So, you’ve just gone out and picked up your Seek Thermal Compact from the vendor. You show it to your wife and kids, and play around with it and your friends at the bar, but how are you going to use it for something really valuable? Home repair requires a lot of time and energy, and upkeep is much like doing laundry, in that it needs to be done at frequent intervals. Home energy audits were at one time in the territory of costly home inspections from the electrician, but if you know what to look for, just about anyone can conduct an educated assessment of their home, and cut their energy costs significantly. Hiring a professional for a home energy audit clocks in at around $387 for just a single visit, which is more than you could spend on a Compact to diagnose any problems yourself for just $249. Get just two professional inspections throughout the course of the year, and you’re already spending more than 3x what it costs to do it yourself- forever. Here is a list of things you should know to put down the phonebook, take out your camera and make the most out of a DIY thermal home inspection.
1. Timing is Key
One of the first things we need to take into account before we go poking around our house with the Compact is when we are going to do so. It’s important to remember that we don’t have x-ray vision; we’re not going to be able to see through the walls in the house. What we are looking for are the presence of hot and cold spots in the walls, that are often indicative of costly energy leaks. For surface temperature differentials to be accurately recorded, there needs to be an absolute minimum difference of 18°F between the interior and exterior of the surface you are scanning. It’s very important to remember this fact when you begin a home audit, starting with the outside of the home. To get the best results, every home inspection should be conducted in the early morning, several hours before the sun has had a chance to warm the building. Along the same lines, windy days are unsuitable for thermal home inspections, as the wind cools and disrupts the heat radiating off the house, and gives you an inaccurate depiction of its overall temperature.
2. Framing and Insulation
The first thing you’re going to be looking for when evaluating the home’s exterior is the presence of what are known as thermal bridges. These are areas in the building which have significantly higher heat transfers than the surrounding materials, which results in general reductions of its insulation. Conventionally, houses are composed of a wooden framing surrounded by layers of spray on foam insulation, and the studs tend to be the areas that will show up as vertical or horizontal stripes in the image. These stripes will be significantly more evident if the framing is in metal, as it has greater thermal conductivity. Insulation voids around the studs will be revealed as dark areas, and air leakage around the framing of the windows will typically be rendered in brighter colors depending of the filter you have selected. High costs on your monthly utility bills are often the result of one or both of these common issues. If you observe these upon your initial inspection, you can address them by considering wool or fiberglass insulation as an alternative to deteriorated foam insulation, and caulking your windows or weather-stripping them to mitigate the release of air. The department of energy suggests simply by sealing these air leaks, you can save more than 20% on your energy bill, year after year.  The average single household in the United States spends more than $2000 a year on energy bills alone, meaning a simple sweep with your Compact could save you over $400 just by picking it up and taking a walk around the house.
3. Heating and Air Leakage
Directing our attention to the inside of the house is the next logical, and important step to our energy inquires. The ceiling can be evaluated in much the same way as the walls outside your home. The lack of proper insulation around light fixtures and appliances will be evident as dark streaking around the seams. If there is any water leakage or damp area in the ceiling it will be also show up as darker spotting. Directing your attention downward, you will see if the radiant heat coils underneath the floor are operating at their correct temperature, and reveal the hot and cold spots beneath your feet. Another thing you want to pay attention to is air flow within the house. Take a look at vents, gaps around electrical outlets and baseboards, attic hatches and door frames. You can observe any unwanted air flow, also known as convection, through cracks in the floor, walls, and ceiling; easily visualizing it as it plumes outward with your thermal camera.
4. Inspection of Electrical Appliances
Your next task is to check the many HVAC appliances that run off electricity in your home. Overheated circuits, conductors, and switch gear are more than capable of draining equivocal amounts of unnecessary energy that escapes outside doors and windows. Defects in their internal structure, such as overly high voltages concentrated in a single area, or corroded fuses can be easily diagnosed with your Compact. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) recommends that the load of thermal energy in a given device should never exceed 40% of its maximum capacity. For this reason, it’s important to remember that any temperature anomalies you may encounter could be potentially dangerous, even if they do not appear threatening at first glance. Thermal cameras make overheated components immediately obvious in heated appliances by highlighting them as bright colors against darker backdrops.
5. Accessing the Roof
As the primary barrier against the outside forces of wind, rain and snow, maintenance of the roof is critical to keeping everything underneath it safe. Remember the best time to inspect your roof is at night, after a sunny day when the roof is completely dry. Moisture Is the single biggest threat to your roof’s structural integrity and longevity. Cracks in the tiling will funnel water downward into the insulation where it gets absorbed like a sponge, and outwards towards the edges of the insulation boards. Because wet insulation reacts differently depending on what its comprised of, it’s important to know which kind you are working with prior to your survey. The two common types of diagnostic evaluation associated with roofing are called capacitance and conduction surveys. Capacitance involves ascertaining whether or not insulation is wet or not by inspecting the roof as it cools off after a warm day. Wet insulation does not cool off as quickly as dry insulation, because the process requires more energy. This temperature discrepancy can be easily observed with a Seek Thermal camera. Conduction analysis by contrast should take place during colder weather, to observe hot spots and see if insulation is conducting energy inside or towards the outside of the building. Water damage if left unaddressed can bore its way down into electrical systems in the building, and compromise the inventory of your entire home.
Diagnosing potential problems with your roof using infrared is non-invasive, cost efficient, and easy work relative to the expenditure required to fix the problems. Getting just a 10x10 repair on the roof clocks in at $650. So why not spend a fraction of that amount of money on a Compact and eliminate the need for one entirely? Finding any wet areas where water may enter is well worth and the huge amount of money you’ll be spending on repairs after the damage has already been done. The Compact’s ability to take and save pictures and video will additionally save you the hassle of hiring an inspector to come out and find the problems before you pay to get it fixed.