Defects in attic insulation

Accredited Building Consultants, Inc. at no additional charge, uses thermal imaging equipment as part of our standard home inspection process. This equipment allows us to see defects that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  For the purposes of this blog we are going to focus on attic insulation defects and deficiencies.

Hot Spots

Hot Spots

During our normal inspection process we perform a thermal imaging  scan of the structure. This scan will detect temperature differences in the surface of the ceilings and walls for defects known as “insulation anomalies “. Basic “static conditions” protocol methods are used meaning the home is not pressurized or depressurized. These anomalies are typically caused by missing, thin or depleted attic or wall insulation. When these anomalies are present, conducted heat flow shows up on the screen of the infrared camera. An example of this is shown in the photo to the right labeled as “Hot Spots”. This allows the inspector to convey to the buyer that they may experience high heat gain during the summer months and lower indoor temperatures during the cooler months equating to higher energy bills. In Florida we are more concerned with heat gain or hot spots.

The causes of these anomalies range from insulation being to thin, too old, moved by mechanical contractors to install wiring or duct work, high wind events which can move insulation away from the outside walls or to just not enough insulation originally installed.

Below are some examples of what we find on a daily basis during our inspections process using IR cameras. NOTE: In these photos the gradient scale moves from white/red is hottest to blue/black as coldest.  

Photo B

Photo B

Photo A

Photo A

This case is an older ranch style Florida home. The attic is only accessible from the attic access panel with a very low pitched roof. Photo A & B to the right shows the home has been remodeled converting the once open air exterior covered Lanai into air conditioned space. These photos are side by side and relatively showing the angle of the room. The defect is that no insulation was added to the lanai ceiling and the space was added to the overall conditioned living space of the home. Photo B shows the huge heat gain to the conditioned space. Without an inspector with an IR camera this would not have been discovered. Note: The green color in the upper left corner of Photo B is the insulated ceiling of the original living area and the red in the lower right side is the non-insulated portion of the older lanai ceiling. 

Photo E

Photo E

Photo D

Photo D

Photo C

Photo C

Photo C to the right shows the accessible and visible attic insulation missing in an attic space and the results of the heat gain are shown in thermal image D of the ceiling face.

Photo E to the right shows where a vaulted ceiling, vertical wall end has insulation missing or has fallen down causing a heat gain. Note the wood truss web members that can be seen as cooler temperatures in this photo.

All of these defects shown above would equate into a significant energy loss and added expense to the home buyer if not detected by a trained and experienced inspector using IR equipment. If the inspector you are thinking hiring to perform a due diligence building inspection does not use this type of equipment then he or she is basically, “just looking around”. The added savings that you thought you were achieving by hiring the less expensive inspector would end up going through the roof!


Fred Sylvester, of Accredited Building Consultants, is a State of Florida Certified Home Inspector and Commercial Building Inspector with over 35 years of construction experience. Fred specializes in Southwest Florida, including Home Inspections and Commercial Building Inspections in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples FL.
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