How the IAQ Industry Uses Thermal Imagery

How the IAQ Industry Uses Thermal Imaging

Thermal imaging has been used by the military to detect and identify enemy personnel, equipment, and buildings for years. Helicopters, fighter jets and even some missiles use thermal imaging for targeting and reconnaissance. Law enforcement agencies also use this technology for everything from tracking criminals at night to rescuing citizens and pets.

In the building industry, thermal imaging has been used to find problems with building materials, such as hidden water leaks, HVAC leaks, missing insulation, and faulty electrical and mechanical systems. For example, thermal imaging can help you locate loose fuse connections and overheated breaker boxes, or determine if there is energy loss due to poor insulation, bad weather stripping around entryways or refrigeration units.

Energy loss in building
Energy Loss in Building

The IAQ industry has been using thermal imaging over the past 5 years for “vision” during environmental investigations. Now you can examine roofs, floors, and walls for moisture intrusion. This technology does not use x-ray capabilities. Instead, it uses the differences in surface temperature to pinpoint problems and presents the results in a colorimetric scale on screen. Infrared cameras cannot detect mold. However, it can detect the temperature differences of moisture often associated with mold growth and condensation problems. You need to use a moisture meter to confirm that the temperature difference is indeed moisture.

Cold zones around attic door
Cold Zones Around Attic Door

Infrared cameras can also be an asset to remediation and restoration contractors. If walls are not dried completely, microbial problems can continue to occur. The infrared camera can help you determine if a wall has dried properly after remediation, saving you time and money by avoiding revisits.

Moisture at baseboard
Moisture at Baseboard

Some thermal imaging cameras come with features such as viewing picture-in-picture, saving jpeg images, and downloading capabilities. Thermal imaging cameras are quickly becoming a common tool to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of IAQ investigations and home inspections.

What is Thermal Image Scanning?

What is Thermal Image Scanning? Thermal imaging uses infrared technology to detect very small differences in temperature. Every material has a unique thermal signature and when moisture, heat, cold, or wood destroying insects are introduced into the structure the thermal signature changes. The changes can be subtle or dramatic but with this incredible thermal image scanning technology the thermal signatures are detectable where they wouldn’t be able to be seen with the naked eye.

What Thermal Imaging is NOT.  It’s not a Moisture Meter or X-Ray Vision or Super Tool or a Risk Eliminateor.   It cannot detect moisture because the best it can do is detect thermal differences.   The infrared imaging camera can identify suspect areas that require further investigation.

As new technologies are developed, they become available in areas of use far from what they were originally developed for.  Thermal Imaging is one such technology.  Originally developed for the military for finding enemy soldiers at night, it progressed to medical imaging, industrial testing and, finally, to the construction trades and building consultation.

A Home Inspector, equipped with a thermal imaging camera and properly trained in its use, can find suspect areas with a house that normal home inspectors cannot.  These areas include:

  • Water intrusion through the houses exterior covering, whether the house has brick, stucco or siding.


  • Plumbing leaks inside the house, including leaking pipes, improperly seated toilets, leaky shower pans and bathtubs and water pipe condensation.


  • Improperly insulated HVAC ducting that can cause condensation dripping in attics and crawlspaces.


  • Improperly installed or insufficient insulation in ceilings and walls.


  • Leaking roofs, skylights, roof vent piping and roof vents.


  • Pest investation or insulation issues caused by such.
In short, Infrared technology is purposefully designed to provide you with a level of service that increases the speed by which many household problems can be identified, reduces the collateral damage required to fix those problems, increases the accuracy rate of correctly identifying problems, and helps you to catch small problems sooner so that don’t become expensive or unmanageable problems that can affect your family’s health or your financial well-being.
Finally, thermal imaging technology allows us to more-accurately identify damage to your home’s electrical systems. By being able to pinpoint “hot spots” in fuse boxes and household wiring, we can provide you and your electrician with detailed imagery that will help the electrician to identify defects and make repairs more quickly to save you money.
Surface temperatures can also be changed by living organisms such as mold, mildew and household pests. Because these organisms often thrive in places that cannot be seen by the naked eye (such as behind walls), the use of Infrared technology allows us to pinpoint exactly where a problem area is in your home without the need for any immediate invasive damage to the structure of your home.

The unique aspect of seeing surface temperature variances is that such variances can be caused by issues that may lie below the surface of a floor, behind a wall, or above a ceiling – places that are “out of sight” and are thus out-of-mind. Also, surface temperature variances can be caused by airflow such as cold air seeping under a door or warm air leaking from central air ducts. The air itself changes the surface temperature of objects that come in contact with the air.
As human beings, we are limited to seeing light only in the visible spectrum called white light. This is the light that bounces off everyday objects whether that light is being emitted by our Sun or an artificial source such as a light bulb. Without assistance from technology, we are unable to see surface temperature variances, and it is the ability to see these variances that allows us to more-accurately identify potential, and immediate, problems in your home that would have otherwise been missed.



Thermal imaging can detect electrical issues where any component in the circuit may be failing or improperly installed or deteriorated.  Electrical defects are a common cause of house fires and are often the result of older wiring deteriorating or new electrical work that was not done properly. Even hanging a picture can cause electrical issues.

The electrical system can also be evaluated with Infrared Technology.  In this picture the circuit breaker is reading as elevated compared to the surrounding items.  With further investigation it was found to be a 15 amp breaker connected to a newly installed blower motor that was rated for 20 amps. Without Thermal Imaging this would have probably been undetected.

10 Mistakes People Make with Heat

Even with a constant flow of information about energy efficiency, homeowners make major heating mistakes that end in higher electric bills and larger environmental footprints. Here are 10 of those errors, with the cause and effect of each decision.

1. Maintaining a constant temperature

Cause: A persistent myth suggests that you can save energy by leaving the house at a comfortable 68 degrees (a widely recommended winter setting), even when you are sleeping or away at work. The idea is that it takes more energy for the furnace to reach a comfortable temperature than to maintain that temperature.

Effect: You could miss out on significant potential energy savings by not using a programmable thermostat and adjusting the temperature overnight and during the workday. Though the impacts of adjusting the thermostat vary based on your climate and other factors, studies show that knocking the temperature down by 10 degrees for eight hours per day can cut heating bills by 5 to 15 percent. Sure, the furnace will cycle on for a longer period to return to the more comfortable temperature, but it will be far outweighed by hours of savings when it didn’t have to work as hard.

2. Cranking up the temperature to warm up the house

Cause: You come home in the middle of the day to a cold house. You want to warm back up to 68 ASAP, so you crank the dial up to 78 to get the furnace working harder and faster.

Effect: No time is saved in reheating the house. Most furnaces pump out heat at the same rate no matter the temperature. They just cycle on for a longer period to reach a higher temperature. The furnace will take the same amount of time to return to 68 degrees regardless of the thermostat setting. By cranking up the thermostat, you are likely to overheat the house past 68 degrees and waste energy. Just reset the thermostat to 68, make some hot chocolate and wait.

Learn how to get the most out of a programmable thermostat.

3. Closing off vents in unused rooms

Cause: You don’t want to waste energy heating rooms you aren’t using.

Effect: Again, this just wastes energy and makes your furnace run inefficiently because it changes the air pressure in the whole system. Experts recommend never shutting off more than 10 percent of vents. Sealing your ducts is a more efficient way to save energy.

4. Using the fireplace

Cause: You found some free firewood on Craigslist and think you can burn up some free heating energy while enjoying a romantic fire.

Effect: While we can’t make any promises about increased romance, we can predict increased energy bills. An open fireplace flue may suck more cold air into the house than the fire can radiate into the living space.

5. Using electric room heaters

Cause: You spend most of your time in a couple of rooms, so you figure you will just heat them with space heaters.

Effect: This could lead to higher energy bills and greater fire risks. Generally, a central gas heating system is cheaper and more efficient than a set of electric room heaters. Electric heaters also can be a fire hazard. There are exceptions. A single energy-efficient space heater in a small, well-insulated room can save energy if the central heater is switched off.

Learn how to use space heaters efficiently.

6. Switching to electric heating

Cause: Electric heaters are more efficient than fuel-based systems, so they must be cheaper and better for the environment, according to this popular idea.

Effect: In most areas, simply switching to electric heat leads to higher energy bills and a bigger carbon footprint. Your heater may be more efficient, but most U.S. homes are still linked to coal-fired power plants. These coal plants and their transmission systems are extremely inefficient. Of course, it’s a different story if you have a large photovoltaic solar array or your utility company uses renewable energy.

7. Replacing the windows

Cause: Those big pieces of glass get so darn cold. They must be the reason your house is so drafty.

Effect: You could spend a lot of money to only take care of part of the problem. Windows must be installed properly to avoid drafts, gaps and leaks. Moreover, more heat is typically lost through poorly insulated walls and ceilings than through windows.

8. Replacing the furnace first

Cause: You blame high energy bills on an old, inefficient furnace.

Effect: Your energy bills will still be higher than necessary if you don’t start with cheaper, smaller upgrades to improve the energy efficiency of your home, such as caulking around windows and doors and adding insulation.

9. Upgrading to the most efficient furnace on the market

Cause: You want the sleekest, most energy-efficient furnace available because it will be the most cost effective as well.

Effect: You may end up replacing an oversized furnace with another (albeit more efficient) oversized furnace. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that most U.S. homes have oversized HVAC systems. Again, insulate and weatherize to maximize efficiency, then get the smallest system that will comfortably meet your heating needs, which will be substantially reduced. Also make sure it is professionally installed.

10. Using incandescent light bulbs for heating

 Cause: Incandescent bulbs give off more heat than light, so they must be warming up the house.

 Effect: It is hard to see this logic as anything but a weak excuse for holding on to the Edison bulbs rather than switching to CFL and LED lighting. In fact, one German entrepreneur is marketing incandescent bulbs as “heat balls” to skirt EU laws against the old-style bulbs. However, I doubt he is keeping cozy this winter simply by sleeping with the lights on.

Thermal Seal Failure

Possibly the most common problem with modern windows is the failure of the thermal sealed, insulated, double glazed glass unit. Double glazed windows are made of two pieces of glass with an air tight gasket between them. This gasket usually a black or silver color is what fails allowing air to get between the panes of glass.

The most common signs that the glass unit has failed are:
1. Condensation is visible between the two (inner and outer) panes of glass.
2. It looks like a white powdery substance is coating the inside of the window.
3. The windows have a foggy appearance.
4. There appears to be a scum on the window that cannot be washed off.

If the window glass appears to have one or more of the above conditions, it has probably failed and will need replacing. Depending on the brand of window, it may be possible to replace the glass unit by simply un-screwing the corners of the sash or removing trim strips and releasing the failed glass unit glass. A replacement unit is then easily inserted into the frame.

Welded vinyl frames, it is often impossible to remove the glass and a new sash unit must to be ordered. On these windows, there is often a number or small tag/sticker on the top or side of the sash (the part of the window that goes up and down) with a code number on it. Using this number you should be able to order a replacement glass and frame without the necessity of having the manufacturer visit the home to measure for a replacement.

Roof Ventilation

Presuming that your roof has been properly installed, the next most important factor to consider is attic ventilation. The best type of ventilation is when cooler air can enter the attic through soffit vents. These vents can be seen from the ground and are located behind the gutters.

The warm air is then vented out through the vents mounted on or near the top of the roof. The other type of venting is commonly found in older homes does not use ridge vents. In these homes the cooler air enters through the soffit vent, and vents out through louvers in the gables on each end of the building.

Without these vents, heat and moisture will build up in the attic area and combine. This combination causes the sheathing (the wood under the shingles) to rot, the shingles to age prematurely and the insulation to lose its effectiveness. A cooler well ventilated attic during the summer will also lower air conditioning bills.

Caution – Remodeling Around Water Heater

The hot water heater can not be located in any bedroom, bathroom or clothes closet. The hot water heater must be accessible for maintenance and relighting of the pilot.

All gas or propane burning appliances need a plentiful supply of air to operate efficiently and safely. When a gas hot water heater is starved of air/oxygen it burns inefficiently and creates carbon monoxide, a deadly, life threatening gas.

At the time the gas hot water heater was installed, the installer and the local building inspector made sure that the unit had an adequate supply of air to operate safely. It may be that the room where the gas burning heater is located is currently very large. If a remodeling project reduces the size of that room by putting up walls, the available oxygen/air supply will be reduced substantially, possibly creating a potentially life-threatening situation.

If the hot water heater is located in a small closet type room, it must have its air supplied through vent pipes from the attic, through louvered doors to the room or a large air vent in the wall.

Note: Vent or breather pipes to the attic must extend above the insulation. One pipe should terminate 12 inches below the ceiling, and the second pipe 12 inches from the floor.

Regulation for hot water heater combustion air.
Unconfined space – minimum 50 cubic feet of space per 1000 btu per hour.
Confined space – two openings 100 square inches each, freely communicating with unconfined space.

NOTE: this is just for the hot water heater if a furnace is in the same room, more air will be necessary.

Winterizing Your A/C

There is nothing necessary

Many homeowners believe that it is important to cover the condenser for the winter. It is not necessary or for that matter advisable, to cover and wrap the air conditioning condenser with a tarp or plastic cover during the winter. The manufacturer designed the condenser knowing that it would be outside and exposed to the elements year round.

Wrapping the unit stops air flow from blowing through, this causes a buildup of moisture and condensation on the steel frame which in turn accelerates the resting process. It may be a good idea to put a piece of plywood or plastic over the top but not the sides of the unit. This helps stop leaves or other debris from entering the unit, but it is not necessary.

Remember to remove this cover before turning on the system in the spring! Failure to do so could result in the cover being blown off, causing damage to your property or serious personal injury. If you do cover the condenser we recommend that you remove the fuse or trip the breaker (usually located on the wall beside the unit) to prevent any accidental start up.

Thermostat Settings

The better insulated your home is the more you can benefit from a programmable thermostat, uninsulated or poorly insulated homes will loose too much heat when the unit is turned down for an extended period of time and the amount of heat needed to bring the temperature up again negates the whole idea behind lowering the temperature setting.

Do not set thermostat below 70 degrees, especially in mild weather. The indoor coil will freeze up after approximately two hours, resulting in no further cooling. Restaurants, bars, and businesses usually have special switches to cycle the system, allowing lower temperature settings.

Heat pumps:
Set thermostat no lower than 68 degrees, leaving the thermostat set at any temperature between 68 and 74 degrees costs no more than leaving it at 65 degrees.

Note: Leave the system fan set to “on or continuous” setting all year round. This saves money and prevents hot and cold spots in the house.

HVAC Service Intervals

Oil fired furnaces should be serviced annually, the oil filter changed, nozzle cleaned, and burner blower lubricated.

High-efficiency (92%) gas furnaces should be serviced annually.
Not sure if you have one of these? High-efficiency furnaces will have one or more of the following components: electronic ignition, PVC plastic flue pipe, or a small blower motor mounted on the front of the furnace.

Gas furnaces (80% sometimes referred to as “mid-efficiency”) should also be serviced annually. These furnaces have 26 gauge flue pipe, or double wall B-vent pipe. (These look like galvanized pipes).

Air Conditioning / Heat pumps, have them serviced once a year for optimal efficiency. The best time to have them serviced is in the spring once the temperature is above 70 degrees.

Servicing heating and cooling equipment extends the life of the furnace or air conditioning unit, as well as insuring that it operates at maximum efficiency which will in turn save you more money than the cost of the service call.

Remember: Air filters should be changed or checked monthly.

HVAC Remodeling Danger

Furnaces can not be located in any bedroom, bathroom or closet.

All oil and gas burning appliances need a plentiful supply of air to operate efficiently and safely. When a gas or oil-burning unit is starved of air/oxygen it burns inefficiently and creates excessive amounts of carbon monoxide. At the time a gas/oil burning furnace or hot water heater is installed, the installer and the local building inspector make sure that the unit has an adequate air supply to operate properly.

It may be that the room the units are located in is very large. However, if a remodeling project reduces the size of the room by putting up walls, the available oxygen/air supply will be reduced substantially creating a potentially life-threatening situation. If the furnace and/or hot water heater is located in a small closet type room, it must have adequate air supplied through vent pipes from the attic, louvered doors to the room, or a large air vent in the wall.

Note: Vent or breather pipes to the attic must extend above the insulation. One pipe should terminate 12 inches below the ceiling, and the second pipe 12 inches from the floor. In many cases the service switch to turn off the furnace is in fact the breaker, this is acceptable as long as it is within sight of the furnace and not further than 50 feet from it. If remodeling a switch will need to be installed on the furnace if the electric panel is no longer in line of site.

Combustion air requirement.
Unconfined space – minimum 50 cubic feet of space per 1000 btu per hour. Confined space – two openings 100 square inches each, freely communicating with unconfined space.

NOTE: This is just for one unit, if there is a hot water heater in the same room, more air will be necessary.

DANGER: Keep all flammable materials such as paint, gasoline, propane cylinders, rags, paper, mops, etc. away from appliances!