The Use of Infrared Cameras in Detecting Roof Leaks

20 01 2010

The use of infrared cameras in detecting roof leaks has empowered the roofing industry. Before the use of infrared, roofing professionals had to go to great lengths to detect leaks caused by moisture build-up or mold, especially in the easy to build but hard to maintain flat roofs that have become exceedingly popular in recent years.

Now, time and resources that were used in the past to scout the problem can be used to solve the issue. This has been a fantastic discovery not only for the roofers who will have more time to devote to acquiring business, but for the homeowners who experience significant savings on repair costs. And for homeowners who wish to fix the leak themselves, advances in technology have made infrared cameras the most cost-effective way to detect and fix damaging roof leaks.

Prior to infrared cameras, there was typically only one way to know if your flat roof had a leak; your ceiling caved in. Expensive, regular surveying by experts was the only way to prevent this damage. Air testing may be used to search for for mold in the home that accumulates on the structure making it weak and susceptible to leaks. Helium testing using a mass spectrometer is another method that can used to search for leaks, but the expense made most home-owners search for an alternative. When infrared technology came along in the early 20th century the equipment was expensive and bulky, making commercial ownership the only viable option. With digital technology came a more cost-effective way of making these cameras allowing the roofing industry and home owners easy access to the best method of detecting roof leaks.

Using infrared to detect a roof leak can be more difficult than pointing and clicking a camera shutter; experts are required to spend a minimum of 48 months as an active thermographer and go through 120 hours of training to achieve a Level Three thermographer designation. In the hands of a professional though, roof leaks can be detected in a variety of ways.

The first is viewing the roof at a distance. While this is the safest means of locating the leak, it can be more time-consuming for the professional. The thermographer can go inside the home and locate leaks by viewing the ceiling, or simply stand on the side of a home with a traditional sloped roof top. It is important to realize that flat roofs do not have the slope of a more traditional roof top; rather than slide off the top, water that accumulates from precipitation on flat roofs simply has nowhere to go. This build-up is the number one cause of leaks in a flat roof, and infrared technology allows an invaluable early detection system.

The second method of detecting the leak is to perform a walk-on inspection, requiring the individual to climb onto the roof and view it from the top. Any activity on top of a roof can be dangerous. Falling off the roof or simply slipping can meet those who do not proceed with caution. Though a professional is constantly aware of these dangers, it’s never a bad idea to advise caution. Having performed the survey, a thermographer will locate areas where moisture has settled by locating isothermic images on the photographs. These isothermic areas are caused by the wet insulation resulting from the leak. Since the wet insulation has a higher thermal mass than the rest of the structure, the thermographer can determine the location of the leak with great accuracy. Because of these effective, cost-saving techniques infrared cameras are the best method available today to locate a roof leak.

Professional roofers now have more options available to them than ever before, and saving time and resources allow the home-owner to prevent damage before it happens and at a lower cost. Detecting a leak prior to structural damage will insure not only safety within the home, but less time and money spent on future repairs. Many roofs are damaged every day simply because the owner of the home neglected to use this method of maintenance. The benefits of using infrared cameras in detecting roof leaks should be clear even to the layman.

Expensive air or helium testing may be effective, but the time spent utilizing these methods and the cost of the equipment typically force home-owners to look for other options. Using infrared cameras takes training to use, but in the hands of a professional thermographer, the application of infrared in searching for roof leaks has become the clear front-runner in early detection. This maintenance helps to prevent and fix leaks which, in turn, provide a safe home at a reasonable cost. There is simply no better way to locate leak susceptible areas on a roof.

by Ryan M. Whitmore

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!  Receive Level I Thermography training in less than a week!


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!