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.
 

 

WHY IS INFRARED THERMAL IMAGING SO VITAL TO YOUR HOME INSPECTION?


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 Ways to Reduce Your Summer Utility Bills

Before the summer heat—and summertime utility bill—starts to make you sweat, you might want to consider making a few changes to cut your energy consumption. You can shave dollars off your monthly bills without sacrificing comfort as long as you plan ahead and get creative. Here’s a room-by-room guide to saving money this summer—and benefiting the Earth at the same time.

In the basement: Geoff Godwin, division vice president of Emerson, the country’s largest provider of heating and cooling systems, says cleaning air conditioning filters  every month and getting your system checked by a professional once a year will ensure that it’s functioning as efficiently and inexpensively as possible. “A lot of people don’t do that—they ignore the AC systemuntil something goes wrong,” he says, then they end up buying an entirely new unit instead of making minor fixes.

If you need a new air conditioner, an energy efficient one might be eligible for a tax credit (check at www.energystar.gov). When you’re shopping around, look for a unit with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio of 16 to 21, the highest level of efficiency. Another option is a geothermal heating and cooling system, which utilizes pipes running from the more stable, ambient temperatures found five feet underground year-round into your home, where they pump heat in or out, depending on the season.

[Slide Show: 10 Ways to Reduce Your Summer Utility Bills.]

Throughout the house: “Make sure your house is leak-free,” says Alliance to Save Energy spokeswoman Ronnie Kweller, or else “nice, cold, expensive air is going out the cracks.” You might want to consider assigning this task to a professional. Through the Energy Star online directory, you can find a local auditor who will use diagnostic equipment to test your home for areas where air conditioning might escape. Your auditor will probably do what’s known as a blower door test, which lowers the air pressure in your home and reveals leaks. He or she may also take a photo of your house with a thermographic camera, with the red areas of the photo indicating where better insulation and sealing are needed.

If you don’t want to shell out money for an energy auditor, you can perform a casual energy audit yourself. Efficiency experts recommend feeling around baseboards, windows, doors, light switches, and electrical sockets for air leaks. Air can escape or enter anywhere that two different building materials meet. Kweller also recommends walking around your house with incense to see if the smoke blows in when you pass windows. Kweller says old, wooden windows are especially prone to this kind of leakage

If you find problem areas, seal it with foam or caulking, which you can find at the hardware store. Insulation that meets certain efficiency criteria is also eligible for the federal tax credits. Kweller says properly sealing your house can save up to 20 percent on your utility bill.

Using a programmable thermostat so that the temperature automatically rises when no one is home during the day can yield annual savings of about 30 percent, says Godwin, with much of the savings in the summer, since air conditioning runs with electricity. While some 25 million households own programmable thermostats, only half of those people take advantage of them, says Godwin.

Replacing older light bulbs with compact fluorescents not only reduces your electricity bill , it can help save energy on air conditioning since fluorescents generate less heat, says Kweller. She estimates that each bulb can save about $50 over the course of its lifetime.

[See 10 Ways to Save By Going Green]

In the living room: There’s nothing wrong with hosting movie nights this summer, but make sure you shut your entertainment center down when the evening’s over. Simply turning off a television set doesn’t put a stop to so-called “vampire power”—the power that devices consume even when they’re not in use. That’s why you should either unplug your electronics or use a Smart Strip, which cuts power when it’s not needed.

If you’re in the market for a new television, check energy efficiency ratings. The Energy Department bestows its Energy Star rating to sets that use about one-third less energy than regular televisions. In general, LCD televisions use less energy than plasma screens, but both use more than older sets.

Remember to turn the power off or unplug your digital photo frames when you’re not gazing at those illuminated photos. Over the course of the year, leaving one on costs about $9—not a lot, but when thousands of people are doing the same thing, it adds up.

In the kitchen: Baking a cake or casserole in the summer will force your air conditioner to go into overdrive. Plus, eating hot food will only make you want to turn the thermostat down. But you don’t have to survive on cold pasta salads and gazpacho this summer. Instead of using your oven, consider an outdoor grill or toaster oven for small amounts of food.

If you’re up for a challenge, try baking cookies on your car—yes, your car. Nicole Weston of Baking Bites developed a method of baking chocolate cookies with the heat that collects inside cars on steamy days. She suggests parking in the sun, using a thermometer to help monitor the temperature, and protecting your dashboard by putting a barrier between it and the baking sheet. (It should be at least 95 degrees outside and the baking process takes around two and a half hours.)

[See 10 Great Green Home Improvements for 2010.]

In the bathroom: If you don’t want to spend money on a low-flow toilet, you can still make yours more efficient by dropping a soda bottle filled with sand or water into the back. It will use less water each time it flushes. Ivan Chan of carbonfund.org adds that small steps such as turning the water off while brushing your teeth or shaving can save a substantial amount of water (and money on your water bill) each year. He also recommends installing a water conserving showerhead.

In the bedroom: Stay cool while you sleep with an overhead fan instead of pumping air conditioning throughout the entire house. Shutting the doors and vents of unused rooms can also lighten the load of your air conditioning unit .

Outside: A way to reduce cooling costs in the longer run is to plant trees or shrubs so that your house is more shaded, especially on the sunnier side, says Kweller. (For a quicker fix, draw the blinds or shades when you’re not home.)

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.