Infrared Cameras

A little bit about Infrared Cameras and Home Inspection.
Just a few things to clear the air or your mind about Infrared Cameras. First off Infrared camera or Thermal camera are the same thing, it’s taking pictures simply based on temperature. It’s not X-ray vision as some have been led to believe. So we are taking pictures based on temperature, what’s important here is to realize that the camera operates on a reflective principle meaning we are simply creating an image based on the temperature at the surface of the material photographed. The use of infrared in home inspection is valuable but not infallible. We can look for missing insulation, moisture intrusion, air leaks etc. but all these situations have limitations with infrared cameras. Moisture is probably the most misunderstood relationship with infrared. When moisture is on a surface evaporation is taking place which means a lower temperature in that area due to air currents moving around in that localized area. This will give us an image indicating a cooler spot. Great we think we found a problem, but wait an AC duct behind a wall will also give us a cooler spot. So the first part after the image is taken is to interpret what we are seeing. Also there are other issues to be considered. If we are looking at a finished basement wall trying to find moisture and if the vapor barrier is well installed with no holes and well sealed we can have moisture behind the vapor barrier (towards the exterior) with no migration to the interior. Now we have no evaporation taking place therefore no temperature difference and no cold spot on the infrared image. I’m trying to give you a small snapshot of how infrared works in a Home Inspection application. Infrared cameras are valuable tools, I personally love my camera a wouldn’t be with out one. However there are limits to its use and results. This is why in my opinion an infrared camera is a necessary tool to have but not valid to charge more for an inspection just because I use this tool. Some inspectors are charging up to 40% more because they are using an infrared camera. I can’t justify this when although useful infrared is not a guarantee to find hidden defects. Lastly if you choose and inspection and inspector who uses an infrared camera make sure he has the training to use the camera. The interpretation of the images are critical to any value of this tool.

Are we busy

In general most home inspectors aren’t busy which many of us are somewhat perplexed and bewildered. You would think we would be running off our feet with the state of the real estate market in the GTA. The reason we aren’t is that multiple offer situations often necessitate removal of the request for an inspection in order to make the offer to purchase more appealing. Its becoming the norm to say an offer must go in clean with no conditions. This of course in my eyes is a huge risk and I won’t even  touch on the financial aspect of this. Going without an inspection is a risky adventure for most and extremely risky if you are the type who has contractors complete all of your home maintenance and repairs. For those who are not savy on home systems and components a home inspection  not only looks for major defects but also provides maintenance tips and insight into what may be coming up in the future. It actually is the second opinion on upcoming work to be completed.

A small snapshot of this would be this kind of inspection comment on a deck for example- ” Deck is currently stable but does not comply with current codes” This doesn’t sound like much but means a lot. The deck isn’t failing and is sound but the building code has changed and is changing all the time. With decks for example all must be built today with 6×6 posts and permanent foundations. There are many decks  that have 4×4 posts and deck blocks that work quite well. Deck blocks may require a little more maintenance but can work quite well. Lets say that you plan to increase the size of the deck, maybe add a second level. The relationship to a contractor is that he may state “that deck isn’t to code and you need to rip it off and start over” . What the inspection provided you with is a second opinion that “we know it doesn’t meet the current building code but it is stable, safe and works just fine”. Therefore no “I’m not starting over all I want is to build and extension onto the deck not rebuild the whole thing”.  That is just an example of the benefit of a home inspection beyond looking for major defects and deficiencies.

So now back to the real estate situation where we can’t put the inspection clause in the offer. You can work around this by doing an inspection before putting in the offer, often the seller may allow this and then you have the comfort of knowing more about your purchase if you get into bidding type situation. You can do an inspection after you take possession so you at least know what to look out for or what you need to prepare financially to repair.

At the end of the day many people don’t want spend the $400.00 average inspection price in case they don’t get the home.  With todays home prices that money may not even be one quarter of one mortgage payment. In my eyes why wouldn’t you get an inspection. Even if  you don’t get the home its a 3 hour education session you can take with to your next offer.

Real Estate and Home Inspection

As Home Inspectors we often get accused of having unethical relationships with real estate agents, meaning we write a report to ensure that the sale of the home is completed to stay on the agents good side. There by ensuring that agent keeps using the inspector as their go to guy.

I will start by saying that I do have great working relationships with many Real Estate Agents who are ethical and stand by having the you the buyer as their 1st interest. Agents I like to work with are the ones that want the truth in the report no matter what because their first interest is you the buyer and if for some reason this deal can’t be completed then they move on to find another home. (Maybe buyers should call home inspectors to ask what Real Estate Agents to use.) These agents recommend me often because I report in a manner that is not alarmist but to the point. I’m not here to scare you out of the home but I’m not going to sugarcoat the issues either. A good agent will work through the issues in the report allowing you the buyer to make an “informed decision” about your purchase. Any agent chasing you to sign off on the Inspection Condition immediately at the end of the inspection is not one you should be using.
When choosing your real estate agent realize that there 40,000 of them in the GTA now and some do count on your sale like its their last meal. Understandably though the Home Inspection profession is an awkward situation for Real Estate agents as being an unlicensed profession the agent can and rightly so be furious if an unprofessional inspector and poorly written report kills the sale.

At the end of the day just do your homework, buying a home is not only likely the biggest purchase you will make its very time consuming completing all your due diligence to ensure you know what you are buying.

The Value of Home Inspection

Even I was a skeptic when I started in this business 10 years ago. Its not the big deficiencies that make it worth while those are easy to justify. For myself I believe the value is the time spent at the home while I complete the inspection and the discussion on site when the inspection is completed. This time gives you the buyer a chance to really have a thorough look at the home, I believe the more sets of eyes the better. I follow an inspection standard but that’s not always going to address concerns that you as the buyer may have. I had clients walk from a home once after the inspection because of their concerns about the neighbors and activity next door. That’s not something written in a standard but I feel is a valid reason not to carry on with the purchase.

The discussion at the end of the report often is focused on prevention and proactive maintenance more than large defects. As a snapshot two of  which occur very often are loose toilets and moisture behind shower tiles. These two issues occur often in new homes only 2-5yrs old as new structural lumber  dries the home settles and small hairline cracks or separation occur in tile grout allowing moisture behind the wall.  Toilets are fixed to plastic drain plumbing and do not settle as the floor does. These small issues would be discussed to ensure preventive repairs are completed to avoid big issues down the road. This is where the inspection value really lies.

With house prices approaching $1million for the average single family dwelling in the GTA and a home inspection cost of about $400.00 how could you not justify doing a home inspection even its just about advice on maintaining your purchase. If nothing else its 3hrs of time to really decide on what may the largest purchase you may ever make.

How to choose a home inspector

So you just bought a house maybe your first or this is your second or third time purchasing a home. You want a home inspection because you’re unsure and nervous about your purchase probably the biggest or one of the biggest purchases you will ever make. Your Real Estate agent will likely show you 3 contacts as their code of ethics states they should recommend at least 3 names for outside services. Whether you choose the agents suggestions or choose your own inspector here are things you want to consider when choosing a home inspector.
Home Inspection in Ontario is unlicensed, licensing may be coming in the future in this province but for now you need to realize that anyone in this province can hang out their shingle stating they are a home inspector.

Most home inspectors will state they are certified. Think carefully about that and ask certified by whom? Anyone can say they are certified so it is important to see that they are certified by a college or association that has reputable background. Be careful if someone says they are certified by the organization they work for.
Is the inspector insured? This is important because whenever an occupation is unregulated but the service professional or contractor carries insurance the insurer becomes the unofficial regulator. Insurance companies don’t want to insure someone not qualified and will check the contractor’s background for education, qualifications, membership in professional associations before insuring this person or their business.

Extra Services. Inspectors offer extra services, which is fine if they have the proper training and qualifications. Things like WETT inspections (wood burning appliances) require certification by the WETT organization. There are level one and level two WETT inspections, level two includes inspection of the chimney flue if you don’t get a level two inspection then the appliance really has not been certified as safe to use. Septic and Wells require licenses from the Ministry of Environment, a home inspector can be fined up $10,000 for removing the lid on a septic or well without the proper credentials. Mould testing. If your inspector says he does mould testing that should raise a flag, home inspectors can only do sampling not testing unless they have their own lab. Will your inspector interpret the lab report and explain it to you?  My belief on all these extras is leave it to the professionals. These services are beyond the scope of “Home Inspection” I will recommend contacting these types of professionals whenever any type of red flag is raised in these areas but your home inspector needs to realize when the issue is beyond his area of expertise and training.