Infrared Thermography—The Next Best Thing to X-ray Vision

12/28/2012 By Glenn Hasek

I have always been a fan of Superman. It goes way back to when I was a child collecting comic books. (Interestingly, my office is located just a few miles from the home where Superman was first created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.) Every boy wants to be Superman at one time or another. Who wouldn’t want to have x-ray vision?

In an article this week, I explore how an infrared camera can be beneficial to your property. While not exactly providing x-ray capabilities, an infrared camera can reveal valuable information unseen by the naked eye. Thank you to John Keane, director, Infrared Training Center, Nashua, N.H., for helping me with my article.

It was not that long ago that infrared cameras were cost-prohibitive—in the $50,000 range. Today, they can be purchased for as low as $2,000. Commonly used by professionals conducting energy audits, infrared cameras are increasingly being used by home and building inspectors, as well as engineers and environmental program managers.

I don’t recommend going out and buying one and then snapping away. They are complex to use. “It is a bit of a science to understand what you are seeing,” says Keane, who strongly recommends taking classes. His organization offers different levels of certification. Level 1 certification, for example, requires 32 hours of classroom time.

Primarily Used for Electrical Inspections

What you can see with an infrared camera can potentially save you lots of money and headaches down the road. The most common application, Keane says, is electrical inspections—looking for hot spots caused by bad connections, current overload, or other problems. “It would be common for a hotel to want to have all of its electrical infrastructure inspected, from the substation outside all the way to the electrical panels inside,” he says.

Infrared cameras can also be used to inspect motors or pumps, identify instances of poor insulation, poorly sealed windows and doors, inadequate or poorly sealed ductwork, plumbing leaks, or other plumbing issues related to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. Air and water leaks can be costly and in a worst case scenario, a water leak can lead to mold and ultimately employee or guest sickness and litigation.

“For any type of building infrared thermography can be extremely helpful,” Keane says.

In addition to identifying glaring hot spots, energy loss and leaks, infrared thermography can be used as part of any ongoing preventive maintenance program. Images can be stored and compared over time to detect trends. Infrared cameras should be used as part of an overall inspection/maintenance strategy. They should not be the only tool—or “eyes”—that you use. Unless, of course, you really are like Superman.

Have you found value in infrared thermography? If so, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at (216) 848-1406, or by e-mail at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

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