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IR use


Chris Bernhardt
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These are some merged pics from a recent inspection.

The house was a 1930 remodel about 2200sf. I had already gone thru the house with my flashlight and then the IR camera scanning the walls and ceilings, etc. to familiarize myself with the home, which had an odd layout. When I got done I found that I had missed one room which was off the beaten path, and I took only a very brief look at it with may flashlight & IR Cam and for which nothing had caught my eye.

Later, I was pulling the cover off of a subpanel in this same room when I noticed a bunch of moisture stains on a plumbing chase bump out. So, I scanned the stains with my Aquant which read high and backed that up probing with my protimeter. I then got the IR cam out and scanned the wall, found some other suspect areas that were showing up cooler and scanned and probed with my moisture meters to confirm those.

Then I used the IR cam to scan the ceiling and found another big anomaly that indicated positive for moisture with my moisture meters. Above this area is a closet converted into a laundry room and which has a wood floor. I IR scanned and used my moisture meters in this room and didn't find any indication of moisture. The home is a bank repo and supposedly has been sitting empty for quite some time.

Now I'm not saying a guy needs an IR cam to catch something like this, as I have explained that I caught it first with my eyes then used my moisture meters. The use of the IR cam was academic, wasted some time and got me some pretty pictures that may or may not be helpful in the further investigation.

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At a recent association meeting it again came up, as it often does, do I charge more for the camera's use? I don't, at least not the way I'm using it.

What would seem to be a benefit to my thinking now is to package an IR service like a sewer scope. In other words stream the output out and record it with voice anotation. A guy would need a fusion type camera as just streaming out the IR image, I would think, would not be recognizable to the client. The client could then take the DVD, or perhaps this could stored on a server, and use it to guide air sealing and insulation improvements of his home. After improvements, perhaps another scan would be done. I would also be inclined to do a blower door test at the same time. Maybe the whole thing is really just a glorified energy audit.

But charging extra to just use an IR cam as part of a normal HI inspection? If it wasn't for the expense, isn't it just another tool in our arsenal?

Chris, Oregon

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

. . . But charging extra to just use an IR cam as part of a normal HI inspection? If it wasn't for the expense, isn't it just another tool in our arsenal?

Chris, Oregon

Yes, it's just another tool, but it's an expensive one and it offers the customer benefits that he wouldn't recieve if the inspector didn't use the tool. Two questions arise, "Should the customer pay more to receive this benefit?" And, "How will the inspector earn a return on his investment?" How you answer these questions is the result of a business decision.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to have answered no to the first question. You're customers don't pay anything extra for the IR benefit. They're lucky.

It also seems to me that you've elected to earn your return on the IR investment via the increase in jobs that you receive because you provide this value-added service at no extra charge. From a bookkeeping standpoint, the IR camera is a marketing expense that pays for itself by generating an increase in your volume of business.

The fellows at the association meeting were, I think, trying to tell you that you're leaving money on the table.

I think that, if I were to use an IR camera, I'd change my contract to include a menu of services that the customer could choose from. It would start with a basic home inspection and offer the opportunity to add radon screening, sewer scoping, IR scanning, energy auditing, environmental data research, deep tissue massage, etc, each at a la carte rates. I might even create certain combinations of services at attractively discounted rates kind of like a Grand Slam Breakfast at Denny's.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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I think both approaches are valid.

I kind of like the idea of charging more and including it as a value added service. IOW, still a base fee for a house, but it's higher than it is now, and it includes IR. No separate IR fee.

The menu approach is attractive and smart, but most of my customers come to me wanting me in the first place, they don't want to think about too much (they want me to do that part), and all they want is a good job at a single price.

I'm kinda leaning toward the Chris approach. It's worked for me in every other aspect of the gig, i.e., I charge more because I know more and I do more.

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But do you increase your liability if you charge extra for the IR and a customer thinks you missed something--real or imagined?

I remember Jim K. saying one of his competitors boasted in an advertisement that he could "see through walls." Stuff like that doesn't help when it comes to unrealistic customer expectations.

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I'm working on language for the contract and website that describes the limits of IR.

I'm not buying into the "increased liability" part, at least not yet. I just have to get comfortable with its use and how to integrate it into the inspection process.

I use digitals photos extensively now; almost every comment has a photo, and every house has an approx. 70-100 photo library documenting existing conditions. It took a while and lots of fiddling with my software to make that a simple operation.

I expect to go through the same sort of learning curve with IR.

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Originally posted by Bain

I remember Jim K. saying one of his competitors boasted in an advertisement that he could "see through walls." Stuff like that doesn't help when it comes to unrealistic customer expectations.

There's a guy around here who uses that exact phrase with realtors; probably with clients too. It's just a matter of time before some pissed-off client with a sharp lawyer makes him eat those words.

Brian G.

Waiting........ [:-dunce]

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I think the popular conception is that IR will find problems that you couldn’t otherwise find, and that is what’s behind the justification to charge extra. Finding those types of problems are few and far between. Instead, IR use has a much greater benefit for the HI.

I had prior experience with IR as an EE, and I considered the purchase carefully for two years prior to buying my camera. So far, I have been dead on, on my expectations.

I had three expectations:

  • Marketing
  • Education/skill developement
  • Finding things that couldn't otherwise be found.

I think my boost to marketing came not so much from the fact I had an IR camera but that thru its use I became a much more skilled HI even without it.

Let’s take the example moisture condition at the top of this thread. Eyes only all I would have been able to say is that there are some moisture stains. But then what? Tear open the wall? There were no stains on the ceiling and you can see via IR there’s something going on up there too. With a single moisture meter I could probe the stains, but if the moisture meter indicates dry at the outer bounds of the stains, why would I keep looking elsewhere adjacent to it? You can see via IR there are adjacent areas and that the ceiling was involved.

Would Mrs. O’Handley as a matter of protocol have checked the ceiling with her moisture meter? Knowing Mike, probably.

In this particular case I used three moisture meters and an IR camera to make the find. Why three moisture meters? Well, before IR I would have used probably just one. Thru making investigations of thermal anomalies where I suspected moisture conditions I found that one moisture meter is not enough. The tramex scans deeply, sometimes too deep. The Aquant scans half as deep and a pin moisture meter at the surface. Using a suite of tools I can characterize a moisture condition much better and I’m always trying to figure out what else can I do that will aid in the identification and characterization of moisture conditions.

IOW, thru the use of the IR cam I have gained a much greater understanding on the use and limitations of moisture meters and the effects moisture has on the condition of building materials and how it might affect the client.

It might have taken me another ten years to figure some of this stuff out.

What I have found is that the chief benefit for me, was becoming more skilled and that has led to more jobs and that’s why I should be charging more, whether I use the IR cam or not.

The only context I can imagine for “an add on chargeâ€

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Originally posted by Chris Bernhardt

Would Mrs. O’Handley as a matter of protocol have checked the ceiling with her moisture meter? Knowing Mike, probably.

Only if she'd seen a stain or something that told her visually that something was going on; in which case she would have had me bring a ladder, climb up there and scan and probe the ceiling. If it were a dry ceiling under an attic, I would have then tried to examine the area above the ceiling in the attic to figure out where the water was coming from; if it were a first floor, she would have looked for the source on the second floor using just our protimeter and probably would have found it.

I'm still not convinced that an IR camera is even necessary from a strictly technical standpoint but I suspect that I'm going to have to get one within the next few years or my inspections will be considered sub-standard by some of the techy customers around here who seem to go bonkers over every little gizmo. When that happens, I'll have to look at what everyone else is doing and decide whether the kick-up in business (if any) is enough to justify using it as a part of my regular business or it makes more sense to charge a premium just to take it out of it's container. Right now, I'm of the opinion that it's a specialized scan - kind of like an MRI versus a more common x-ray - and I think people should order it as an option and pay appropriately. That could change; we'll see.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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