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Thermographic (Infrared Thermal Imaging) Services

"Michael Thomas did the miraculous; he located the source of a roof leak from a second floor deck which eluded my General Contractor and several other experts for six years. Using some high tech gear but mostly systematic reasoning, he did what others could not. His skills would make Sherlock Holmes envious." - Paul Barker, Evanston Illinois

 

Thermal (infrared) imaging camera used by Paragon Property Services home and condominium inspections to inspect roofs, floors, walls attics and chimneys to find moisture and water intrusion (leaks) in Buffalo Grove Deerfield Highland Park Chicago Evanston Glenview Kenilworth Lincolnwood Morton Grove Mt Prospect Northbrook Oak Park Park Ridge Skokie Wheeling Wilmette Winnetka Illinois

A quick overview of my thermal imaging services


The objective of my infrared inspections is to save properly owners, buyers and managers time, money and aggravation by providing a method of identifying and diagnosing a wide variety of common building defects without have to tear open roofs, walls, ceilings or other building structures or components. (This called "non-destructive testing").

 

I provide basic thermal imaging services as a standard feature of my general home inspections, and my condominium and other property inspections. Click on the top image at left for additional information abut my use of infrared imaging at home inspections.

 

Thermal imaging is also an important component of my Moisture Intrusion Detection ("Leak Detection") and Diagnosis Services.

 

I also provide additional specific non-destructive infrared inspection services to meet the needs of property owners, condominium, town home and coop associations, investors, real estate professions, builders and contractors, attorneys, lenders, insurance companies, municipal building departments and community development authorities and other interested parties.

 

Click on any image at left to learn more about my specialized services, or just scroll down the page to discover the many ways that Thermography can save you time, money and aggravation by by nondestructivly locating and diagnosing a wide variety of building problems.

 

How does thermal imaging work?

 

Making the invisible visible

 

Infrared thermography (also called "thermal imaging" or "infrared imaging ") is a process by which infrared radiation from an object can be measured or imaged using a special type of digital camera which translates the infrared image of the object (which is not visible to the human eye) into an image on a LCD display.

 

Visualizing temperature differences

 

In many cases the infrared radiation received by the camera corresponds in a fairly straightforward way with the temperature of the surface(s) being imaged.

 

Thermal imaging of building structures and components is useful because it allows a thermographer to visualize temperature differences between two different materials or between two different areas of the same material.

 

Patterns of temperature differences can be clues to construction or maintenance problems

 

Often patterns of temperature difference allow the thermographer to understand the the causes of the difference, and diagnose defects causing them.

 

For example, one of the common uses of infrared technology is to located and diagnose known or suspected water leaks at roofs, attics, chimneys, ceilings, walls, foundation and other areas of a building, or water leaks from plumbing fixtures, pipes and other water sources.

 

This is possible because a "wetter" area or surface may at a different tempeature than adjoining areas, for example because it is being cooled by evaporating moisture. A thermal image of the surface may graphically highlight the difference, allowing the thermographer to determine that the area is likely "wetter", verify the presence of moisture using other tools such as moisture meters, and then in investigate the reason for the increased moisture.

 


In this example a small - about 4F - difference in surface temperature is readily visualized in an infrared image.

In the the image to the left a "wetter" area of the ceiling is cooler than adjoining areas because it is being cooled by evaporating moisture.

 

The thermal image of this surface graphically highlights the temperature difference, and the thermograqpher can infer that the cooler areas are likely "wetter", and then verify and investigate the reason for the difference.

 

However, thermal imaging can be misleading

 

While the image at left is relatively easy to interpret, it is important to understand that in other cases the information provided by thermal imaging can be useless or even misleading unless the thermographer has the training, skill and experience to understand what they are seeing. For example a "wet" material may be warmer than surrounding areas early in the evening because the wetter area is retaining more heat than surrounding materials.

 

Successful use of thermal imaging to evaluate building problems depends as much or more on the skill and judgment of the observer as on the type or quality of equipment used - every competent thermographer has an infrared camera, but not everyone with an infrared camera is a competent thermographer!

 

Working together - Visual inspection, infrared imaging, and direct moisture measurement

 

Because thermal imaging by itself can be misleading, it is usually used in connection with visual observation and other types of direct moisture measuring tools such moisture meters to identify and evaluate water leaks and other building construction and maintained defects.

 

For example in the picture below a property's owners believed that roofing repairs had eliminated previous leaks, and the prospective buyer wanted to know if all leaks had been eliminated - and if he repairs were adequate to prevent the leaks from reoccurring:

 


The first step in in determining if the leaks had been stopped and if they were likely to reoccur was to visually examine the roof surface in detail. This not only established the likely location of previous leaks, but also helped to determining which likely leak locations at the interior were accessible for infrared imaging, and which would have to be inspected by other methods.

 

In this case the roof repairs were extensive and had been made by non-standard methods, and the visual examination suggested that leaks were likely continuing and/or would soon reoccur.


Below the roof in the picture at left, at the ceiling of the entry and living room, there was extensive patching and painting that was likely the result of repairs of water damage caused by a leak above. (This picture shows only around 20% of the repairs, which extended across the entire living and dining area).

 

At this ceiling there were many areas of staining and patching, and as most of the previous leaks had likely been at least temporarly corrected by the repairs, the question was: "Which areas may still be leaking?"

 

Prior to the introduction of infrared imaging surveys, the only way to check for still active water leaks would have been to spot check a representative number of areas with a moisture meter.

 


An infrared image of the same area: it instantly identifies cooler areas which are likely the result of active water leaks, and tells me exactly where to test to verify the presence of an active water leak from the roof above.

 


With the thermal imaging survey to guide me, I could quickly confirm the presence of an elevate moisture level - and a continuing roof leak despite the roof repairs - at the junction of the wall and ceiling in the image at right and without wasting time testing other stained - but now dry - areas.

 

This example is typical of my use of thermal imaging: an infrared survey was used to assist me in improving the speed and accuracy of the inspection, but infrared imaging was only a tool, not an end in itself. The key to an accurate inspection and a useful report was an understanding of how the roof should have been repaired, an understanding that as the repairs were incorrect they were not likely to have stopped the leaks entirely, and having all the tools, knowledge and experience necessary to discover, evaluate and completely document the problem. return to top

 

Infrared inspection services included at general home and other property inspections

 

At my inspections of homes, condominiums, townhouse and rental properties many of the infrared inspection services discussed in detail below are included in the inspection at no additional charge, and I frequently find problems that likely would not have been observed without the use of thermography.

 

For example a common problems I discover are leaks below tiled showers, many of them at relatively new "hi-end" construction:

 


This shower leak at a new construction town home was detected during a general town home inspection.

 

Two other similar showers the same property also leaked and were discovered at the same time.


Repairing the shower above the leak shown at left.

 

Such shower pan leaks are an important problem to catch: if the leak's cause is below the surface of the shower pan, the only way to correct the problem is to demolish and properly rebuild the pan assembly!


The cause of cause of leak in the shower at left: a nail though the pan liner too low on the liner.

 

Such defects are often create ""slow" leaks, and these are often difficult to detect before the leak has created serious serious damaged except by infrared inspection.

 

 

While it is not practical during the time available a typical home inspection to "scan" the entire property, I use infrared imaging at every inspection to observe areas where experience has taught me that it has the highest likelihood of finding problems, for example at a minimum I use the infrared camera to observe the underside of ceilings on the top floor, the interior of walls and windows on all floors where exterior conditions have led me to suspect that water intrusion may be present, the underside of readily accessible ceilings below bathrooms in locations where it is practical to use an infrared camera, and all electrical panels. While infra imaging will not always detect all problems present at such locations it substantially increases the likelihood they will be found.

 

If you wish me to conduct a more extensive thermographic survey of the property, and are able to obtain permission from the owners for me to do so, these more intensive thermography services are available for $125 an hour charged in 15 minute intervals, including travel time (if this additional work is performed at the same time as a standard inspection, there is no charge for travel). Typically, this service would add between one and two hours to the inspection of a single single-family home. return to top


 

Water leak discovery, identification and tracking


My most common use of thermal imaging is to determine the location, extent and implications of a leak which is already known to exist - often a "mystery leak" which had frustrated pervious attempts to locate and stop it.

 

While thermography is sometimes "oversold" as a solution in such applications - it's just one tool of many I use at water intrusion inspections - there are times when its effectiveness in locating the source of leaks can appear almost magical, allowing the discovery and tracking of leaks without opening open walls, ceilings or floors, or spending hours in tedious water testing of extensive areas of the structure.

 

The ceiling leak in the upper right-hand picture below is a good example of a sort of situation in which thermal imaging shines as a method of tracking down the sources of water intrusion.

 

This ceiling is located above a a ground floor room on the lower level of a duplex condominium unit, and whenever there was heavy rain water would drip from the ceiling near the middle of the room. Numerous attempts to locate and stop the leak by the builder and his subcontractors had been unsuccessful, about the only thing that everyone agreed on was that the only possible sources for the water were a large widow at the front of the room and below a set of French door on the floor above above, or a smaller window located on one side of the room.

 

On my first visit to this property it had not rained for several days and I could not determine the water's source.. However the ceiling joists were running across the room - in the wrong direction to allow water to flow across the ceiling from the front windows - and the side window appeared to me to a form watertight seal to the wall. I thought it was unlikely that any of the previously suspect areas were the source of the leak, and I had a number of other possible sources in mind. But based on what I could determine in dry weather - including what I could see with infrared imaging - I wasn't able to determine the cause.

 

Unable to diagnose the leak in dry weather, I made arrangements to return to the property the next time there was a heavy rain. I arrived while the ceiling was still wet, and 10 seconds after I had turned on the infrared camera I had the answer.

 

The pattern of elevated moisture in the ceiling matched the footprint of the fireplace on the floor above: water was likely entering the chimney system, flowing out into the ceiling below the fireplace, and then moving across the ceiling between two joists and leaking through a a drywall seam located a few feet away and toward the center of the room:

 


In this infrared image of the ceiling of this ground floor room the moisture pattern at the ceiling matches the footprint of a manufactured fireplace located in the living room on the floor above. Water is somehow entering the chimney system and running into the ceiling below the fireplace -not entering via leaks at the windows as had been suspected by previous investigators.

 


Once on the roof, I observed that the "storm collars" on the flue pipes for the fireplaces had been pushed up the pipes and were not providing a weather seal where the pipes passed through the metal chimney cap at the top of the masonry portion of the chimney. (Experienced observers will note other serious installation errors as as well, but this discussion is concerned only with the weather seal to the cap).

The flue system's manufacturer requires that the storm collar be part of a weatherproofing system that also requires a upturned lip at the cap.

Without a correct storm collar and lip at the chimney cap, water ran down the outside of the flue pipe, past the cap, intro the masonry chimney chase and down three stories, where it eventually leaked out into the ceiling of the room below, as shown in the infrared image at the upper left.

 

instead of creating a correct junction between the flue pipe and the chimney cap, repeated attempts had been made to stop leaking by adding additional layers of sealant - which not only failed to stop the leak, but also created a fire hazard as the chimney system's manufacturer requires a gap between the flue pipe and the cap to allow cooling airflow around the flue pipe.

 

 

 

This example is typical of the way infrared imaging assists me at water intrusion inspections: though a leak down the chimney was on my list of possible causes prior to my return visit, thermal imaging greatly reduced the time required to determine the cause, greatly increased my confidence I had in fact found it, and resulted in an immediate investigation of the chimney without time and money having to be spent in first eliminating other alternatives. return to top


Nondestructive infrared surveys (scans) for water and moisture problems.


Under appropriate conditions infrared imaging is by far the fastest way to inspect large portions of a structure for evidence of elevated moisture levels or to roughly establish the extent of know or suspected problems.

 

The split block wall below is a typical example of a exterior surface with elevated moisture levels not readily detectable by conventional inspection, but which be could be readily located during a survey employing infrared imaging:


When seen in visible light it is not possible to determine if some potions of the split block wall above this second floor window are admitting and retaining excessive moisture.

 

 


When the same area is viewed as an infrared image: areas of likely water intrusion and retention are readily apparent.

 


Infrared imaging at the interior above the window, followed by direct measurement with a moisture meter. confirmed that elevated moisture was not only present, but was penetrating to the interior.

 

In addition to allowing rapid surveys of large areas at both the interior and exterior of buildings, infrared surveys are usually nondestructive - at least in their initial stages they typically do not require any demolition or removal of building materials or components. And if material must be removed to allow more direct inspection and measurement, thermography of walls, roofs, floors, foundations and other structures often greatly narrows the area which must be disturbed for further investigation, resulting in significant time and cost savings.

 

Because of their rapid, nondestructive nature and relatively low costs infrared scans are practical not only for the identification and analysis of existing leaks but for maintenance scans to discover problems before they become become apparent for other reasons such as water damage or mold growth. return to top.


Identification and documentation of water damage

 

When water damage is present and the the damaged areas are still moist or wet, infrared inspections can be that valuable for rapidly establishing the approximate extent of water damage and to guide the effective use of other types of measurements to document the extent of the affected areas. Side by side visual and infrared images of this wet basement illustrates how infrared imaging can help to establish the extent of water intrusion or leakage:

 


In this basement water intrusion was visible at the surface of of finish materials primarily at the darkened area in the corner.

 

 


Infrared imaging of the same area of the basement indicated that elevated moisture levels are present in a much wider area along the baseboard and under the floor, and standing water was evident when a section of flooring was removed.

 

Used alone or in conjunction with other other types of measurement thermography can be used to document the extent of water infiltration for insurance claims or legal proceedings, or to help establish what materials should be removed during remediation. return to top


Non-destructive discovery and identification of hidden structures and components


When a temperature difference between material exists or can be created, it may be possible to use infrared imaging to locate, identify and evaluate building systems and components hidden behind finished surfaces. When this is possible, infrared inspection may eliminate the need for expensive, time consuming and messy diagnostic procedures such as stripping back roofs, opening ceilings and walls, and demolition of of concrete slabs.

 

Examples include the location of leaking water and hydronic (hot water heating) pipes or electric heating cables in concrete floor slabs, the location and identification of piping and leaks water supply and drain drain lines (pipes) inside walls and floors, the location of of structural components in roofs and exterior walls, the the evaluation of concrete masonry units for proper reinforcement.

 

In the example below thermography allowed the evaluation of a electric floor heating system in an expensive custom tile bathroom floor based on observations at the floor's surface and without disturbing either the toilet or the tile.

 


To prevent overheating and softening the wax ring that provides the water seal between the toilet and the drain line set into the floor, the manufacturer of this electric floor heating system requires that a minimum distance be maintained between the heated area and the drain at the rear of the toilet .

 


When a wax ring failed and this toilet leaked, it was necessary to determine if the heated area extended too close to the drain. By turing on the floor heat wen the floor was cold, and imaging the floor as it warmed, it was possible to to establish that the heating cables were properly installed, and were not the cause of the wax ring's failure.

 

 

New uses such as this are constantly being discovered for infrared imaging, often in response to frustration with older, more expensive and more disruptive techniques. If you have problem you believe might be solvable with thermography please give me a call, I enjoy the challenge of adapting thermography to new problems, and I may be able to create a solution even if infrared imaging has never been tried before in your situation. return to top


Inspections of electrical systems and components


An experienced thermographer with a good understanding of electrical theory and practice can readily identify some type of electrical defects which are difficult to discover by other means, however an inexperienced thermographer can easily misunderstand the the significance of what that they are observing.

 

These examples of possible electrical defects were all taken at inspections of 120/240V electrical panels of the type present in almost all homes and condominiums and also at most low-rise rental properties - they look "similar", but only two show actual defects:

 


This circuit breaker and the conductor (wire) attached to it are overheating because of a poor connection at the terminal where the conductor attaches to the circuit breaker.

 

 

 


This circuit breaker is defective and overheating because of of an internal defect.

 

 

 

 

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These two circuit breakers are hotter than the defective circuit breaker in the image to the left, but are operating properly - this type of circuit breaker (an "AFCI" breaker, which provide protection against some types of wiring defects) normally operates at a higher temperature than "standard") breakers.
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