Thermal imaging cameras were once thought of as an unnecessary commodity in home inspections. However, as inspectors have started to grasp thermal imaging cameras’ capabilities, they’re becoming increasingly more popular. Now, thermal imaging cameras have become the norm for home inspections.
Thermal imaging cameras can detect subtle temperature differences that would otherwise go unnoticed. They’re small, handheld devices that make a home inspector’s job much easier and more thorough. Thermal imaging cameras for home inspectors are also available in drone form and smartphone attachments.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the best thermal imaging cameras in the industry. No matter your budget or goals for a thermal camera, we’ve got an option for you on this list. We’ll also look at choosing the right camera for your needs and the different types of cameras you have to choose from.
Why do Home Inspectors Need Thermal Imaging Cameras?
Thermal cameras can detect subtle temperature differences unnoticed by the naked eye. A quality thermal camera detects anything that gives off the slightest amount of heat or is cooler than its surroundings. Here are some areas where thermal imaging cameras come in extremely handy.
Many of your plumbing pipes and lines get hidden behind walls or above ceilings. Before thermal imaging cameras, it wasn’t possible to detect leaks until they caused water or mold damage. However, thermal imaging cameras can spot leaky pipes based on temperature differentials, and you can fix the problem before the leaky pipe damages its surroundings.
Thermal cameras also get used in plumbing inspections in the same way. They can detect temperature differences between wet areas and the spots around them. This ability allows you to pinpoint problem areas in your plumbing system and your home.
Termites and Other Insect Damage
Thermal cameras cannot detect damage to your home that doesn’t have a temperature variance, but they will pick up the heat signatures given off by a group of insects. Termites, in particular, are commonly seen in older homes and travel in large packs that are obvious to a quality thermal camera. Detecting termites and other pests in your home allow you to take preventative action before damage occurs.
Stucco, EIFS, and Flat Roof Inspections
Water leaks are next to impossible to detect behind stucco and EIFS walls and under flat roofs. A thermal camera can save you a ton of money and water damage by detecting tiny leaks before they have the chance to spread. Wet and rotten areas are usually cooler than other areas, so they will show up on a thermal scanner. This allows you to pinpoint the exact location of a water leak and deal with it accordingly.
Thermal imaging cameras can detect abnormal amounts of heat coursing through electrical circuits. They can also detect high heat in electrical outlets and other appliances. Abnormal heat signatures in electrical appliances and wires are usually due to excessive current flow or high resistance. These problems are dangerous if they go untended for long periods.
Different Types of Thermal Imaging Cameras
Handheld Thermal Cameras
Handheld thermal cameras are standalone cameras that operate similarly to any other type of camera. You hold them with one or two hands and record pictures and videos, depending on their size. Handheld thermal cameras are typically the camera of choice for home inspectors. They’re slightly larger and more expensive than smartphone attachments but also have more capabilities.
Smartphone Attachment Cameras
Smartphone thermal camera attachments are increasing in popularity with every passing year. Smartphone thermal cameras are attached to the phone’s USB port and allow you to record images and videos as if you were taking them with your phone. While smartphone attachments are affordable, handy, and easy to use, we don’t recommend them for serious, full-time home inspectors.
Thermal Drone Cameras
Thermal drone cameras aren’t always necessary, but they make life easier for some home inspectors. Thermal drones are especially handy for roof inspections and high areas where you don’t have easy access.
Considerations When Choosing a Thermal Camera for Home Inspection
The size of your thermal camera is an important and underrated consideration that sometimes goes neglected. Based on how strong you are and how often you will use your camera, you don’t want one that’s too large to handle comfortably. You also want a camera that’s easy to pack up when you aren’t using it. However, you never want to sacrifice quality for convenience.
Resolution gets measured in pixels and is extremely important for a high-quality thermal camera. Thermal cameras with greater resolution can better pinpoint leaks and subtle temperature differences. Low-resolution cameras will show the problem but will not be able to pinpoint it.
The temperature range is one of the main areas that set handheld thermal cameras apart from smartphone attachments. Handheld cameras range from -13 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas smartphones only range from -4 to 250. These extreme temperatures are necessary for detecting electricity, plumbing, and HVAC problems.
Accuracy refers to the ability of your thermal camera to measure temperatures. A good thermal camera will be able to not only detect temperature differences but tell you the exact temperature of what you’re checking. For example, you should set your water heater at a temperature between 120 and 140 degrees. Your thermal camera can tell you the exact temperature.
Best Thermal Cameras Under $600
Depending on your budget or if you’re just starting as a home inspector, you might not have a ton of money to spend on a thermal imaging camera. Lucky for you, several excellent options are available for under $600. While most of the available options are smartphone attachments, there are also a few solid handheld cameras in this price range.
Ideal for Home Inspection, Commercial Electrical, Facility Maintenance, and HVAC Applications, Brilliant 2.4 Inch Screen, Record Images to Monitor Maintenance History
FLIR TG267 Thermal Camera
FLIR is one of the top names in the thermal camera industry, which makes it fitting that they have the first camera on our list. The FLIR TG267 Thermal Camera is perfect for new home inspectors without a big budget. It’s a solid step up from a smartphone attachment and is perfect for commercial or residential inspections. You can check HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems with the FLIR TG267.
It’s a handheld trigger-style camera that you can operate comfortably with one hand. The temperature range is from -13 to 716, and it’s accurate to within 4 degrees. The thermal resolution is solid but not quite superb at 160 x 120.
- It has excellent storage and can store up to 50,000 images at once
- Very lightweight at 1.6 pounds and can easily be used with one hand
- Has Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in laser for increased accuracy
- Excellent product for its price point
- The resolution is good but not great compared to higher-quality cameras
- It doesn’t come with a carrying case like many of its competitors
Also available for Android MicroUSB & Android USB-C
Seek Thermal Compact Pro
If you have your heart set on the ease and convenience of a smartphone attachment, the Seek Thermal Compact Pro is one of the best. Seek is an industry leader in thermal cameras and smartphone thermal camera attachments. It clips perfectly into the bottom of your phone, and you operate it using the accompanying SeekThermal app that you download onto your phone.
This device is small, sleek, easy to use, and affordable compared to most handheld thermal cameras. It has temperature sensing features that rival those of handheld and drone devices. The temperature range is from -40 degrees to 626 degrees Fahrenheit, and the thermal sensitivity is .07 degrees. It can also sense the temperature of objects up to 1800 feet away!
It also has a resolution of 320 x 240, which is about as good as it gets. This device is limited because it only has infrared technology and nothing more, and it also doesn’t have an LCD screen and has short battery life.
- Excellent resolution at 320 x 240
- Easy to use and install, and the accompanying app is top-notch
- Good temperature range and thermal sensitivity
- While it’s great for the price point, smartphone attachment thermal cameras simply can’t do everything that a handheld device or drone can do
- Short battery life
Best Thermal Cameras Between $500 and $1,000
Choosing a camera in this price range typically gives you a slightly better product with more capabilities.
Model HTI-19 with Improved 300,000 Pixels, Sharp 3.2in Color Display Screen, Battery Included. Lightweight Comfortable Grip.
HTI Xintai Higher Resolution Infrared Thermal Camera
The HTI Xintai Infrared Thermal Camera is slightly different from the cameras we discussed above. It’s a handheld trigger-style thermal camera that you can easily operate with one hand for an extended period. It has a temperature range of -4 to 572 degrees and a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels which is extremely good for the price.
It weighs one pound and has a 3.2-inch screen, making it ideal for new or experienced home inspectors. This camera is also very durable, and you can upload your images onto a laptop or other device for enhanced viewing capabilities.
- Extremely lightweight and easy to use
- Perfect for lengthy home inspections where you only have one free hand
- High resolution and superb temperature differentials
- Built-in 3 GB memory
- Excellent product for its price point
- You have to hold it with a hand and can’t mount it to a tripod.
A great handheld thermal camera is about the size of a standard digital camera. WiFi allows the transfer of photos and video to your phone, tablet, or computer.
FLIR C5 Thermal Imaging Handheld Camera
The FLIR C5 Thermal Imaging Handheld Camera is quickly becoming a favorite for home inspectors. It looks and handles similarly to a smartphone and weighs about the same amount. Unlike many other handheld cameras, it can connect to Wifi, meaning that you don’t need a cord to transfer images and videos to your computer.
The FLIR C5 has a 160 x 120 pixels resolution and a temperature range of -4 to 752 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s one of the easiest to use and most lightweight thermal cameras on the market, and it’s perfect for home inspectors of all experience levels.
- At 6.7 ounces, it’s one of the lightest thermal cameras available outside of smartphone attachments
- It fits into your pocket for easy transportation
- Has built-in LED displays
- Connects to Wifi for easy image uploading
- It is still compatible with USB and micro-USB cords if you don’t have Wifi
- Though it’s small and lightweight, you typically need two hands to take accurate pictures
- The resolution is good but not great compared to other cameras
- It may not be suitable for circuit board use
Best Thermal Cameras Between $1,000 and $2,000
Finding a thermal camera in this price range is a little trickier than you might think. Most people opt for a high-quality camera under $1,000 or go all in and purchase a camera closer to the $2,000 price range. However, if you’re somewhere in between in terms of budget and what your needs are, there are certainly some excellent options in the one to two thousand dollar price range.
Fluke FLK-TIS20+ 9HZ, Thermal Imager
Fluke produces some of the industry’s best and most heavy-duty thermal imaging cameras. The Fluke FLK-TIS20 is one of their middle-of-the-line products with the same quality ingredients as a Fluke camera at a slightly more affordable price. Many Fluke thermal imaging cameras are in the $10,000 to $30,000 range, but the LFK-TIS20 is slightly more affordable at just under $2,000.
This camera is a handheld, trigger-style thermal imager with touchscreen capabilities to adjust infrared technology. It also has a battery life of over 10 hours, is water and dust-resistant, and can withstand drops, bumps, and bruises. It’s the perfect thermal camera for rough and tumble home inspections in dirty or wet areas.
This camera will get it done whether you’re inspecting an HVAC system, plumbing, electrical, or checking for structure damage. The resolution is 120 x 90, and the temperature range is -4 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- One of the most durable and sturdy thermal cameras on the market
- Perfect for rough and tumble inspection jobs
- Very lightweight and easy to handle with one hand
- Touchscreen technology makes adjustments easy
- A bit pricy
- The resolution and temperature ranges are good but not great
Best Thermal Cameras Over $2,000
This is the Cadillac of thermal image cameras with an extended temperature range, enhanced imagery, WiFi & Bluetooth technology for easy data sharing.
It's easy to use, fully automatic, and focus-free. MSX and VividIR allow enhanced image processing and Video capabilities for the sharpest mobile thermal imaging performance.
FLIR E8 XT Thermal Imaging Camera
If you’ve got room in your budget, the FLIR E8 and the FLIR E8 XT are two cameras that you should consider. Ringing in at over $3,000, however, they’re definitely on the expensive end. Therefore, we will focus on the FLIR E8 XT since it’s the more affordable option of the two.
The FLIR E8 XT is a top-of-the-line thermal camera option for serious home inspectors who value accuracy and quality. With this camera, you can find anything from structural defects to moisture issues to electrical problems and everything in between. The resolution and quality are second-to-none with pixels of 320 x 240 and accuracy within 2 degrees. It also has thermal sensitivity that’s accurate to within .05 degrees.
This handheld trigger-style camera can also upload images to other devices via Wifi, Bluetooth, or USB cable based on your preferences. No matter your home inspection, the FLIR E8 XT will do the job precisely and accurately.
- Extremely high resolution at 320 x 240
- Extended temperature range up to 1022 degrees and MSX image enhancement technology
- Easy image uploading via Wifi, Bluetooth, or USB
- Highly sensitive to temperature differences and extremely accurate
- Lightweight and easy to use with one hand
- Very pricey at over $3,000
For those who need the ultimate in thermal imaging. It features increased sensitivity to visualize temperature differences and is easier to visualize and diagnose issues with sharper onscreen images, multiple rectangle markers, and nine color palettes.
It has a more intuitive visual interface and an improved user-tested touch screen interface.
This camera offers more flexibility to visualize target, tiny-to-large with interchangeable smart lenses with no calibration required, 2x and 4x telephoto, wide angle and macro lens compatibility.
Fluke Ti480 Pro
Be forewarned that the Fluke Ti480 Pro is a top-of-the-line thermal imager that you will fall in love with if you try it. The downside? It currently rings in at over $11,000, which is not for everyone. However, for serious commercial and large residential inspections, it’s hard to compete with a thermal camera with the capabilities of the Fluke Ti480 Pro.
This camera is a handheld trigger-style thermal imager weighing 9 pounds. You’ll likely need both hands for this beast, but the good news is that you’ll get your workout in a while using it. It’s large and powerful enough that it has to be powered with an electrical cord during use.
The Fluke Ti480 Pro operates in any conditions, no matter how harsh they may be. The temperature accuracy is accurate within 2 degrees, and it has a resolution that’s four times stronger than the norm of the thermal imaging industry at 1280 x 960. It might be overkill for a basic residential home inspection, but it’s ideal for larger projects where precision is crucial.
- Offers unmatched resolution and accuracy
- Wifi, Bluetooth, or USB compatible for uploading images
- Temperature range of -4 to 1832 degrees Fahrenheit
- Temperature sensitivity of .05 degrees
- Can do anything you need done with home inspection
- At over $11,000, it’s far and away the most expensive camera on this list
- At 9 pounds, it’s on the heavy end for handheld thermal cameras
Best Thermal Imaging Drone
Thermal imaging drones are one of the more underrated thermal imaging options in home inspection. They’re great for hard-to-access locations such as roofs, high outside walls, or gables.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced
If you’re in the market for a drone with thermal imaging capabilities, the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced is the one for you. As far as drones are concerned, they’re relatively easy to operate and have a short learning curve. It’s perfect for roof or flat-roof inspections or high outside walls and gives you images of areas that would be otherwise inaccessible.
The resolution is insane at 640 x 512, and the temperature sensing capabilities are accurate within 2 degrees. This drone has thermal and visual image capabilities, meaning it can switch back and forth as needed or display both images simultaneously in split-screen mode. There isn’t a whole lot that this drone can’t do, and the resolution, zoom, and video capabilities are better than most handheld thermal cameras.
- A multi-purpose thermal drone that’s ideal for home or commercial inspections
- Extremely high resolution that’s twice as good as most handheld devices
- 48MP visual camera with live stream HD capability
- You can use it for automated inspections with up to 240 waypoints
- Has both thermal and visual imaging cameras and capabilities
- On the pricey end, since it’s limited to roofing inspections.
How to Choose the Right Thermal Camera
The two most important things to keep in mind when choosing your thermal camera are your budget and what you need your camera for. You don’t need to blow ten grand on the Fluke ti480 Pro if you’re conducting basic home inspections. However, you also shouldn’t settle for a smartphone attachment. Instead, look for a quality, handheld camera that’s somewhere in between in both price and capabilities.
If, however, you do full-time residential and commercial inspections on large buildings with tons of components, a higher-quality camera with more abilities is necessary. Thermal cameras are like anything else in the world; you typically get what you pay for.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do home inspectors need thermal imaging?
While a thermal imaging camera isn’t necessarily required for home inspectors, it gives you capabilities you wouldn’t otherwise have. Thermal cameras can see problems inside walls, ceilings, roofs, and other areas you don’t have access to.
How much does thermal imaging cost?
Thermal imaging cameras have a very wide range of costs. Apps and smartphone attachments range from several hundred dollars to $500. Handheld devices range from $300 to tens of thousands of dollars, and drones typically cost several thousand dollars.
Can a thermal camera see studs and internal structures?
Thermal cameras can see studs and other structures, but only if their temperature differs from their surroundings.
Thermal imaging cameras are changing the home inspection world and making it more thorough than ever. A high-quality thermal camera will make your life easier as a home inspector and help you do the best job possible. While you shouldn’t blow your budget on a thermal camera alone, you should invest in one if you want to up your game.