Cheaper Alternatives to FLIR Cameras to Detect Heat Loss?

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  #1  
Old 11-14-13, 07:27 PM
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Cheaper Alternatives to FLIR Cameras to Detect Heat Loss?

Have a number of places where I'm suspecting I'm losing heat or a/c in the house. Ideally would like to have something I could have at my disposal over time and address areas as they come up/get fixed. Saw the FLIR systems, which are nice. However, they are super expensive (no surprise) and even the rental firms want hundreds of dollars to rent them for a day.

Are there cheaper alternatives to detect relative heat loss? Thx
 
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  #2  
Old 11-15-13, 04:29 AM
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Well, I paid about $8,000 for my bottom of the line FLIR about 8 years ago, so those prices you saw look dirt cheap to me. The carrying case or battery for mine cost $400.

That said, there are sub $1,000 units out there, but somewhat limited in their capacity. The energy efficiency business has gone wild with certification requirements so many have or are getting out of that field. May be some used one out there.

For the most part, capturing images the first time through will do the job. As for chasing down every little spot, it doesn't gain much. During an audit I need to generate the conditions that I can see in one visit. As a home owner you can wait for a very cold day or for the wind to be blowing. Some will use a simple laser temperature device to check spot by spot.

Of course many homes have orange or green tractors decorating their property and those aren't cheap. Toys for big boys. Mine is orange.

Bud
 
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Old 11-15-13, 04:55 AM
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FLIR is one of the best and I use mine very regularly. I think they are too expensive for the average homeowner so I would suggest renting. Check around even the big box home centers and other tool rental stores are carrying them for rental.

If you do want to purchase a infra red system FLIR sells refurbished systems which can save you considerably. Still, you are talking about $1k for the cheapest so if you are only checking your house for heat losses renting is by far a better route.

Another option is to read up on sealing your house against air infiltration. Doing a good air sealing will take care of most heat loss issues or at least the ones that are cheap and easy to fix. You don't need a thermal camera to tell you that cold air is coming in under that door with no weatherstripping.
 
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Old 11-15-13, 05:28 AM
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Old 11-15-13, 06:49 AM
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If you try a no contact infra red thermometer like JoeCaption1 linked practice with it so you know how it works. They can be fooled when shooting shiny or smooth objects like windows, shiny metal or smooth water. They are not thermometers in the traditional sense. It reads the wavelength of infra red coming from an object. Many shiny objects can reflect light in the IR part of the spectrum that the thermostat reads just like a reflection on a smooth pond or mirror.

For example; shooting at a shiny stainless steel pot of boiling water may give you some odd temperature less than 212f (100c) as it is seeing some IR light from the pot at 212f and some that has reflected off cooler objects in the room. Sometimes even aiming at a dirty spot or scuffed up area can help get a more accurate reading. The important thing is to be able to recognize when you are getting a reading that can't be trusted.
 
  #6  
Old 11-16-13, 11:22 AM
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Thanks - sounds like renting on a cold day and taking shots may be the best bet. Worried about the "point and shoot" thermometers not being accurate. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't overlooking something like an app on the i-pad or something that would get me most of the way there.

My problem is, yes I know the areas are cold, but it's not obvious door leaks / gaps - it's one wall abuts the garage attic, another goes into a new addition, etc. Can tell it is leaking, but where is either up into the garage or tearing a whole in a wall or attic to see what's going on.
 
  #7  
Old 11-16-13, 11:37 AM
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Yeah, the no contact thermometers don't seem to do very well with this. I have one and have gone around the house looking for cold spots and it just doesn't seem to be effective. The further away you are, the bigger the area it measures for temp. So you have to be real close, and even then, I think it would be difficult to find a crack bleeding air.
 
  #8  
Old 11-16-13, 12:54 PM
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Not too long ago I saw an article about regular cameras allowing IR photos. Most are IR capable, but the industry fell victim years ago to idiots taking pictures where they shouldn't so they glued the filters in place so they cannot be removed. But that capability may be coming back. If you are talented, old cameras can be modified to remove the IR filter, lots of web advice. It won't tell you the temperatures, but it would distinguish between hot and cold and that is a major part of IR snooping. Camera enthusiasts like the unique images of IR photos.

Bud
 
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Old 11-16-13, 04:28 PM
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I would think about what you are willing to do if you find problems with a FLIR. General problem areas are well known and relatively easy to solve and don't need a FLIR to point them out. The big question is if you spend the money to rent a camera and find that there is a bay in your wall missing insulation... what will you do? If you say it's too much trouble to open up the wall and fix it then the camera rental is a waste of money. If you are serious about fixing problems then there is no better tool to find air infiltration and insulation problems.

Believe me I can feel whatever pain you may go through. In my house I know every spot that's not perfect. Around the top corners of the high ceiling in the entry foyer the fiberglass batts gap and allow cold air through. I still have not built a catwalk in the attic to get over and fix that. Then there is the wall in the main living room where it seems in one corner R-11 was used. I'm not willing to rip out the sheetrock to replace it.

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If you do rent a FLIR don't forget to walk barefoot across a hardwood or tile floor and look at it through the camera.
 
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Old 11-16-13, 08:25 PM
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Pilot Dane - thanks for the wisdom and reminder. I think I've concluded willingness and ability to pull off drywall and other things if I know I'm going to fix something. The FLIR will keep it from being trial and error. After doing a roof repair last month and finding large gaps without tar paper on the roof, I have no confidence in either the original construction or the addition.

Out of curiosity - what's the "bare feet on the floor" thing? Is that just to provide calibration?
 
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Old 11-17-13, 05:40 AM
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Camera rental is not cheap so make the most of your time so look at everything. It will work best when there is the greatest temperature difference between inside and outside. Cold winter days are best. If you rent the camera for half a day or day don't get hung up on one area and start tearing into repairs. While you have the camera go through the entire house.

Some FLIR cameras have the ability to save images. Go through the house with a notebook in hand. As you take photos of problem areas make notes of the exact location and include the photo name/number. IR photos can look alien so a week or month later you might not remember or recognize what you've taken photos of. Don't forget to download you photos before returning the camera. If the camera can not store images take even more detailed notes. If you know you're going to tear open a wall I sometimes write notes on the wall lightly with a pencil. The camera is a very good stud finder so in problem areas I go ahead and mark stud locations (small tick marks near the floor) and any other framing.

While you have the camera open your circuit panel cover and you can even remove the cover so you can see the wires and sides of the breakers. Run things in the house like you normally would and look inside the panel with the camera. Breakers that are failing and loose or corroded connections will show up hotter than good ones.

Turn on your furnace and look at the ductwork paying special attention to joints and seams looking for leaks. If it's a rainy day when you rent the camera look up at the ceiling. Even very slow leaks that don't soak through to be visible will show up as cold spots. If you have a basement looking at the concrete walls & floors for temperature differences can often indicate where there is more moisture (as it evaporates it cools the concrete).

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Walking barefoot is just a fun trick to play with the camera and a good way to start learning it's capabilities, especially if it's a lower resolution camera. It will show your warm, ghostly footprints and watch them slowly disappear as the floor cools. Put your hand on a counter top for a few seconds and take your hand away and you'll see your hand print. With a low resolution camera learn how close or far away you can be to see the detail you want.
 
  #12  
Old 11-17-13, 07:31 AM
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One caution, playing with IR is addicting, that's what pulled me into the energy business. Just think about all of your friends and neighbors who could use an IR inspection.
Here is a link to IR photography with some great pictures.
D-SLR IR Conversion | Advance Camera Inc.

One extra option, as you can see those who own an IR camera really enjoy them. If the rental cost is too high, consider asking a local energy auditor to come over and spend a couple of hours with you. That would eliminate the learning curve and most likely include a ton of good advice along with the inspection.

Bud
 
  #13  
Old 12-01-13, 09:21 AM
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dnspade, see if there is a HD around you, the FLIR can be rented from some: FLIR Infrared Camera Rentals - Now at The Home Depot in the Boston Area!

I recently rented one from HD overnight for 50 bucks. 8pm to 9am. Took pictures of everything. They have the FLIR i7 which takes 240x240 24bit sRGB 72dpi JPEG shots onto a mini-SD card (you have to provide your own card). I had a micro to mini SD adapter, so just took the micro SD card out my phone, plugged it into my mini-SD adapter and threw that into the FLIR i7. Each shot came out to about a 40KB file. I took about 600 images which amounted to around 25 MB of data. If you have to go out & buy a mini-SD card, even a 1GB is overdoing it if you don't plan to take at least 10 thousand shots.

The camera did not allow for manual focus adjustments, so some stuff came out blurry. I already had an energy audit where I got some IR shots of problem areas, but I wanted to take it further. The image is also all-IR. Some cameras have an IR shot with a visible-light frame border so it's easier to see what you're looking at. Therefore it helps to take a lot of reference shots (e.g., shot of the whole room before drilling down to a specific area), and also going a methodical order. For example, when I looked at a room, I always went from N/E/S/W in terms of the walls.


Before I rented the camera, I had also used a non-contact thermometer (pyrometer), think it was a cheap 25 dollar gun from HD. This helps a lot, but you have to keep some things in mind (which have already been mentioned). The further away you are, the bigger the area that's measured. Not all surfaces have the same emissivity, so comparing the temperature reading of a non-glossy painted wall with a shiny metal object is not accurate. The primary way I use this is to compare like surfaces. For example, the temperature of the North wall at this particular point compared to the corresponding point on the South wall. If you are patient & have the time, you can also measure the distance from point to point to see if there is trend in temperature change. I did this by measuring the same vertical altitude on a wall every foot for the full length of the wall. Put the numbers in Excel to do more analysis/charting/graphs/etc.


IR cameras have the same issue with emissivity & radiation, so there were parameters that could be adjusted on the FLIR i7 as well. I'm nowhere near an expert in using one of these (there are different Levels people can obtain in terms of proficiency), but I think that as long as you are careful in the conclusions you make, you will be ok. Definitely don't buy one if you are not interested in making the right conclusions. Ideally when you use one, you want to exacerbate convective heat transfer/loss by showing the points where outside air infiltrates the living space by depressurizing the living space, forcing that cold air in (I'll assume we're talking about winter or keeping the cold out). I believe conductive heat transfer then follows to give you those nice gradients.

For example, the first pic attached showed a cold spot between my attic hatch & the smoke/CO alarm. Looking up, there was a drywall anchor right between them that was just channeling cold air from the attic inside. Never really noticed it. Second pic shows my dryer vent (I emphasized temperatures below 40.9deg). Disregarding the vent/duct itself (since it's metal/foil), you can see how my foundation wall is taking the penetration. Since the house was not depressurized, I do not believe I can conclusively say that there is an air leak around the penetration, but upon visible inspection after sliding the square trim back, since I can actually see the rough brick & pipe, it is an area I should be hitting with foam.

So see if there is a HD around you that can rent one, but Bud also brings up great idea of having an energy auditor over who will allow you to see what your house looks like & also give advice. Using the camera can cause frustration as well if you're not familiar with what you're seeing. You can also go for a full energy audit. Around me, these cost about $400 - $800 as long as they are doing IR in conjunction with a blower door test. Some also do duct leakage testing, combustion testing, zonal pressure testing, etc. You will most likely get a lot better information from an audit vs. going out & renting/buying a camera.
 
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