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Energy audits: A high-tech way to stay warm this winter

Inspectors turn to infrared cameras to spot air leaks that the eye cannot.

(Page 2 of 2)

Over the past year or two, requests for the technology have soared, says Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Home Inspectors. Of 9,000 home inspectors in the association, about 1,300 are “infrared certified” having completed a course to ensure they can properly identify what the camera is displaying.

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“Most folks just want to save money on their heating bill,” Mr. Gromicko says. “We’ve found some people, though, who are using thermal-energy audits to help sell their house. So they can use the report to prove how energy efficient their home is to a prospective buyer.”

Like many home inspectors across the country, Valley isn’t seeing too much inspection work related to home sales these days. But he’s glad that a couple of years ago he bought a thermal camera, took certification courses, and added thermal imaging to his energy-audit service. Now he takes the thermal camera everywhere, including regular home inspections.

“Sometimes people think I can actually see through the wall with this camera,” Valley says. “I can’t, of course, but the temperature differential does reveal what’s going on behind the wall.”

Looking at his camera screen inside Kaisernan’s home, Valley points at dark vertical lines set against an orange (warm) wall. The lines represent wooden studs and darker spots show where the nails are. Darker black areas between the studs show where the fiberglass insulation is sagging, bagging, or missing.

Kaiserman is particularly suspicious of her kitchen wall.

“What about the cabinets?” she wonders. “They turn into a freezer in the winter. All the cups in there are ice cold.”

Sure enough, Valley finds the thermal traces of an air leak high up on the wall through an old vent that had not been plugged properly. Within an hour and a half, Valley has identified nearly every spot inside and outside the home where heat was escaping or cold was intruding.

As part of the service, Valley routinely takes dozens of thermal pictures of each area and regular digital images, too, to make it easier to identify the location of each problem. He then compiles the photos into a report, placing arrows to clearly designate problems. Then it’s a matter of prioritizing areas with the worst air and heat leakage.

In Kaiserman’s case, it’s around the fireplace, by the cupboards, and down in the basement crawl space.

Kaiserman plans to eliminate the worst problems either by blowing insulation into the void behind the wall, or, if necessary, removing part of the wall and putting in fiberglass insulation. The termite damage near her chimney will have to wait until spring, she says.

“I’m really glad I did this,” says Kaiserman, who moved into the house a couple of years ago. “I knew I had some drafts, but I just didn’t know where they were coming from or how to get at them. Now I do.”