to improve energy efficiency. However, over time, the gas can leak out, leading to a decrease in efficiency and increased energy loss. Using an infrared camera, inspectors can identify areas where heat is escaping through the window, indicating a possible argon deficiency. An example is shown in the photo below, the oval shape is the key indicator for argon depletion. This is not the same as a failed seal.


FLIR thermal/ infrared image of a window that has an argon depletion in between the window panes.


4. Electrical outlets:

Often overlooked, electrical outlets can be sources of air leakage. Infrared cameras can detect temperature variations around outlets, indicating potential insulation gaps that should be addressed. There have been some cases where the air leakage from this was significant due to negative pressure in the home. In these rare cases, the energy cost was surprisingly high just from the outlet/ outlets.



 

Infrared Cameras and Legal Issues:

"In 2008, HomeSafe's lawyer, who is also a partner in HomeSafe, began sending out threatening letters to home inspectors across the U.S. telling them that they were about to be sued for using infrared cameras during the inspections they were performing."  - Nick Gromicko HomeSafe wanted home inspectors to pay $10,000 for a license to use infrared cameras or be sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some inspectors, fearful of being sued, paid up and sent HomeSafe the $10,000 that HomeSafe demanded. In at least one case, a home inspector who never even touched an infrared camera paid the money. Thankfully, InterNACHI® founder Nick Gromicko won a seven-year legal battle against HomeSafe Inspection, Inc. For the full article and all the details, click here!

Conclusion:

Incorporating infrared cameras into the inspection process empowers professionals to identify missing insulation with greater precision and efficiency. By leveraging this advanced technology, inspectors can detect thermal anomalies, pinpoint areas needing insulation, and recommend appropriate remedies. Ultimately, ensuring proper insulation not only improves energy efficiency but also enhances comfort and reduces environmental impact.


When it comes to insulation inspections, trust in the power of infrared cameras to uncover the hidden and make your home more energy-efficient. It is a powerful tool for identifying heat patterns, energy loss, and anomalies in various applications such as building inspections, electrical diagnostics, and industrial processes. Lastly, do not go for the cheapest camera for inspections. In our opinion, 320x240 resolution should be the minimum camera you use to check for insulation loss. To find the best infrared/ thermal camera and to get the best training, we suggest Monroe Infrared. Bill Fabian is Vice President of Training and his team offers top of the line customer service. They will go above and beyond to get you trained and ready to make the right call. Contact anyone on the Monroe Infrared team and they can help get you started. About TruGuard Inspections:

At TruGuard Inspections, we take pride in delivering top-quality home inspection services to clients throughout the DFW Metroplex. Our experienced team is dedicated to providing thorough and detailed inspections, utilizing the latest tools and technology to ensure no aspect of the property goes unnoticed. Whether it's a buyer's home inspection, seller's inspection, new construction inspection, 11-month warranty inspection, or thermal inspection using infrared cameras, you can rely on us to provide honest and insightful assessments for informed decision-making. Check out our website to learn about all the services we offer.

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