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Thermal Imaging - Put The IR Camera Back In It's Case!

Walter Krebs - Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Thermal Imaging - Put The IR Camera Back In It's Case!

Prairie Home Inspection’s Thermal Imaging services can serve multiple purposes.  I can use my infrared camera to check for electrical hot spots, wet spots around toilets, missing insulation in walls and more.

So, when I got a call from someone saying they would like to hire me and to check for missing insulation, I assumed that the IR camera would be in my hand for most of the inspection.  But, that was not to be.

They were a super-nice couple with an adorable baby daughter.  He called me because their little girl’s bedroom was colder than the rest of the upstairs.  He and his wife suspected it was heat loss through the exterior wall and window.  That was a reasonable assumption and, a common problem.

On the other hand, the spare bedroom was too hot.  They had to close the heat register to make the room comfortable.  Another common issue, but, in sharp contrast to the cold bedroom of their daughter.

Our homes are, typically, not made or designed for a perfect temperature balance between every room and floor.   Even if the HVAC, insulation and ventilation are perfect:  there are external influences that will still disrupt the balance.  An unshaded, southern exposure will heat up that side of the home,  and, our prevailing winds will alter the temperature of a house on the side that faces them.  I don’t think any home has a perfect balance to its room temperatures.

I was not surprised to find varying temperature readings in the house of my new client.  I was surprised to read air humidity levels of around 50% through most of  the home.  Warm humid air, when it contacts a cooler surface, will condense on that surface. (picture a cold pitcher of water on a hot day) In fact, the window in their daughter’s room was iced over.  Ice on the window will contribute to cooler temperature in the daughter’s room, but that was not the only influencing factor at play.

It was time for me to put the thermal imaging camera back in its case and use another inspection tool… My eyes!  It was also time to exceed the standards of a thermal inspection for this family.

I wondered about the heat distribution throughout the house:  maybe there were a few things a house inspector could observe.  I decided to inspect the furnace, as well as check for registers and return grilles in every part of the home.

While I was in the spare bedroom, I observed that it did not have a return grille.  This meant that the furnace could only supply hot air to the room and it could not draw air back to itself for recirculation.  The mystery of the hot spare bedroom was solved.  But, they called me about their daughter’s cold bedroom.  What about that room?

You already know about the ice on her window and how it will make the room feel cooler.  Why was that happening?  The windows of our homes are not that great at retaining heat or keeping the cold out.  Therefore, warm, moist air will condense on the cold glass and even freeze.  It froze in this room, partly due to the 50% humidity, but also because the closed window coverings did not allow the warm air of the room to heat the glass that much.  There was an additional reason for the ice on the window, and I discovered it in the utility room.

In the unfinished basement, I could see some of the ducting that distributed the heat throughout the house.  I noticed two ducts, that are supposed to send heated air to the upstairs, that were crushed during installation.  Instead of routing the ducts up through the floor in a space that could accommodate them, the installers pinched the ducts to fit through a smaller opening.  This resulted in a restriction to the heated air flowing to the upstairs.  At this point, I felt I should get my thermal imaging camera out of the case, again.

I used the camera to measure the surface temperature of all the heat registers of the house.  It turns out that the upstairs was getting air supplied at a temperature at about 10 degrees Celsius cooler than the main floor.  To me, that deserved further investigation.

I suggested that they call a reputable HVAC company to further evaluate their heat distribution issues.  The home owners could address the other issues themselves: The ice on the window was an easy fix, just turn down the furnace humidifier, and remember to keep the window coverings open (when privacy was not paramount).  

Its interesting… How easy it was for a Thermal Imaging Inspection to become so much more!  I barely had a chance to use my IR camera!  Maybe, next time.

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