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The Use of Infrared Cameras in Detecting Roof Leaks

Benefits of Infrared Imaging in Building Inspection
Infrared Building Inspection of roof Insulation

The use of infrared cameras in detecting roof leaks has empowered the roofing industry. Before the use of infrared, roofing professionals had to go to great lengths to detect leaks caused by moisture build-up or mold, especially in the easy to build but hard to maintain flat roofs that have become exceedingly popular in recent years.

Now, time and resources that were used in the past to scout the problem can be used to solve the issue. This has been a fantastic discovery not only for the roofers who will have more time to devote to acquiring business, but for the homeowners who experience significant savings on repair costs. And for homeowners who wish to fix the leak themselves, advances in technology have made infrared cameras the most cost-effective way to detect and fix damaging roof leaks.

Insulation of Living Room North
Infrared Building Inspection of roof Insulation

Prior to infrared cameras, there was typically only one way to know if your flat roof had a leak; your ceiling caved in. Expensive, regular surveying by experts was the only way to prevent this damage. Air testing may be used to search for for mold in the home that accumulates on the structure making it weak and susceptible to leaks. Helium testing using a mass spectrometer is another method that can used to search for leaks, but the expense made most homeowners search for an alternative. When infrared technology came along in the early 20th century the equipment was expensive and bulky, making commercial ownership the only viable option. With digital technology came a more cost-effective way of making these cameras allowing the roofing industry and home owners easy access to the best method of detecting roof leaks.

Using infrared to detect a roof leak can be more difficult than pointing and clicking a camera shutter; experts are required to spend a minimum of 48 months as an active thermographer and go through 120 hours of training to achieve a Level Three thermographer designation. In the hands of a professional though, roof leaks can be detected in a variety of ways.

The first is viewing the roof at a distance. While this is the safest means of locating the leak, it can be more time-consuming for the professional. The thermographer can go inside the home and locate leaks by viewing the ceiling, or simply stand on the side of a home with a traditional sloped roof top. It is important to realize that flat roofs do not have the slope of a more traditional roof top; rather than slide off the top, water that accumulates from precipitation on flat roofs simply has nowhere to go. This build-up is the number one cause of leaks in a flat roof, and infrared technology allows an invaluable early detection system.

Dark areas indicate moisture.
Dark areas indicate moisture. 14th floor

The second method of detecting the leak is to perform a walk-on inspection, requiring the individual to climb onto the roof and view it from the top. Any activity on top of a roof can be dangerous. Falling off the roof or simply slipping can meet those who do not proceed with caution. Though a professional is constantly aware of these dangers, it’s never a bad idea to advise caution. Having performed the survey, a thermographer will locate areas where moisture has settled by locating isothermic images on the photographs. These isothermic areas are caused by the wet insulation resulting from the leak. Since the wet insulation has a higher thermal mass than the rest of the structure, the thermographer can determine the location of the leak with great accuracy. Because of these effective, cost-saving techniques infrared cameras are the best method available today to locate a roof leak.

Professional roofers now have more options available to them than ever before, and saving time and resources allow the home-owner to prevent damage before it happens and at a lower cost. Detecting a leak prior to structural damage will insure not only safety within the home, but less time and money spent on future repairs. Many roofs are damaged every day simply because the owner of the home neglected to use this method of maintenance. The benefits of using infrared cameras in detecting roof leaks should be clear even to the layman.

infrared detection of roof leak
infrared detection of roof leak

Expensive air or helium testing may be effective, but the time spent utilizing these methods and the cost of the equipment typically force home-owners to look for other options. Using infrared cameras takes training to use, but in the hands of a professional thermographer, the application of infrared in searching for roof leaks has become the clear front-runner in early detection. This maintenance helps to prevent and fix leaks which, in turn, provide a safe home at a reasonable cost. There is simply no better way to locate leak susceptible areas on a roof.

by Ryan M. Whitmore

Interested in a career in thermography (the science of using infrared cameras)?

Visit our Infrared Training Center for more information on getting ASNT certified for thermography.  With all the trends leaning towards green energy buildings, now is the time to start a career in thermography!  Receive Level I Thermography training in less than a week!

4 comments

  1. Jack Michael says:

    Looking for an IR camera for roof inspections that can easily be mounted to a drone. Please provide recommended models, specifications and pricing

    • mkelley says:

      Thank you for your interest in ICI. We have several products that would work perfectly for aerial roof inspections. I have sent your info over to our sales representative who will be more than happy to get you all set up.

  2. Eli Stefanova says:

    We interested in Thermal camera for leak detection and monitoring of allocation of humidity. Also metal detection in walls and under plaster.
    Please send us any information and quotation.
    Thank you in advance.
    Best regards,
    Eli Stefanova

    • mkelley says:

      Thank you for your interest in ICI. We have several products that would work perfectly for your various needs. I have sent your info over to our sales representative who will be more than happy to get you all set up. He’ll be in contact with you via email shortly.

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