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


Mold Detection Using Infrared Cameras

20 01 2010

For the people who lived in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the word mold has taken on a very important meaning in their lives. After returning to the damaged homes, many homeowners began the repair process. While many repairs were done correctly, there are also many repairs that were done quickly, and incompletely.

Now, several years have gone by and the houses that were damaged by Katrina and repaired are on the market; potential home buyers must be aware of the danger of mold. Over eighty percent of the homes in New Orleans suffered some type of damage and many of them received water damage. It has become vital to make sure that a home is free of mold when purchasing it.

Mold can cause many health problems. These include allergic reactions and toxic effects due to mycotoxins. Because of these possible problems it is very important to be able to detect mold in a house. One method that can be used to detect mold in a house is by using infrared thermography.

By using an infrared camera that produces images of heat radiation, a technician can detect the existence of moisture inside of walls that cannot be seen by the human eye. Moisture and similar conditions can promote mold growth. Mold related problems can be detected by the camera before there are signs that are visible or detectable by a person other senses such as smell. But the infrared camera is not effective on its own. A technician also needs to have temperature measurements to make an informed decision about the possible mold growth. To solve this, they use cameras that can take accurate temperature measurements. By comparing the temperature measurements with infrared readings of similar structures in the area, a technician can decide if a significant temperature rise will encourage mold growth.

When a technician finds an area of suspected mold growth, the camera is an invaluable tool for documenting the information. This will help a person who is not familiar with what mold looks like or can do understand the nature of the problem within the house that they are inspecting. This information can be used in the decision making process for a home buyer or a person selling the home. Once the information is documented, the seller will have to disclose that information to any other prospective buyers.

A home buyer can find out how large the problem is within the house they are looking at, and base their purchase decision on this information. There are other ways to detect mold in a house. One way is through brute force. A person can remove the drywall and inspect it visually. This is not very accurate as the conditions that can create mold growth are not always able to be seen by the naked eye. It is also costly since whatever is removed will have to be replaced. Unless a person already plans on tearing down all the drywall in a house, this method is not an effective way to inspect for mold.

Another method for detecting mold is by using scent detection canines. The specially trained dogs can tell when mold is present. The dogs can pinpoint the specific location even when it is hidden behind walls or under floorboards. One more technology for detecting mold is by taking air samples in the house. Even when a dog detects the mold or a person visibly finds evidence of mold, air samples are still needed to determine the extent of the problem. The air samples are studied by lab tests that can determine how dangerous the mold is in a house. Infrared camera technology is readily available.

In a town like New Orleans where flooding was a large issue, there are many companies offering their infrared inspection services to the public. They can choose from many different types of cameras that offer such things as high resolution images, laser pointer, and advanced image fusion. They also have cameras that provide accurate temperature measurement. Along with the cameras, the companies also use software that will create detailed reports and inspection summaries that can be used to analyze, diagnose and make repair recommendations based on the images that were taken by the camera.

Infrared cameras are a tremendous time saver in mold detection. They can cover large areas in a shorter time period than traditional methods. They also can provide a reliable survey that can be used by prospective homebuyers, or homeowners who have suffered damage and are making a claim with their insurance company. It can also be used to make sure that the proper repairs have been done on a home that has a mold problem. Infrared technology can be used to supplement the other tools in mold detection to provide a person with complete information. The technology can also be used for early detection by finding spots that moisture can be retained. Because of all of this, the use of infrared cameras for mold detection is an invaluable tool for all home owners and homebuyers to use.

by Jeff Mechlin

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!