Submitted by Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Q. The buyer for our home had a home inspector with an infrared camera, and he showed them what he thought was a leak in the kitchen ceiling, which is directly below the upstairs bathroom toilet. Obviously we wanted to get it fixed right away, so we hired a plumber to remove the toilet, but they could not see anything leaking or any water damage. How is it possible the home inspector got it wrong?
A. I’m not sure if I can properly answer your concerns without knowing the full details of the situation you describe. However, it might be possible that the home inspector was not wrong. As an example, several years ago I had a similar experience following an inspection of a home that had a jetted tub in the master bathroom. As part of my inspection process, I filled the tub with cool water to just a bit over the jet nozzles, ran the tub for several minutes and then drained it.
In fact, part of my inspection procedure is to test all of a home’s water fixtures by turning on each of the faucets, flushing toilets, testing showers, etc.
Following the inspection of the various plumbing fixtures, I used my infrared camera to scan this property and noticed a thermal anomaly in the living room ceiling which, in my professional opinion, indicated a possible water leakage from the bathroom above this area. To more accurately diagnose the problem, I then used a moisture meter on the identified area, which confirmed the presence of an active water intrusion/leakage (>58.1%).
The inspection report included pictures of this area and described these findings as: “The infrared camera identified a thermal anomaly in the living room ceiling, which appears to be directly below the jetted tub in the master bathroom. The moisture meter also confirmed the presence of an active water intrusion/leakage. Further intrusive investigation will be required by a licensed plumber to confirm the exact cause of the water intrusion, as well as a cost estimate to repair.”
Just like you, the seller was diligent and hired a qualified plumber to repair any problems, but they could not find the leakage associated with the jetted tub. Because their plumber did not have an infrared camera or a moisture meter, and the sale of this home was in jeopardy, I agreed to meet the seller and their plumber the following day. At that meeting I showed what the thermal anomaly looked like with the infrared camera, as well as what the moisture meter was measuring. Since the access panel on the side of the tub offered minimal viewing, the seller authorized the plumber to cut a hole in the living room ceiling where the high moisture area was identified. It was then discovered that the slip joint nut above the P-Trap had become loose. The minor leakage finally stopped once this fitting was tightened.
Now this is an example of how not all water leakage can be easily identified from a basic visual inspection. Those professionals who use an infrared camera know that when water comes into contact with drywall it will eventually evaporate into the surrounding air. The effects of evaporation will cause a slight cooling of that area, which should then become visible an infrared camera or to a person who is trained on how to use an infrared camera. However, it is important to note that an infrared camera does not see moisture directly, but can only see minor temperature variations. That is why a moisture meter must be used to further identify whether the material has been cooled due to a lack of insulation, or possible air intrusion or as we know from this situation, from water leakage.
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