Today’s high-tech imaging devices are the equivalent of a magic wand, with their capacity for making the unseen visible without resorting to costly—and perhaps unnecessary—demolition.

In the construction industry as well as related trades (think home inspectors and insurance claims adjustors), imagers are being used by HVAC crews to locate drafts and determine insulation condition, by electricians to peer into walls and crevices to help fish wires and find overheated circuits, by plumbers to locate clogs, and by remodelers to find where moisture has infiltrated the house and created pockets of mold.

With their ability to check surface temperatures and help pinpoint drafty areas around doors and windows, as well as hot spots, imaging thermometers are useful non-contact diagnostic tools. These handheld devices give both a visual and infrared image of whatever item or surface is being scanned. The images are created when the camera captures the infrared energy transfer from an object to its environment. The energy transfer then is displayed as a color palette (imagers sometimes offer users different color palettes to choose from), with hot items registering as brighter colors and cool objects as darker colors. With the addition of record-keeping software, reports can be generated.

Prices have fallen over the years and now range from just under $1,000 on up. As costs keep dropping, infrared devices are becoming more and more affordable for remodelers and construction service suppliers in small shops, giving them the ability to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Today’s homeowners and apartment dwellers, raised on HGTV, have higher expectations of their remodelers and building maintenance crews, and are less tolerant of exploratory demolition for diagnostic purposes. If you do a significant percentage of work where these tools can cut down on your time on the job, then high-tech imagers may well justify their cost for your operation.

Cameras with flexible scopes, aka snake cams, can easily wend their way behind walls, investigate heating and cooling ducts, and navigate the watery recesses of a plugged toilet. Expect to pay between $200 and $300 for battery-powered inspection cameras with optical scopes, more if you want a model with the ability to take photos and video.

Story Image A tool with many uses, cameras with flexible scopes can plunge the recesses of a clogged toilet, reveal the best route to fish an electrical line, and even locate the nest an enterprising bird built in the chimney.

For remodelers working on old houses, snake scope cameras can be a godsend. Just ask Zac Young of Crawfordsville, Ind., who found multiple uses for his while remodeling his mother-in-law’s 1890 house.

“Instead of knocking a big hole in the plaster, you can drill a small hole and use the snake camera to help you fish a wire. In snaking wires between floors it was especially useful.” Young also used his camera scope to inspect walls for plumbing lines and vent stacks without resorting to demo. “In working with old houses, it’s wonderful,” he says. “It’s one of those things you don’t use everyday, but when you need it, it’s great.”

A snake cam with a detachable head, like the device Young used, made it possible for him to visualize his field of operation and progress, even while working in a tight spot, since he could place the tool's head wherever he needed it without having to having to maneuver the whole device into his work space.

Young also found his snake cam useful in a way that perhaps its manufacturer did not envision. As the parent of a five-year-old and four-year-old twins, he has employed the camera to help him retrieve his wallet, which one of his nimble-fingered offspring managed to stuff into a floor register. “They’ve thrown a few other things down there that the camera has helped locate,” he says.