Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

Trust but Verify – Utilizing Infrared Thermography

SLS Green ConstructionFor this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Construction Law Musings, we would like to welcome back Sean Lintow Sr. (@SLSConstruction) of AlaGBS / SLS Construction. Sean has over 20 years in the construction and project management fields and is a proud member of NARI, NADRA, USGBC, and NAHB. While he still specializes in Residential Remodeling & Custom Decks, the focus of his business is shifting to the “green” / energy efficiency markets and helping other builders & trade professionals to improve their methods. Currently he is RESNET Rater, AEE CEA (Certified Energy Auditor), ENERGY STAR partner & verifier, EPA Indoor airPLUS verifier, Level 2 Infrared Thermographer, Volunteer Energy Rater for Habitat for Humanity, and Builders Challenge Partner & Verifier. You may also want to check out his great resources on the HTRC (Homeowners & Trades Resource Center).

I must first echo Brian Hill’s comments in last week’s Guest Musing; truly I am humbled and honored to be invited back to Construction Law Musings for another guest post. Today I would like to not only give a shout out to Brian Hill for his post “True Sustainability –Trust but Verify” but expand on it some. I really have to say, that is one of the best posts I have read recently on the subject and the points made about Quality First, Safety Third, and using Third Party Verifiers.

In regards to Quality Assurance, I would like to discuss one tool that we use not only in the residential arena but also in the commercial & industrial buildings – the Infrared (IR) Camera. While many taut the benefits of using them for Predictive Maintenance, insurance companies are starting to require yearly scans, or as Brian Connolly pointed out in his musing to collecting forensic evidence with IR, they can also be used during the building process. By using it during the building process as part of the QA process, one can hopefully not only catch an issue early, but eliminate the need for someone to collect said forensic evidence later. For more on the cost savings of catching the issue early, I would refer you to the end of my prior guest post.

What is Infrared Thermography & how can it help?

In short, an Infrared Thermographer uses a special camera to detect thermal patterns (infrared energy) being radiated from an object, or looks more specifically for thermal anomalies. (For a more in depth look: IR FAQ) Now unlike the movies, this tool cannot see through a wall or other object, predict a failure before it starts, or see air (love them salesmen). (For more on this: Infrared Training Notes – Day 2)

With that said, while one cannot look through walls; a component that contains water or is denser than the surrounding area will heat or cool more slowly which plays a large factor in spotting issues or verifying that work was done properly.

With this in mind and a little physics, a knowledgeable individual can spot damaged areas on a flat roof, verify that the block walls were grouted, or even spot missing areas of insulation without drilling. In the electrical arena (assuming they are energized & drawing a load), one can help use this to check panels for under or over-torqued connections, spot issues with motor control circuits and other related issues. For places with steam traps, motors, &/or pumps, one can start them up & verify that the equipment is working properly or if there might be a mechanical issue with the equipment before it is turned over to the owners.

Buyer Beware – Qualifications & Certifications:

Along the lines of Trust but Verify one should be careful when hiring an Infrared Thermographer. While the ASNT (American Society for Nondestructive Testing) has recommended qualifications (SNT_TC_1A), and criteria for this field, it is not mandatory. The ASNT simply sets the standards and leaves it up to the employer to “verify” & “certify” their employees. If an individual leaves an organization & joins another one, it is up to that company to decide which level they hold if any. (For more on this: Infrared Training Notes – Day 1)

Where this gets interesting and is confusing for many is for one man shops and smaller companies where the owner (like me) is the “certification” authority. Are they following the ASNT standards and self-certifying, using an organization to manage the certification or do they just go; here’s the camera you are now a Level 1 or 2 Thermographer, or do they just call themselves a Level 1, 2, 3 or 5? (While there is no such thing as a Level 5, that didn’t prevent one individual from trying to use it) As a quick FYI, yes I do follow the standards (inc. the hour requirement) and have completed and passed both the Level 1 & 2 classes from the SNELL group.

The ASNT does have one certification which is for Level 3’s only & they are very specific on how it is used. Individuals certified by ASNT may refer to themselves as “ASNT certified” and/or use the title “ASNT NDT Level 3.” At no time should any individual be listed as just “certified Level 3” as this can lead to confusion. For those certified by their employer only, they should simply refer to themselves as “Level 3.” While there are classes & testing specific to the functions a Level 3 performs offered by some organizations like SNELL, as you are not being tested by ASNT so you need to use the term “certified in accordance with Recommended Practice No. SNT-TC-1A,” or simply Level 3.

A Few Last Thoughts:

I know numerous GC’s, PM’s, and other trades people that have added an IR camera to their arsenal – if you do decide to join their ranks I would strongly encourage you to get some training on it. I know when I went through my Level 1 training there were numerous people that had been doing the work for years & to a T, everyone in that class remarked on how much they learned & how much the training helped them. One other great reason to get training is so it will help you identify if what you see, is really legitimate. I have a scan of an electrical panel where it reads almost 300°F in two spots which is generally a real bad sign. Fortunately the issue wasn’t the panel; it was just a reflection of an un-insulated portion of a boiler line that was behind me when I took the picture.

In today’s litigious society or just simply for your piece of mind, if you have a camera – I would recommend using it for checking up on the work. I would then make sure you bring in a professional for any documentation or QA work that needs to be done as the project moves along. Along those same lines, if a spec is listed requiring an IR inspection you might want to confer with a specialist first. I have surprised a few lawyers & dashed some peoples hopes when I explained why their request was either impossible, or what the most that could be gleaned from it would be. The Infrared Camera is a great tool, but like any tool it does have its purpose & limitations.

As always, Sean and I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

Trust but Verify – Utilizing Infrared Thermography
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9 Responses to Trust but Verify – Utilizing Infrared Thermography

  1. Wow. Thank you, Sean. You have made my day. Not just because of how complimentary you were, but also for renewing my hope in the future of the profession.

    The industry is tough right now. Friends of mine that used to run large crews and very profitable businesses, have been forced to lay off key employees, and in some cases are wearing tool bags again. The contractors that are still making it are doing what you have done – seeking additional certifications/qualifications and re-assessing their business. Above all, they (like you) are looking at every possible way that they can offer even more value to their clients. And to me, that really is the secret to surviving in a tough economy: offering more value, not less.

    Thermography Level I is next on my list of training. I have seen first hand how much potential there is for addressing quality in the built environment. Without training/certification however, the interpretation of IR readings should not be trusted. Also, just as was the case with moisture meters, the readings from such a device should serve as a guide for further investigation, not the final authority.

    Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and inspiring post, Sean.

  2. Thanks as always for your input Brian. Between you and Sean, I’ll be sure that clients build a quality projects. Always good to get a non-lawyer perspective.

  3. Thanks again Chris for inviting me back, and that definitely is our goal.

    Brian, it was my pleasure & glad you liked it. As an FYI – quite a few folks over on the mrW site loved your article to. Many thanks also for the great points you made/ reiterated in your comments- much appreciated.

  4. Guest Post: Trust but Verify – Utilizing Infrared Thermography | The HTRC: Homeowner's & Trades Resource Center says:

    […] week, I was honored to post again on Construction Law Musings, which you might recall is run by Christopher G. Hill who specializes in construction law. As an […]

  5. […] year I took a slightly diffrent tack and instead of focusing on a typical building subject like infrared or builder verifications I decided to take a look at how the world has changed as related to how we […]

  6. Notes from the Field: A tale of two reports & getting your money’s worth | The HTRC: Homeowner's & Trades Resource Center says:

    […] one might find this a little less focused than they would hope as I covered in a guest article on Construction Law Musings. With that here are a few simple methods & items to look […]

  7. Notes from the Field: A tale of two reports & getting your money’s worth | The HTRC: Homeowner's & Trades Resource Center says:

    […] one might find this a little less focused than they would hope as I covered in a guest article on Construction Law Musings. With that here are a few simple methods & items to look […]

  8. […] one might find this a little less focused than they would hope as I covered in a guest article on Construction Law Musings. With that here are a few simple methods & items to look […]

  9. […] year I took a slightly diffrent tack and instead of focusing on a typical building subject like infrared or builder verifications I decided to take a look at how the world has changed as related to how we […]

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