Infrared Thermology and How it can Help Save You Energy and Money

Energy consciousness is at an all-time high, and scary home energy costs are one reason why. The good news is that we now have tools and materials to do much more than just complain about how much it costs to heat and cool our homes.

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Infrared thermography offers the eyes to see where energy losses are actually occurring in your home, and where new windows, expanding foam, and advanced weather stripping will do the most good. Thermal imaging tools are coming down in price rapidly, even to the point where simple units are now affordable by any homeowner. That’s me below using a simple infrared detection gun at my place.

Thinking of buying a new house? Market-savvy builders are now using infrared images to prove efficiency claims by lifting them out of the realm of hope and making them plainly visible. Have you just moved into a resale home and find that peak heating bills are higher than the mortgage? Applying an infrared audit of the sort offered by more and more home inspectors eliminates the mystery of exactly where all your heating dollars go.

Ins and Outs of Infrared Thermography

To understand how infrared thermography works, you’ve got to realize something about what we see with our eyes. What we detect as visible light is actually a small part of what scientists call the electromagnetic spectrum. Energy with short wavelengths are the kind of ultraviolet radiation that inflicts sunburns and fades drapes. Energy wavelengths that are longer than what we see heats food in microwave ovens and delivers radio signals to our cars. Nestled between what we see and the wavelengths of energy that swells a bag of microwave popcorn is the infrared spectrum. Although it’s invisible, infrared energy radiation is what thermographic cameras show on screen, highlighting areas in the exterior surfaces of your home that offer the greatest potential for energy improvement.

Any time there are differences between indoor temperatures and outdoor temperatures it’s a good time to use thermography. Winter happens to be an excellent time to conduct a thermographic home audit where I live because the differences in temperature indoors and outside are at their peak. If you live in a warm place where cooling is more important than heating, them the peak of summer would be a good time to test things. The brighter the area of the thermographic image, the greater the amount of heat loss in that zone. Gradients of heat output are what a thermographic camera shows

Infrared Detects Worry Spots Anywhere

This exterior view of a 20-year-old window shows the glass surface much warmer than surrounding walls. This shows the large amounts of heat loss that’s present. Many brand new windows fare no better in thermographic testing.

The image above shows a 20-year-old window from the outside during winter. The numbers on the image show the surface temperature of the glass in ºC at that spot. The fact that the glass window surface is so much lighter and warmer than the surrounding walls proves that significant heat is being lost from inside through this window. By contrast, the darker image below shows how the surface temperature of a high performance window is virtually the same as surrounding walls. Thermography is also used to detect waterlogged areas in flat roofs, both residential and commercial. Since these structures are rarely vented, leaks can cause wetting of internal insulation that doesn’t dry out quickly or at all. Infrared thermography shows these zones as hot spots on warm summer evenings as wet sections continue to give off heat after dry areas have cooled.

These high-end European-made windows sport triple pane glass with an R-11.5 rating and shows virtually no more heat loss than surrounding walls. The brighter areas along the tops of the windows indicate insufficient insulation installed within the framing above the window opening when it was built.

Infrared Thermography Tools

The least expensive way to make thermography a part of your home improvement work is with one of the new, compact and inexpensive infrared thermometers. They allow pinpoint measurement of surface temperatures remotely, from as far as 40 feet away. They won’t give you a complete photo image like you see above, but they will let you accurately find hot and cold spots that need attention. I’ve used the DeWALT, Milwaukee ($170) and Ryobi ($80) units in my work and they all perform very well.

While it may not be quite as useful as Superman’s X-ray vision, infrared thermography can let you see deficiencies that rob you of hard-earned cash while also taking an unnecessary toll on the environment. Shed light on the culprits, foil their hidden schemes, and we’re all better off for it.

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