Infrared Sleuth For Hire

Infrared Sleuth For Hire

Expert Uncovers Defects By Measuring ‘Hot Spots’

By ROBIN STANSBURY | Courant Staff Writer January 6, 2008 Article tools

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](http://www.courant.com/business/realestate/hc-hreinfraredcamera0106.artjan06,0,4632615,email.story)Scott J. Harold is a thermographer.

He and the small number of thermographers like him can help homeowners save thousands of dollars by finding hidden defects behind the walls of their houses.

A thermographer uses a thermal imaging infrared camera, an expensive machine that looks like a standard video camcorder. The camera acts like an X-ray machine searching behind the walls for trouble. But what it’s really doing is detecting temperature differences on the surface of walls and ceilings.

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And it’s those temperature differences that reveal problems. Such as mold. Water damage. Missing insulation. And heat loss.

The technology is not new. Similar cameras have been used for years by firefighters looking for victims in a fire, and by those conducting electrical inspections of commercial buildings.

But in the past year, a small group of technicians is now using these cameras in private homes. You can hire a thermographer for about $500 to $1,000. Some home inspection companies also now offer the service as an add-on to a traditional home inspection, for a fee of about $300.

And a few insurance companies that cover high-end homes have also embraced the technology, offering free thermal home scans to their customers as a way to identify potential problems and prevent loss or damage to a home.

That’s where Harold comes in.

He works as a regional appraisal manager for the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, which offers the free scans to its clients. On a chilly morning, Harold scanned an early 1900s house in Farmington’s historic district. Images on the screen showed a rainbow of colors, with darker blues and bright red indicating potential problems.

The 3,200-square-foot home has undergone extensive renovations over the years, and in the 1980s the homeowners added a family room with a master bedroom wing above. Recently, the kitchen received a total makeover.

It was no surprise to the homeowners, Judith and Kenneth Boudreau, when images on Harold’s colorful camera screen showed spaces of dark blue — indicating cool spots that likely revealed a lack of proper insulation.

“The house is a hundred years old and we’ve tried to insulate it but I don’t think we’ve got it all,” Kenneth Boudreau said.

But it was a surprise when a corner in the ceiling of the home’s study — a room which used to be an outdoor porch — revealed a similar dark-blue pattern combined with a high moisture reading, indicating potential water damage from a leak.

Nothing during the scan, however, required immediate action.

“Overall, this house is in pretty good shape for its age and you can see it is pretty well maintained,” Harold said. “But you can definitely see the difference between the original structure and the newer addition. You see the deficiencies in insulation.”

Tom Schlotter, owner of Allied Home Inspections in southern Connecticut, began offering infrared camera scans earlier this year (he subcontracts the work out to a certified thermographer). He books three or four scans each month.

“It’s not mainstream yet because it’s expensive technology, but it’s well worth it because they can see behind walls and I can’t,” Schlotter said. “If you’ve got a roof leak in the middle of the roof, by the time it gets in the house and you see the damage, it could be anywhere. These cameras could spot that exactly where it is coming in without ripping up the entire roof.”

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For a second there I cringed. Until I read the next sentence.