Buildings Buzz

Thermal Imaging Cameras Can Uncover Invisible Building Issues

The use of thermal imaging cameras is becoming commonplace across a number of industries. These nifty point-and-shoot devices are now being used by everyone from military professionals to vets in order to detect changes in temperature that can help diagnose underlying issues. Handheld and available with a number of useful features including voice recording software and the ability to save the images directly to the device for later inspection mean that it is ideal for use by professionals who conduct a lot of their work outside of an office environment.

Building experts in particular are championing the use of thermal imaging cameras, due to their ability to provide accurate visual confirmation of any number of potential problems.  A thermal imaging camera can be used at any stage in a building’s lifespan to inform managers and surveyors alike of issues that may not be obvious to the naked eye.  From analysing a new facility for previously unseen ‘teething problems’ to assessing the structure of a historical building, a thermal imaging camera is a totally non-invasive device that may save the building owner a considerable amount of money in the long term.

The most popular use of thermal imaging cameras in the building industry is discovering the source of air leakage. Careful scanning of a building, either from the inside or the outside, reveals the areas within a building where heat is being lost with a high degree of accuracy. This process has been used in every kind of building, from large city hospitals in Sweden to privately owned homes in Germany. Scanning for air leakage can also reveal issues with insulation that may lead to a lot of wasted money spent on heating bills.

Proper insulation is also critical in order to avoid mold and dampness. Once a building becomes damp, it is incredibly difficult and expensive to get rid of the onslaught of potentially health-damaging mold, as well as the noticeable odor. This should be of particular concern for owners whose property is not regularly used. However, there are other factors that can also cause damp and mold aside from air leakage. Thermal imaging can be incredibly helpful in locating the source of water leaks that contribute to damp or dripping pipes and walls, especially when the actual leak is hidden behind a wall or between floors.

Unfortunately, air and water leaks aren’t the only thing that can hide themselves between floors and walls. Pest management professionals have also had great success in locating termite and other infestations within building structures using thermal imaging cameras. Because these cameras can locate areas within the building that are producing more heat, they can be extremely helpful when looking for termite nests due to the fact that termite colonies cause an increase in humidity around the area they inhabit. This solution is a popular one because it avoids the unnecessary removal of floorboards or the damaging of walls in the search for the infestation.

The same can be said when thermal imaging is used to locate plumbing problems within buildings. A thermal imaging camera can be used to show where water in a pipe is extremely hot, for example, and therefore a plumbing professional will know to avoid that particular area. It can also locate blockages quickly and accurately, decreasing the time it may take to repair the issue.

Locating potential electrical issues is another popular practice made easier by using a thermal imaging camera. Because a thermal imaging camera does not require direct contact with the building or area it analyses, equipment does not need to be disabled whilst an inspection is carried out. Potential problems can be stopped and repaired before they become threatening, by carefully inspecting any areas of machinery or electrical grids that are producing more heat than normal. This is a major benefit for owners of buildings that contain large amounts of machinery or have a lot of electricity running through them, as the potential damage that could be caused by just one overheated or faulty machine or electrical grid is huge.

A less prolific but nonetheless serious issue that can benefit from thermal imaging camera assessment is that of structural damage. Thermal imaging cameras are used regularly in regions where tremors and earthquakes are common in order to ascertain whether a building is structurally sound after an event. This ability for a camera to see any underlying structural damage is useful for more than the aftermath of earthquakes, however. In older buildings especially, a thermal image can identify whether there are any issues with the floors, ceilings or roof without carrying out unnecessary physical evaluations.

Thermal imaging cameras are now considered a must-have for the builders and surveyors’ arsenal and the latest high-end model retails online for around $850 depending on the supplier, with more basic models available at a lower price point. It is recommended that the user of the device undergoes a training course to get the most out of their device on a daily basis and these start at around $1,800. Whilst this may initially seem like a major investment, the benefits that come with using one of these devices to its full potential are numerous.

Mike French is a thermal imaging expert and founder of electrical test equipment company

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