Originally published in Interiors & Sources

03/25/2013

3 Reasons You Need a Thermal Imager

Find hidden problems with thermography

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  • /Portals/1/images/Magazines/2013/0413/B_0413_Thermal_Imaging1.jpg

    Credit: FLUKE

  • /Portals/1/images/Magazines/2013/0413/B_0413_Thermal_Imaging2.jpg

    Thermal variations are easy to spot with an infrared camera. The dark areas in these rooms are missing insulation – the cooler temperatures noted in the purple colors show heat loss concentrated in those sections.
    Credit: FLIR

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    Thermal variations are easy to spot with an infrared camera. The dark areas in these rooms are missing insulation – the cooler temperatures noted in the purple colors show heat loss concentrated in those sections.
    Credit: FLIR

  • /Portals/1/images/Magazines/2013/0413/B_0413_Thermal_Imaging5.jpg

    A thermal imager can cost between $2,000-9,000. While this certainly represents an investment, payback is easy to achieve as you start uncovering savings opportunities. Because the tool makes it easy to highlight problems to company leadership, it can help you secure funding for upgrades.
    Credit: FLIR

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    Credit: FLIR

2) Identify Thermal Performance
The most common problem – and the one easiest to detect – is heat loss from walls, piping, HVAC components, doors, and windows.

“Infrared cameras can’t read air temperature, but they can measure the impact of that air temperature on a surface, such as the grilles on a vent,” explains Scanlon. “You can use this information to determine if the air flow is sufficient to disburse heat or cooling in a room. You may find that you have air infiltration from the windows, so no matter how appropriate the temperature is coming out of the vent, the room will never have the right thermal balance.”

Thermal imagers can be used during the construction phase of a project as well. “Let’s say you want to confirm that a contractor is doing a good job with the insulation during a construction project. You can literally take pictures of the roof and walls to see if there are areas where the insulation wasn’t put in properly,” says Woodroof.

Because IR cameras can cover such a wide area, it’s not uncommon to spot problems that you weren’t expecting to find. You may be on the hunt for one issue, but the thermal reading will bring another trouble spot to your attention.

“One time we were looking for heat loss around a fuse box in a cold storage area of a facility. As we were taking readings, we also noticed that cold air was leaking out of the freezer high up on a wall,” recalls Woodroof. “We wouldn’t have caught this additional savings opportunity without seeing the thermal variation.”

3) Root Out Roofing Problems
Your roof is one of your most valuable assets, so you don’t want to find out about a leak when an employee reports a puddle on their desk. You can use thermography to track roof conditions and spot problems before they wash out occupants below.

“Typical roof problems are punctures, compromised membrane around an HVAC unit, or gaps in a seam,” Scanlon says. “With any of these, water will saturate the insulation above the roof deck. This moisture will heat up as the sun shines down. At night, the roof will radiate heat, but the areas holding moisture will take longer to radiate because they have a higher thermal mass. There’s a certain time of the evening between sundown and midnight when these spots will stand out like a sore thumb.”

Thermography may even save you from having to replace a roof altogether because you were able to pinpoint the specific issue. “Taking thermal images from a plane, you can see where a leak has compromised the roof insulation. Instead of replacing the whole roof, you can isolate the damaged area for repair,” recommends Woodroof.


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