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Thermal Imaging – Helpful or Hype?

After a lot of research and discussion, we decided that we don’t think thermal imaging is the best way to inspect homes. We know that we can do a thorough inspection without it, and we don’t want to charge our customers extra money for something that is not necessary.
Here’s what we learned and why we decided not to offer this service:

Buyer Beware

Some home inspectors say that this type of inspection is better than others because it can detect things that others might miss. The truth is that these cameras only detect temperature differences, which may not indicate anything significant.
These inspectors often include disclaimers to protect themselves such as:
What thermal imaging is NOT:

  • It is NOT X-Ray Vision – it cannot see into walls and only shows temperature differences
  • It CANNOT detect moisture – the best it can do is detect thermal anomalies/li>
  • It is NOT a “silver bullet” or “super tool”
  • It is NOT a risk eliminator – it can only identify areas that require further investigation

This means that even if you pay extra for thermal imaging or it’s included to justify higher pricing, the inspector isn’t responsible if the results aren’t accurate. It might not be as helpful as they say it is.

Environmental Requirements

The purpose of a thermal camera is to find temperature differences. But the conditions must be just right for this to work well. If it’s too hot or cold, the results won’t be accurate.
Also, the sun can mess things up. When the sun shines on the house, the surfaces heat up and this can make the camera give false readings. The best time to use a thermal camera is in the evening or early morning when it’s cooler outside. But most home inspections happen during the day, so using a thermal camera won’t be extremely helpful.
To obtain an accurate thermal scan inside a house, the US Department of Energy recommends that certain steps are taken. This may involve moving furniture away from exterior walls and removing drapes. In some cases, homeowners may also need to maintain a specific temperature difference between the inside and outside of the house for up to 4 hours before the test.

Other Problems with Thermographic Inspections:

  • Thermal cameras that can take high quality pictures are expensive. That’s why most home inspectors use cheaper cameras that take lower quality pictures and only see a smaller area with less accuracy.
  • An industry insider said that some of the cameras are supposed to be 98% accurate, but they might be off by as much as 20%! This is a big problem because if the temperatures are wrong, it can be worse than not having any temperature information at all.
  • Inspectors may overly rely on thermal cameras instead of using their natural senses, such as sight, touch, and sound. This can lead to misidentifying things as problems. For instance, an inspector with a Level 1 Thermographer Certification shared, “I have personally come across situations where electrical cables have been identified as foundation cracks and drywall corner beads have been determined to be water leaks. Imagine the shock to a home buyer, especially when inaccurate information is provided by the inspector.”
  • The cameras are diagnostic tools that have many applications, most of which have nothing to do with inspecting homes. They CANNOT see inside of or through walls, or anything else. They CANNOT see water, mold, or termites. In fact, all they see is the temperature of the surface.

Is a Thermal Imaging better, or just a clever sales pitch?

Are home inspectors that offer thermal imaging using these cameras as a sales pitch? Absolutely! While they claim it makes their services better, they are not providing the client with any additional risk reduction. Experienced home inspectors know that no tool can take the place of their senses, training, broad base of knowledge, and firsthand experience.

Why Thermal Imaging is not for home inspections

  • A home inspection as defined by the Texas Real Estate Commission specifically excludes the “use of specialized equipment including thermal imaging equipment.”
  • Most cameras purchased by home inspectors are lower quality with low resolution and a narrower scope of field with limited accuracy.
  • There are no required certifications or licensing to use a thermal camera.
  • Proper environmental conditions can’t be guaranteed during a home inspection.
  • Thermal imaging can give false or misinformed expectations.
  • If the data is misinterpreted or inaccurate, buyers may back out of a home purchase or sellers may unnecessarily act based on a false positive.

Real estate transactions are not the time to use Thermal Imaging – Don’t fall for the Hype!


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