The human eye is an incredibly complex machine, but it has its limitations. Our abilities only stretch to light, depth and color.
To go beyond the visible spectrum, we need advanced technology, to see infrared, ultraviolet, and heat radiation.
There is much more of our world to explore.
Thermal Imaging technology allows us to see heat emission from a surface, and the subtle variations in temperature in everyday objects, from the incredibly cold to the blisteringly hot. In fact, any temperature down to absolute zero (that's -273.15°Celsius which equates to -459.67° Fahrenheit) can be measured with a thermal imaging camera.
It used to be the case that this technology only fell into the hands of specialists, notably firefighters using it to see through smoke. But thanks to rapid advancement in technology, and with it reductions in manufacturing cost, thermal imaging cameras are finally within reach for many more people, facilities and businesses. Firms like Seek Thermal and FLIR are producing low cost cameras for consumers, independent professionals, and just about anyone else.
Some devices can be attached to a smart phone and provide a rudimentary step into the world of thermography. Everyday tasks can be carried out with a greater level of insight than before imagine being able to find points of weakness in home insulation or check the even spread of heat across a barbecue. For more advanced applications, but still within a sensible price range, there are a number of options available.
Handheld, ray gun style cameras are in wide use in various industries, as well with professional service workers like electricians, plumbers, building surveyors and more. Many small business owners can now benefit from thermal imaging without an enormous initial outlay. Whereas thermal cameras used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, they can be purchased now from specialty retailers for much more reasonable prices.
Being able to locate inefficiencies and fix them means that a thermal imaging camera is a sensible investment. Wherever heat leaks from buildings or overheating electrical systems look like they might fail or HVAC systems have had previously hard to locate issues, a thermal imaging camera can become invaluable. Consider building insulation, which when installed correctly has obvious benefits.
It doesn't take much convincing to realize that appropriate insulation represents great energy and cost savings. It's absolutely vital to get installation right so as to make sure that benefits are maximized. A thermal imaging camera helps determine exactly where points of weakness can be found before installation takes place.
This is good for the installers who get an accurate picture of how their work is affecting a building's heat loss, and also good for clients who can be shown exactly how much heat they are losing currently. Even the tiniest cracks and breaks can represent considerable heat loss, and thermal imaging can show you exactly how much. After installation, all parties can see how dramatically things have improved.
There are many applications that thermal imaging can enhance allowing for more efficiency and cost savings. The multitude of problems related to wasted heat transmission can be greatly reduced. Mold growth, which tends to grow where cold spots exist, can be diagnosed and remedied.
Moisture problems can easily be located or prevented. Cooler areas that are found where they shouldn't be is a dead giveaway that there might be a water build up. Thermal imaging is a surefire way to diagnose problems caused by substandard construction practices as well as prevent them at the construction stage. Visible, damaging problems are caused by invisible heat differences and only a thermal imaging camera can reveal these problems.
There are some things to bear in mind.
Thermal imaging, when performed correctly, is very reliable.
There are certain conditions, however, which make it impractical or ineffective. Very hot days will throw off readings, as the bright sun will heat up external walls and mask problems. Likewise, rain or wind make reliable readings difficult or may exaggerate the true nature of a problem. The optimum time to take a thermal image is on an overcast, temperate day, when the temperature is not under or over the normal seasonal average to any large degree.
The evening is a good time to take an image as well due to the fact that as the temperature drops, it will reveal how a building is performing during a shift as the heat level is lowered.
The future of thermal imaging is bright.
The technology is increasingly becoming more affordable and new applications are being developed on a frequent basis.
For instance, the use of thermal cameras attached to drones means that larger, hard to reach areas can be surveyed with minimal effort. Advancements in chip production mean cameras are becoming lighter and more portable.
In the near future we can expect to see 3D thermography and live thermal monitoring from remote locations. Thanks to Google and their Project Tango initiative, there might even be built-in, effective thermal imaging cameras in smart phones with no accessories required.
Michael French, a thermography expert with test equipment supplier at ISSWWW, considers the many applications for thermal imaging cameras within building maintenance and facilities management. Shared courtesy of NACFM.