Using Infrared Camera Technology to Detect Insulation Voids

20 01 2010

The modern homeowner has more reasons than ever to desire a well-insulated house. First, there is the question of comfort; a well-insulated home, warm in the winter and cool in the summer, provides a much more pleasant living space than a drafty house that is impossible to heat or air-condition.

Secondly, there is a financial incentive, because fixing leaky, gap-filled insulation can save homeowners hundreds of dollars a year that were being wasted on gas or electricity bills.

Finally, as more people worry about going “green,” they seek the comfort of knowing that their energy-efficient home is good for the environment. Reliable insulation is necessary for meeting all of those goals. There are many components to effective insulation, and the degree to which your house is protected from the temperature outdoors may vary depending on the type of insulation you have, the R-value of your insulation, the depth of your insulation, and where the insulation in your house is located. Upgrading or improving these aspects of your insulation can be effective, but also expensive.

Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way of drastically improving the insulation of your home, and that is checking for insulation voids. These are locations in your home where the insulation was improperly installed, or has shifted over time, resulting in gaps where there is no or little insulation. Checking for and fixing these problems is cheaper than changing the insulation of your entire house, and can have a significant impact on your heating and cooling bills – and infrared cameras are the easiest way to do this.

Before the invention of infrared cameras, there was no easy way to find insulation voids. One option was to examine the insulation visually, which was time-consuming and could involve lengthy examinations of little-used spaces, like attics and crawl-spaces, or even the tearing down of walls. A variety of tests to detect air leaks, like smoke tests and the blower-door tests, could sometimes indicate insulation voids but it is possible to have an insulation void without an air leak. In short, these older methods were time-consuming and inaccurate.Fortunately, infrared cameras are the perfect solution to this problem.

An infrared camera, or thermal imaging camera, is a form of “non-contact temperature measurement”. Normal cameras, which are a form of visual imaging, use the visible wavelengths of light to create an image of what we see when we look at an object. Infrared or thermographic cameras, on the other hand, use longer wavelengths of light to record an image that shows what temperature an object is. The infrared camera is not a thermometer, and does not directly measure temperature, but the infrared energy that it does detect provides information about the temperatures of the item. The range of colors in an infrared image show a range of temperatures: this shows the “thermal pattern” of an object or area and provides helpful data about the temperatures ranges present in that area.

Typically, blue colors represent colder areas, and red, yellow and white colors representing progressively hotter areas. To use an infrared camera to detect insulation voids, the thermographer needs to take photos of the house in question from a variety of angles. A trained technician can then examine these images and determine what areas of the house look unusually warm or cold. This is an indication of a probable insulation void. Meanwhile, the technician can also find gaps in duct insulation, inefficient equipment or windows, and other problems which also contribute to high heating and cooling costs. In a session as short as one hour, the technician can examine the entire house, explain the results to the homeowner, and at the same time detect faulty electrical wiring, termites, or mold.With this knowledge, homeowners can then have their insulation repaired.

An infrared camera, followed by selective visual inspection and insulation repair, is the easiest and best way to find and fix insulation voids. Compared to practices of the past, like visual inspection of the entire house, and smoke and blower tests for air leakage, the use of an infrared camera is cheaper, less time consuming, less invasive, and more precise. Also, unlike any of these other systems, the infrared camera can provide data not only on the location of the void, but also about the extent of the problem. The different colors of the image show which leaks are losing the most thermal energy, which can help determine which voids or gaps should be filled first for the maximum benefit. There are many benefits of thermography to fix insulation voids in houses. It is a completely non-invasive procedure: to determine if there are voids in the external insulation of a home, the technician may not even need to enter the house, and no walls will need to be removed unless a void has specifically been detected. It is also quick, accurate, and very specific about the location and extent of the problems. It can also help treat other problems at the same time, by providing information about windows, ducts, equipment, and other potential flaws in the home. Homeowners with any interest in increasing the comfort of their homes, decreasing their bills, and reducing their energy consumption should certainly consider having an infrared camera technician look for insulation voids in their home. This non-invasive, quick and accurate inspection is the best way to find gaps in insulation, so that they can be repaired and improve the quality of life for the home’s occupants.

by CFD

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The Benefits of Infrared Imaging in Building Inspection

20 01 2010

There are many reasons why building inspections are conducted. Governmental agencies use building inspections to check on compliance with building plans and with local codes and ordinances. Building inspections are a routine part of buying and selling homes, helping prospective sellers identify problems they are legally responsible for and helping buyers know what they are getting into.

Property manager is also use inspections for preventative maintenance. Building inspectors are called upon in the process of construction itself, to help the builders with structural design issues, storm water handling issues, and electrical concerns. As buildings age and settle, or weather storms, or undergo renovation or construction of additions, building inspectors are often called in to address safety concerns. Inspectors usually check the structure of the buildings as a whole, the foundation, the roof, the electrical systems, the plumbing systems, the interiors of walls, the attic, insulation, air conditioning, appliances, and pools.

They also look for termites and other insect infestations, as well as mold and fungus growth. Many of the tests done on these various systems are invasive and destructive. They involve drilling holes in walls, removing whole sections of walls for inspection ports, and similarly time-consuming and harmful techniques. Tests of appliances and electrical systems often involve extensive work and analysis with various meters in order to catch any potential problems, such as overheating or short circuiting. It can be almost impossible for traditional building inspection techniques to catch water damage inside walls and under the surfaces of roofs. Even to the experienced eye, a roof or wall might look dry on the outside but in fact be ready to collapse from rot on the inside.

The finding of water damage underneath a dry exterior surface is a matter of trial and error, and is very invasive, involving a lot of drilling and cutting. When water damage is found, whole roofs or walls often have to be replaced in order to fix the problem, because there is often no easy way to determine exactly where the leak started. While X-ray systems are sometimes used to see inside of walls and roofs non-destructively, X-rays can only “see” certain types of materials, and not others. They are very expensive and require a lot of training to properly use and, of course, there are serious safety issues concerning their use. Infrared cameras provide a way of seeing the insides of things. Because infrared cameras detect heat, using them to scan for temperature differences on the outside allows building inspectors to get a very good idea of what is going on in the inside.

Objects with different sizes, densities, and weights all absorbed and emit heat differently. Therefore to an infrared camera, a wall that is insulated looks different than a wall that is grouted, and both of them look different than a wall that is just empty. Because an inspector with an infrared camera can see all the inside areas of any structure, he or she can instantly determined if components are damaged, missing, or out of place. Using infrared technology, there is no need for the destructive testing methods of randomly drilling holes and installing inspection ports. Infrared cameras provide a simple means of solving the problems of traditional inspection methods. Infrared technology allows building inspectors to see problems they otherwise would have missed such as water penetration of walls and roof, leaks in the plumbing, electrical problems, and defects in the insulation.

The use of infrared cameras is not only able to detect hard to spot problems it also allows building inspector is to see problems before they become serious issues.  Infrared inspection also helps inspectors to diagnose not just the extent to but also the source of many of these problems.  This can result in a large reduction in costs. Early detection of moisture inside a wall, for instance, allows for an early, simple, cheap fix which would not be possible much later, after extended exposure to moisture creates a pervasive problem with mold. It is far cheaper to replace the small section of roof where a leak originated than it is to replace the whole roof. Infrared cameras provide a quick and effective method of moisture tracking that allows the source of any leak to be readily determined.

Because infrared cameras “see” heat, inspection with them can readily identify loose electrical connections, overloaded circuits, and shorts before electrical systems fail or, worse, start fires. A small slow leak in the plumbing can be found just by looking through an infrared camera, which is far cheaper than pulling out walls and ceilings and looking over every inch of the plumbing by eye. Old-fashioned methods of building inspection, such as visual surveillance, installation of inspection ports, and even the use of x-rays are often ineffective when and always inefficient. The use of infrared cameras makes building inspection not just far more effective but also far more cost effective.

by Jason Thompson

Interested in a career in thermography (the science of using infrared cameras)?

Visit our Infrared Training Center for more information on getting ASNT certified for thermography.  With all the trends leaning towards green energy buildings, now is the time to start a career in thermography!