The Benefits of Thermography
March 1, 2007
There are thousands of companies in the United States serving customers with moisture- and mold-related issues. Moisture is everywhere. Like many things, it is good when in balance. But too much moisture in buildings can result in costly deterioration of the materials and mold growth, potentially leading to unsafe living or working conditions. Customers are looking for qualified firms or individuals who can quickly, accurately and economically locate and determine whether or not there are elevated moisture levels in their homes or commercial buildings. If the moisture levels are elevated, the customer will want them returned to acceptable levels. That’s why restorers and remediators should be interested in the science of thermography.
How can the professional restorer quickly and accurately locate moisture issues? Moisture meters and borescopes have been and are still the recognized tools for verifying the presence of moisture when it is not visible. But using only a moisture meter in the investigation can be a very slow process. This is where the infrared camera becomes so valuable. First of all, it must be stated that the IR camera is not a moisture meter. It is a thermal-imaging camera that detects temperature differences. Where there is elevated moisture in or on interior building materials, there is usually evaporative cooling. If necessary, the building can be modified to enhance evaporative cooling. Since evaporation lowers the temperature of wet surfaces, the IR camera can easily and quickly locate suspect areas needing further investigation. Both the IR camera and the moisture meter are needed to perform a building moisture investigation. So, after the IR camera locates an anomaly, we verify the presence or absence of moisture with a moisture meter.
There are many benefits to using thermography in building moisture investigations. For restoration and remediation firms, IR cameras can help make and save money. Saving $200 is like making $200. But we want to both save and make $200, resulting in $400, right?
Everyone agrees that time is money. Every hour you spend on a job is an expense to you. If the job is suddenly going to take an extra day that was not accounted for in your original bid, you immediately translate that into lost profits, right? How long would it take you to thoroughly inspect 2,500 square feet of floor, wall and ceiling areas from a Class 3 water loss for moisture using a moisture meter? Perhaps an hour, or hours, depending upon how thorough the inspection, and that’s expensive.
How long would it take you to do the same job using an IR camera and a moisture meter? Perhaps minutes, and certainly a fraction of the time spent with a moisture meter alone. A trained thermographer can pan through a room that size and check questionable areas in a matter of minutes. Using an IR camera significantly reduces inspection times, resulting in reduced labor costs.
The same thing applies to monitoring the drying process. It would take a lot of time to check every square inch of the area you are drying and you can easily miss areas of moisture. On the other hand, the IR camera can quickly show you and the customer the progress of the restoration and where to focus your drying efforts. Again, you are saving time, money, and you are getting a great return on your investment in customer satisfaction.
Most people will agree that you can save money with an IR camera. But can you make money? Can you charge for the use of an IR camera? Using the camera provides your customer with a more thorough and accurate service, including visual documentation. A couple of years ago the U.S. Department of Energy Web site had some recommendations for those who were considering buying a house. On the “Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Consumer Energy Information: EREC Reference Briefs, Thermography” Web page, it states:
“In addition to using thermography during an energy audit, you should have a scan done before purchasing a house; even new houses can have defects in their thermal envelopes. You may wish to include a clause in the contract requiring a thermographic scan of the house...The cost of a thermographic inspection ranges from $200 to $500, depending on the size of your home and the service provided.”
In the article, the government acknowledged the benefits of IR technology for the consumer and suggested a cost to the consumer for such an inspection.
Another benefit to the restorer or remediator is risk management. We live in a litigious society. Doing a great job doesn’t always protect you against litigation. How much can you lose in a lawsuit where the customer claims that there was mold due to your alleged failure to dry their property completely? Who wins? The one with the best documentation and the attorneys!
Do you have good documentation clearly showing you left the property dry? There’s no better documentation than “before” and “after” IR images, along with moisture meter readings, showing that you completed the job. This documentation can facilitate better customer relations; help to prevent disputes from developing into litigation; and successfully defend you in the case of litigation. These savings, not to mention the resulting peace of mind, more than justify the cost outlay for an IR camera.
IR documentation can help determine the appropriate time for keeping equipment onsite. The equipment needs to be removed when you have reached your drying goal. This documentation will assist in justifying your invoice and updating the insurance representative’s file.
Given a level playing field in all other areas, the company with the better technology often wins the business. There is a consumer confidence level that goes with high-tech, especially with something like the IR camera that visually shows the customer “invisible” moisture. It is rewarding to see the confidence and satisfaction customers have when they can see the moisture before the drying process begins and the absence of moisture after the restoration is complete. A happy customer translates into faster payment, great referrals, and increased future business.
What are the benefits of thermography to the property owner? Property owners are rightly concerned about two major things: physical protection of the property and the health and satisfaction of the tenants. Water damage can lead to deterioration of the property, and the cost of repairs can escalate with time. Mold can adversely affect the health of the occupants, resulting in a host of problems, including the loss of a tenant. Therefore, it is wise to use the best technology available to locate, restore and remediate any such issues. Property owners who hire restorers trained to properly use IR technology receive a more thorough and accurate investigation of water and moisture problems.
Insurance companies are concerned about keeping their customers happy so premium dollars keep flowing. When property claims are made, insurers are concerned about paying a fair and equitable price for the work that needs to be performed under the terms of the policy. That is good business. Insurance adjusters are charged with having to determine how coverage applies to each loss. Generally, they are not experts in the field of restoration. They rely on good documentation to establish the scope of the loss and the appropriate need for equipment and labor. In some cases they have been overcharged for drying equipment. One of the many benefits of IR technology for the insurance company is pictorial documentation covering the scope of the loss and the need for equipment. The restorer can document when the property is dry and remove equipment at the appropriate time. That documentation can then be submitted to adjusters to document their file, allowing them to close files faster and only pay the appropriate amount for restoration.
We have seen a positive trend in the use of IR cameras by restorers. More and more companies are choosing to add this technology, and it appears that trend will continue. It is our nature, though, to focus on the front-end expense rather than the back-end return on investment. Successful business people will tell you, it’s not what it costs; it’s what it makes or saves that determines whether or not it was a good investment. If you liked this feature circle 129 on page 51.