The Newest Technology For Home Inspections.
By Angie Hicks
Steve Katz set his sights on a 3,100-square-foot
home in Bucktown this past June, but before he would sign on the dotted line, he
was wishing he could see behind the walls for any problems that might be lurking
there. Turns out Katz is in luck because new thermal image cameras used by home
inspectors allows them to literally see through the walls.
inspections can only reveal so much,” said Frank Lesh, owner of Home Sweet Home
Inspection Co. in Indian Head Park and president of the American Society of Home
Inspectors, Des Plaines. “This technology allows us to see behind the walls
without being destructive.”
Thermal image cameras use infrared
technology — think of scenes from the film “Predator” — to compare the
relative temperature of one object to that of its surroundings. These images can
reveal problems with moisture, electrical and HVAC systems, as well as problems
with insulation, foundation and plumbing. They can even reveal insect
infestations. For example, during cold months a wall with insufficient
insulation will show up as a red spot because it’s releasing so much heat,
whereas an area that’s been penetrated by moisture will show up blue because
The problem — only a handful of inspectors offer it. “Last
I checked, there were only 11 inspectors in Chicago doing thermal scans,” said
Will Decker, owner of Decker Home Services and past president of the Chicago
chapter of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors.
past, the major hurdle was price, but in the last three years, cameras have
dropped in price from an average of $75,000 to $10,000.
“Eighty percent of the inspectors who take my continuing
education class say they really want to do it,” Decker said, “and within five to
seven years, I think it will be widespread.”
Katz heard about the new
technology from his real estate agent, and hired Applus Home Inspections to do
the thermal scan. “This is a 100-year-old house, so I didn’t expect everything
to be perfect. But I’m a very analytical person, and I really wanted to have as
much insight into the place as possible,” he said.
Katz said the most
important thing his inspector did was show him the camera up front along with
examples of what the results might look like once he received the report. The
scan turned up a damaged spot on the roof, a wiring issue and evidence of a
plumbing leak behind one wall. Katz decided to proceed with the purchase anyway.
Ranan Engelhart is a buyer who almost did not.
Decker inspected a Skokie duplex Engelhart was interested in, and to the naked
eye, everything checked out. But a thermal scan turned up a giant blue spot on
the dining-room ceiling, which he traced back to a loose seal on the upstairs
toilet. “Without the scan, he moves in, and a few weeks from now the ceiling
caves,” Decker said.
The seller eventually agreed to repair the problem,
and Engelhart is scheduled to close in November. “There are a lot of things you
can do cosmetically to make a house look sound, but the thermal scan lets you
see beneath all that,” Engelhart said. “It definitely gave me the confidence
that the place was in relatively good shape, and I know the extent of any
Thermal scanning is a hard thing for many home buyers to
grasp, but industry experts believe that interest will increase as more learn
about the potential value of its findings, especially as related to energy
Jonathan Gonsky agrees, and has been marketing the service to
Chicago area Realtors to increase awareness.
“The rising costs of
heating and cooling are a big concern, and thermal scans offer buyers two great
services — the ability to spot potential risks and identify energy-saving
opportunities,” said Gonsky, a manager for Applus, which began performing the
scans six months ago. “They’re extremely useful for older homes where drafts and
electrical issues are more prevalent, especially if you’re buying a gut or
Lesh thinks the scans have value, but warns homeowners
that they’re no magic pill and typically go way beyond what a normal inspection
requires. “It’s not cheap, but if you’ve got a real problem, such as a room
that’s really cold or really hot compared to the rest of the house and
everything to the naked eye looks OK, it might be a good idea to bring it in.”
Prices vary, from as little as a few hundred dollars up to the
thousands, depending on square footage. Katz paid Applus $350 for his thermal
scan, and said the cost was well worth it. “No one wants to buy someone else’s
problems. To go a level deeper and get behind the walls is very valuable — it
could be the difference between paying $400,000 for one place or not,” he said.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List. She can be reached at
DON’T SKIMP ON YOUR HOME INSPECTION
percent of 1,428 Angie’s List members participating in a recent poll said their
home inspector missed items that became a major expense down the road.
Considering a home is often the most expensive purchase you’ll make in a
lifetime, don’t skimp on the inspection.
Illinois requires a state
license of every home inspector, so be sure to ask for proof of license. You can
visit www.idfpr.com/dpr/ re /relookup.asp to check the inspector’s licensure
Illinois does not require insurance for home inspectors, but
many carry it voluntarily and it’s a good idea to hire those inspectors who are
insured. There are three kinds of insurance: general liability insurance, which
protects the inspector and the client in case of error (a ladder through a
window, for example); bonding, which protects both inspector and client from any
theft or missing items, and errors and omission insurance, which protects the
client against any mistakes the inspector might have made during the inspection,
kind of like malpractice insurance.
A large temperature difference
between inside and outside air temperatures usually ensures the most accurate
thermographic images, so it makes sense for Chicagoans to time their thermal
inspection for the winter months. If this isn’t possible, shoot for early
morning or late evening hours during warmer months.
requires extensive training; ask for proof that your inspector has received it.
Look — and smell — for signs that something isn’t right. Check the
corners of the basement and closet and utilize your sense of smell when you walk
into a home.
Ask to see the current homeowner’s energy bills, but don’t
just pay attention to the balance due. Look at the thermal units and the number
of heating and cooling degree days. If there’s a big increase over last year,
the home is energy deficient.
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