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Thermal Imaging for HVAC and IAQ Inspections

May 23, 2018 7:32:00 AM


Thermal imaging cameras are powerful, non-contact tools for monitoring and diagnosing the condition of HVAC, electrical systems, plumbing, and building envelopes.  These cameras help you identify problems early, document them immediately, and correct them quickly.  The longer system faults are ignored, the more serious and costly they are to repair.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) problems can stem from inadequate HVAC performance, moisture trapped in walls, mold growth on cold, damp surfaces and inadequate ventilation.  Many of these can be visualized and diagnosed, at least in part, with thermography to help solve these very serious—and common—problems.

What is infrared?

Our eyes are detectors designed to sense electromagnetic radiation in the visible light spectrum.  All other forms of electromagnetic radiation, such as infrared, are invisible to the human eye.


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Infrared radiation lies between the visible and microwave portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.  The primary source of infrared radiation is heat or thermal radiation.  Any object that has a temperature above absolute zero (-273.15°C or 0 Kelvin) emits radiation in the infrared region.  Even objects that we think of as being very cold, such as ice cubes, emit infrared radiation.  Since we can’t see it, the infrared radiation we experience every day is the heat we feel from sunlight, wall heaters, and other sources.  The warmer the object, the more infrared radiation it emits. (FLIR.com)

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Thermal Imaging for HVAC inspections

Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems are critical to indoor air quality (IAQ) and comfort, so they need to be well maintained.  Unfortunately, these systems can be compromised by mechanical failures, while poor construction and installation can lead to air leaks, dripping water, and loose ductwork.  You need a way to catch these problems before they lead to higher energy costs and lower air quality.  When you survey HVAC systems armed with a thermal imaging camera, you gain a whole new understanding of the building’s heating and cooling issues.  You’ll be able to see problems such as misaligned ductwork and electrical faults, and then make decisions about corrective actions.  HVAC inspection with a thermal imaging camera can help you:

  • Locate misrouted and leaking ducts
  • See electrical or mechanical HVAC system faults
  • Confirm the source of energy losses
  • Find missing insulation
  • Discover AC condensate leaks

AC condensate leaks

A thermal imaging camera can quickly guide you to the source of water leaks from an AC system.  The process of evaporation has a cooling effect on wet ceilings, walls, and floors, so the AC condensate leak will appear cold in relation to the rest of the room.  Once the source is identified and remediation begins, you can monitor the drying process with your thermal imaging camera.  The cold spot caused by evaporating water will disappear as the area dries.

Air leaks

Temperature differences can also point you to problems with insulation, weatherization, and ductwork.  When ducts and insulation aren’t installed correctly they can leak, allowing cold air to seep in or warm air to escape the building. In the summertime, these leaks allow chilled air to escape.  The result is always the same: higher energy costs. Poorly installed insulation and building cracks are additional sources of air leaks.  The cracks are quite often found around windows, doors, and vents; insulation gaps can happen anywhere in a structure.  The drafts these problems create cause noticeable temperature differences, especially when warm air seeps into a cool room through window seals that aren’t air-tight.  In some cases, precise temperature and air pressure control is needed in order to visualize air leaks with thermal imaging cameras.  The process usually involves a blower door.

HVAC equipment inspections

There are many electrical and mechanical elements to an HVAC system, and all of them must be inspected regularly in order to avoid breakdowns.  Thermostats must be installed correctly and functioning properly in order to regulate the temperature. Gas heaters and boilers need to be maintained, as do air handling systems and AC condensers.  A quick scan with a thermal imaging camera can tell you a lot about the health of these systems.  Since things tend to heat up as they begin to fail, you can use a thermal imaging camera to look for worn belts and motors, check electric circuits, and see if the system is overheating.  Hot circuits and fuses could indicate a potential electrical short. If a scan of the air handling system shows that it’s running hot, that could indicate a clogged air filter.  Companies expect and building standards often require HVAC systems to be energy and cost efficient.  With thermal imaging cameras in hand, facilities maintenance pros can readily uncover the source of HVAC faults and determine the best way to stop energy loss.


Comprehensive Energy Services

Written by Comprehensive Energy Services

Comprehensive Energy Services, Inc. is an award-winning, self performing provider and recognized leader in Design Build and Maintain Mechanical Contracting and Plumbing; providing a full range of advanced HVAC commercial, healthcare, and industrial services, including mechanical engineering design, mechanical construction, plumbing, IAQ, preventative maintenance and system maintenance throughout Florida.


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