“Infrared cameras were devices you would only see in movies 20 years ago because they were so expensive that only the government could afford them, but now anyone who has 200$ to spare can buy a handheld thermal camera or a smartphone thermal imager. This is a product category that is constantly growing and in 10 years from now, having a thermal camera at home will become a standard.
So, how can one of these thermal cameras help you in your home?
Poor Insulation And Air Leaks:
As long as your house is poorly insulated, your energy bill is only going to go up. The idea is that when it is freezing outside, cold air will get inside and thus you have to use more energy to heat it and when it is warm outside, you’ll have to rely more on air-conditioning. Now one might say “Well my house has been insulated on the outside” and that is true, insulating it with materials like polystyrene can help a lot, but the air leaks aren’t coming from there.
Here’s what you should do: You need to take the thermal camera and point it at things like outlets or switches, the edges where the roof and the walls meet, the garage (This one can lead to large heat draining if not separated properly from the rest of the house). On the infrared image, you’ll easily be able to spot the temperature differences and get a clear picture of how good the insulation is.
The fuses on your electrical panel might be overheating and you are not even aware of it. By the time the heat is too high, they will just break and you’ll suffer a power outage. It may seem like it was something that instantly happened, but the fuses had been overheating for a while. That is why a thermal imager can help detect which one of the fuses is taking a load that is too high. It is the same for things like wiring, connectors, switches, and transformers.
The way you can properly tell if components in your electrical system are overheating is to put a high load on them, at least 50%. The more load there is, the better the thermal contrast in the images which makes it easy for you to tell the difference between a fuse that is working properly and one that is overheating.
Now normally this is done by an HVAC inspector who most likely today has a thermal camera because it saves them a huge amount of time, but you can also diagnose issues yourself by pointing the camera to every component of the HVAC system like the Air Conditioning, ventilation tubes, boilers, compressor or chillers. The first thing you might spot is excess moisture which can be harmful, but you can also tell if a heating component is not operating at full capacity. Then there are air leaks that relate to poor insulation and these can appear in the duct work. But the air isn’t the only thing that leaks, because there is also water.
Now, the tool of choice for HVAC inspectors or thermal cameras for inspecting homes seems to be the one of the Flir E5, E6, or E8 and that is because they have the high infrared resolution, very low thermal sensitivity, and an IP54 rating. If a water leak is quickly detected, then it can be stopped with minimal costs and effort but these leaks are so small sometimes that they are almost impossible to spot without a thermal imaging camera.
With this small camera, you can inspect the entire water flow through the pipes in your house. If you’ve got a hot water pipe, if there’s a leak it will appear warmer than the material from which that specific pipe is made of. Then, there are moisture patterns that usually develop in the corners of your house and especially in the basement. Moisture can lead to many issues that are costly to repair.
Many car owners now own an OBD II to quickly diagnose engine error codes, but a thermal camera can complement it because it can measure the temperature of any component in the car while it is running, so you can quickly find out if a piston is not working properly just by the difference in heat or if a brake caliper is stuck, just by comparing them on both sides.
Now thermal cameras have many other applications, but I tried to explain just the ones that are related to your home and day-to-day life. It is a tool that is not expensive but which will save you money in energy costs and a lot of time. In terms of how much should you spend on one: If you are not an inspector and you just want to use this in your home, you can go for the smartphone thermal imagers like the Flir One or Seek Compact, which will cost around 250$. If you are a pro and you do inspections, then the Flir TG267 will work great for HVAC, Flir TG275 for Automotive, and Flir E8-XT for any type of inspection.