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Infrared Cameras: The Eyes You Need to Identify Hot Spots, Leaks & More

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NATIONAL REPORT—Ten years ago, an infrared camera cost $50,000. Today, according to John Keane, director, Infrared Training Center, Nashua, N.H., one can purchase this type of camera for as little as $2,000. That price drop has made infrared imaging, also known as infrared thermography, more practical in a hotel environment.

“The most common application is electrical inspections—looking for hot spots caused by bad connections, current overload, or other problems,” Keane says. “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.”

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.

Thermal imaging cameras, which should not always be used as the sole deciding factor in identifying a problem, don’t actually see temperature. Instead, they capture the infrared energy transfer from an object to its environment and produce a real-time image in a color palette where hotter objects appear brighter and cooler objects appear darker. Infrared energy is generated by the vibration of atoms and molecules and behaves similarly to visible light where it can be reflected, refracted, absorbed and emitted. The more these atoms and molecules move, the higher the temperature of the object.

Training is Very Important

Scot Hopps, environmental program manager, Saunders Hotel Group, Boston, says he uses an infrared camera a couple of times a month. “It is a useful tool,” he says. “Interpreting what you see is important. The more you use it, the more you pick up on it.”

Hopps says he sat in on a couple of training sessions provided by the camera vendor in order to learn how to use the camera and how to interpret its results.

“It is a bit of a science to understand what you are seeing,” Keane says. “We recommend minimum Level I certification. We offer training around the world. We have six full-time trainers. We issue valid CEUs. We do some online training.” The Infrared Training Center offers various levels of certification. It takes 32 hours of classroom time to earn Level 1 certification.

Without proper training, one can easily misinterpret results. For example, one cannot “see” through glass or water with an infrared camera. One would actually be reading the temperature at the surface of the glass or water. Thermal imaging cameras cannot truly see through walls. What one actually sees is the transmitted thermal energy.

Key Part of Preventive Maintenance Program

Thermography, through its use over time, can be used to identify trends and can be an essential tool in any preventive maintenance program.

“Comparative thermography is very common,” Keane says. “We offer training to help one understand what the normal is.”

Keane adds that there are a lot of complementary technologies available. “Typically, there is a basic software package that is included with each camera,” he says.

Basically, a thermal imaging camera is capable of saving the thermal image to either its internal memory or to a memory card, depending on the camera capabilities. Once the user is done taking the photos, they can be viewed and edited on the camera or downloaded to a PC where the images can be formatted on a report with the included software.

Also see FLIR Systems Inc. and Fluke Corp. for more information.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

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