If you’re looking for a low-cost way to check your home’s insulation and avoid those monstrous winter heating bills, we highly recommend picking up an infrared thermometer. These things have been around for years, and dozens of different manufacturers make/sell them for reasonable prices. In a nutshell, they basically allow you to take accurate temperature readings from a distance, just by pulling a trigger.
Spend a couple hours shooting one of these badboys at your walls, and you can quickly get an idea of which spots in your house are well-insulated and which spots you’re leaking energy from. Hit up your local hardware store and you can pick one up for anywhere between $30 and $200, depending on how advanced it is and who makes it.
In all honesty, unless you’re a contractor who demands tough build quality and extreme accuracy in your tools, it doesn’t make a huge difference which IR thermometer you buy. Spring for one in the $50-$70 range and it’ll probably work just fine for what you need.
One of our favorites in this price range is the 18V rechargeable model from Porter Cable. For a $65 device, it’s surprisingly solid. The thermometer can read temps from negative 22 to 590 degrees Farenheit with ± 1.8 degree margin of error, and also features a unique LED signal system. Unlike other IR thermometers, when you fire up the unit and take a reference temperature reading, a colored LED beam will signal if your subsequent readings are hotter (red LED), colder (blue LED), or within limits (green LED) compared to the reference temp. This makes it ridiculously simple to spot heat leaks.
Not simple enough, you say? Well, if you don’t mind spending some extra dough, you can get yourself a higher-end model that displays temperature in a color-coded graphical overlay — essentially giving you heat vision. Usually these types cost somewhere around 400 to 600 bucks, but Flir makes one you can get for about $250. The Flir One, as its called, is designed to work with your smartphone. Snap it on your device like a case, and the embedded infrared cameras will capture temperature info from your surroundings and display it on your phone’s screen. Check out our hands-on review of it here.
For more tips on how to keep your house warm and cozy this winter, check out this list of cheap low-tech home hacks.