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What does a thermography inspection reveal?

Infrared thermography inspections reveal condensation and poorly sealed or leaking HVAC ductwork.

Air leakage in forced air duct systems is now recognized as a major source of energy waste in both new and existing houses. Studies indicate ductwork air leakage can account for as much as 25% of total house energy loss and can prevent heating and cooling systems from operating properly, resulting in uneven heating and cooling of rooms.

Air leakage into wall cavities and ceilings, because of poorly sealed or installed ductwork register boots, ranks at the top of the list, due to the volume of air which leaks during operation of the heating and cooling systems. These leaks can heat or cool entire wall cavities and is the largest contributor to condensation. Most if not all these register boots are un-insulated or sealed at the drywall/boot junction.

extensive air leakage between ceiling and insulation in the attic space in this one year old home

Extensive air leakage between ceiling and insulation in the attic of a year-old home


Air leaks can also cause condensation resulting in mold/mildew growth.

Condensation may be identified through basic visual inspection if it has led to obvious defects, such as staining or mold growth. However, by the time visible evidence has presented itself, significant damage may have already been done. In many cases, condensation may have been developing for a while before obvious signs become apparent.

By employing thermal imaging and a moisture meter, inspectors can locate condensation issues before they become large problems and lead to serious damage. While an infrared camera does not specifically detect moisture itself, it does detect differences in temperature. When a material becomes wet and saturated with water, its temperature will be cooler than the surrounding areas because water takes longer to warm up than, wood or drywall. In order to verify what the IR camera is seeing; I use a moisture meter to verify the present of moisture.

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Infrared thermography, recessed light fixtures and energy loss

Recessed lights have traditionally been costly contributors to heat loss. These fixtures allow conditioned air to leak into unconditioned spaces, such as attic spaces. The large rough openings needed to install recessed cans, the numerous perforations in the housing assemblies and trims, and the fact that manufacturers require a minimum 3″ gap between insulation and fixture made them extremely susceptible to air leakage. This air leakage increases substantially when the light bulb heats the air in the light fixture causing a chimney effect. Enough air leakage over a period can cause moisture problems and possible mold growth.

Sometime around 2002 all recessed light fixtures were required to have thermal protectors (these fixtures are called Insulation Contact). However, these fixtures were still manufactured with holes and perforations resulting in air leakage.

The image indicates bright areas around light fixtures are due to missing insulation and air leakage.

To address air leakage the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), as of 2009, required that any recessed-can fixture installed in an insulated ceiling/attic must meet the air tightness standards and be labeled for insulation contact. The most recent requirements state recessed light fixtures installed in the building thermal envelope/attic space shall be airtight, IC rated, and sealed to the drywall.

By employing thermal imaging, we can determine the extent of energy loss around recessed light fixtures. Thermal imaging can also determine if moisture is present due to condensation.

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You just found your perfect home in New Jersey.  Your bid has been accepted by the seller and you have just finished your three-day attorney review.  The homeowner purchased the home two years ago and stated in the disclosure that the previous homeowner had made several additions, alterations and upgrades to the property.

Now it’s time for the home inspection.  When purchasing a home with upgrades/additions/alterations, hiring the most experienced inspector is a must. Licensed home inspectors who are also licensed New Jersey building inspectors will be able to determine what work has been performed correctly or unprofessionally without permits.

During the inspection, the home inspector notes in his/her report, there are several concerns regarding additions/alterations/upgrades which may not be permitted.  What’s your next step?  I recommend to all my clients to take a trip to the local township building department and do an open records request.  The building department will provide you a list of all work permitted and has had its final approval, work permitted but has not had its final township inspection or work performed without permits.

The open records request, on the home you are purchasing, identifies several additions/alterations/upgrades made without permits.   This is where a good real estate attorney can help navigate who is responsible for applying for the missing permits.

I cannot stress enough the importance of building permits, whether you are hiring a contractor on your own home or the home you are buying.

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Home Inspectors Offering Infrared Scans

With the cost of infrared cameras becoming less expensive, more and more home inspectors are purchasing infrared cameras and offer free infrared scans during a home inspection.

It’s the flashy new technology to get prospective buyers to use their service. What you get is nothing other than a home inspection with may be a few infrared pictures added to the inspection report, which tells you nothing about the home you are about to purchase.

We are now hearing from the field that these inspectors are calling out problems that do not exist when reviewed by a licensed professional.

At Jersey First, when requested by the client, we perform a full infrared scan of the entire home room by room. We provide a separate report identifying any exceptions (problems) in the home with a digital photo and infrared photo, where the problem is, what type of problem and what the repair is.

Training and the lack of it, is what’s driving the problem. To properly understand what you see on the screen of the infrared camera you need to have training in infrared thermograph and training in the specific areas in which you will be working (energy scans, moisture penetration etc.).

To understand infrared thermography, you must be a Level 1, 2 or 3 certified infrared thermographer in accordance with the American Society for Nondestructive Testing.

Most if not all these home inspectors offering infrared scans have attended an 8- or 16-hour course and receive a certification that you attended the course.

To be a Level 1, 2 or 3 Certified Infrared Thermographer requires 32 hours of classroom training and passing of a 3-hour test with an 80% or higher, for each level.

Jersey First Inspection Services recommends the following credentials if you are hiring a home inspector to perform an infrared scan of the home you are purchasing minimum Level 2 Certified Infrared Thermographer, Training and Certified in Energy Evaluations, minimum of three years performing Infrared Scans.