Short Circuit A new condo's electrical panel has a faulty breaker/bus connection.
Courtesy Houston Thermal Inspectors Short Circuit A new condo's electrical panel has a faulty breaker/bus connection.

Is there anything thermal imaging can’t be used for? Infrared thermography, which detects levels of radiation within the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, has tracked icebergs and found suspected criminals in hiding.

Energy-conscious builders have long been turning to thermal imaging to locate heat leaks in houses. But far fewer builders seem to be taking full advantage of thermography, which can be used to locate latent moisture and condensation in plumbing, HVAC systems, and roofing, as well as energy leaks in electrical panels and the potential for ice dams behind walls. And for builders that also do remodeling, infrared testing can even help detect pest infestation.

“We’re not as far along as we could be” in using thermography for residential construction and renovation, observes Jim Seffrin, director of the Infraspection Institute in New Jersey, which provides training in thermography inspection.

One reason could be that there’s no national certification for thermal imaging, such as there is for Energy Star. Infrared testing might be more marketable if there were a higher classification for houses with better blower-door ratings, suggests Chuck Evans, president of Houston Home Inspection & Infrared Thermal Inspection Services.

Experts also agree builders won’t engage in extra testing “unless they have a problem,” or are forced to by code changes, says Gerald Grady, president of Shrewsbury, Mass.–based Infrared New England, who was a contractor for 35 years.

Seffrin adds that thermal imaging will become widespread only when there’s a “paradigm shift” by builders and buyers “away from speed and low price toward quality and value.” What might spur that shift? Government mandates, which Seffrin opposes, or significant rises in energy costs, which is where the country is currently headed.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX.