Infra-red Scanning Inspections

NorthWest Building Inspections is one of few inspection companies in the Pacific Northwest to offer thermal imaging as one of our many services. Although infrared cameras have been around for decades, it is only recently gaining popularity in the field of building inspections. Once you see what this technology can do, you will wonder how we ever did without it!


Water damage in ceiling

Radiant floor heat

Blockage in furnace flue

What is thermal imaging, and what does it have to do with building inspections?


In a nutshell, thermal imaging uses infrared technology to detect and show temperature differences of a material. Thermal, or infrared, energy is light that is not visible to the human eye. It is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we perceive as heat. Every material has a unique thermal signature and when moisture, heat, cold, or wood destroying organisms are introduced to the structure, the thermal signature changes. Through the use of an infrared camera, we detect these very small temperature differences and interpret the results. 
We use this amazing technology as another tool to help evaluate the condition of residential and commercial structures. With an infrared camera, relatively large areas such as ceilings and walls, can be scanned to quickly discern suspect areas. Not only does this often reveal issues that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, it significantly reduces the size of areas where more time-consuming and expensive invasive investigation is necessary.


A report is provided with each of our services. Reports include scanned images of pertinent areas and a description of any associated findings and/or recommendations.  



Identifying moisture in walls, ceilings, or roofs

An infrared camera does not detect moisture. It does, however, detect the thermal differences in a material when moisture is present. When our infrared camera reveals a suspect area, we use a moisture meter, or other investigative methods or tools, to either verify that moisture is indeed present or conclude that invasive investigation in the suspect area is necessary.


We have had much success in identifying wet or moisture-damaged areas that would have otherwise been completely hidden during a standard visual inspection.


Detecting Electrical Hot Spots

When parts of your electrical system begin to have problems, they give off heat – usually a sign of excessive friction or electrical resistance. Not only is this a potential safety hazard, often, by the time you are aware of it, the system has already unexpectedly failed. This costs time and money, and results in unnecessary headaches.

A thermal scan of your electrical system detects growing problems by identifying hot spots. Making timely repairs to these trouble spots will enable your power system to operate at maximum efficiency, while improving the reliability and cost-efficiency of the system. Early detection not only eliminates the risk of fire or other hazards, it allows you to make repairs around scheduled down-times. In business, this alone can mean mean big cost savings.

Have your electrical system thermally scanned as part of your routine building maintenance.

Plumbing leaks and blockages

Have you ever had a mysterious leak that you knew was causing greater and greater damage by the day, but that you could not find? Have you stayed up late at night to remove tiles from the shower surround, cut open holes in the walls of adjacent rooms, removed plumbing fixtures, and used various other destructive investigative methods to find the leak? If you eventually found the leak, you are one of the lucky few. Most of us are left with a lot of destruction and never finding the source of the leak.


You have two options. You can call a plumber to open walls and trace the leak. Or, you can have your walls thermal-scanned to look for the leak non-invasively. We have helped many clients narrow down, if not pinpoint, the most likely origin of these mystery leaks by scanning for thermal differences between wet and dry areas and have saved our clients a lot of time and money in wall patching. 

Blockages in plumbing pipes are similarly found because the blocked areas show a different thermal signature from the clear areas of the pipe. 

Insulation and heat loss survey

Click here to read more about our energy audit services.

Identifying location of wall studs and radiant heating tubes

 Many homes are finished with expensive wall and flooring treatments. Rightly, homeowners are not willing to chance punching their walls full of holes when hanging a picture or shelf. For a single piece of art work or shelving, an electronic stud finder and some due diligence may do the job. But, for extensive remodeling or decorating projects, thermal imaging of interior walls to reveal wall studs have proved invaluable, and has saved countless hours of probing and frustration. Similarly, thermal scanning of floors to identify the location of radiant heating tubes has helped clients reduce risk of puncturing a tube, a costly error, during remodeling projects.   

Some cautionary notes

While thermal imaging is an extraordinary tool, which greatly helps reveal potential problems in a building or its components, it is not a magic sensor that will reveal every issue under the sun, or roof, as the case may be.
As mentioned above, while this technology is powerful in aiding the detection of wet or moisture-damaged areas, it is not a moisture meter. It only detects temperature anomalies, which may result from moisture. The data is interpreted by our trained professionals to identify areas that require further investigation.
And, while the infrared camera does detect wall studs and other components typically hidden from view, it isn't x-ray vision at work. Along the same principles described above, it detects the thermal signature of different materials. Nevertheless, much useful information can be inferred from the data.
Overall, thermal imaging greatly reduces the risk of hidden problems by identifying areas that require further investigation. Although many issues that would not have been found during a standard visual inspection have been detected with an infrared camera, there are some limits to what can be detected by reading thermal anomalies. There are also limitations created by some materials that do not conduct heat adequately enough to emit detectable levels of thermal differences. 
With that said, the benefits of having a house, building, or its components thermally scanned for hidden issues are many.