As energy costs continue to pull more money out of homeowners’ wallets across the globe, two thermographic inspection experts from Europe share their experiences about how FLIR infrared cameras are helping to reduce energy loss and, as a result, benefiting their businesses and customers.
Photos above: An infrared image shows the insulation quality of a low energy house. Photos © Peter.Smorscek@Flir.de
Passive houses on the rise
Low-energy house building has established itself as a promising market all over Europe in recent years. While the main purpose is to avoid heat loss and to get the most out of all heat production sources, passive houses are going a step further. They’re extremely well-insulated, don’t have heat bridges, use heat exchangers, sun radiation and more while also saving the heat of the air outflow by transmitting its energy to the fresh air inflow. They follow comfort (ISO 7730) and air quality (DIN 1946) standards and use up to 90 percent less heating energy than a conventional residential building. In fact, the passive house is likely to become a European Union-wide standard by 2012. To make sure these new homes live up to their energy-saving specifications, inspectors are using infrared cameras extensively to check the building substance and air circulation during and after the construction phase.
Checking the construction process
Passive houses have to be planned and constructed with care. “The building process has to be monitored very closely,” says Markus Meyer, owner of AIROPTIMA, a building consulting company specializing in HVAC issues for residential buildings and eco houses. “An infrared camera combined with the blower door procedure is a perfect instrument to detect temperature differences in a non-contact and non-destructive way.” These readings are prime indicators of building construction faults, warm bridges or air leaks. Meyer inspects passive houses after each building stage is finished, as well as after full completion. “This is a strong moment for infrared technology, as I require the presence of all craftsmen during these inspections.”
Photo above: Using an infrared camera on site. Photo © Peter.Smorscek@Flir.de
Meyer uses a FLIR B-Series infrared camera, which has specific measurement features for building applications. He often uses the camera’s humidity and insulation alarm features. After inputting humidity and air temperature values, the camera takes over and calculates the dew point, automatically colorizing the image below that point to indicate potential condensation or moisture problems, which can cause structural damage, as well as mold, mildew and health issues. To set the trigger point for the insulation alarm, he inputs the outside and inside air temperature, plus the insulation factor. The camera then colorizes areas that are less well-insulated than others. A useful image setting is typically a gray-scale palette, with a blue color dialed in to highlight the likely moisture or insulation problem. Both alarm features make it quick and easy to spot possible trouble.
Another thing Meyer likes about the camera is its Picture-in-Picture functionality that lets him overlay a digital picture with the matching infrared image so he can show customers a clear representation and location of a potential flaw. His reports for building owners, architects or energy consultants are made with FLIR Reporter software and even contain advice on which appliances to use in order to maximize the efficiency of the house’s heating and ventilation systems.
In addition to the exploding amount of passive houses in Europe, Meyer sees growing potential in the energy rehabilitation of existing buildings. Against the background of rising energy prices, which means high heating, ventilation and air conditioning costs, building substances will be increasingly valued by their degree of energy consumption. “An analysis will always start with a thermographic inspection to detect heat losses near roofs, windows and key physical building elements. This information, combined with relevant calculations, is the best basis to plan and monitor how well building energy optimization works.”
Camera tells truth about walls and facades
Günther Buchstaller is also a big fan of the FLIR B-Series, citing how infrared cameras for building applications, coupled with an expert’s eye, can do a lot to save on energy, especially as building insulation quality becomes an even bigger factor in preventing soaring heating costs.
“Building and floor leak inspections are our main applications,” says Buchstaller, a master bricklayer and plasterer who specializes in water damage assessment and thermographic inspection and analysis of residential buildings. Buchstaller is based in Ruhpolding, a resort in the Bavarian Alps, a region where the building substance of the houses is considered very stable. But even there, the infrared camera discovers leaks and deficiencies that are becoming pricey. Fuel oil prices have risen in Germany by 100 percent in recent years. It’s no wonder more and more home owners are calling him these days.
Infrared cameras show temperature differences over entire surfaces, with the measurement of house façades and walls based on the differential of the inside, outside and wall structure temperatures. But much depends on the correct camera setting and last, but not least, the building expertise of the camera user.
Photo above: Air leaks in a door with considerable temperature difference. Photo © Peter.Smorscek@Flir.de
Photo above: Air leak during blower door inspection, picture-in-picture image. Photo © Peter.Smorscek@Flir.de
Inspecting and reporting
“Before every measurement of a building object, I set the reflected temperature parameter to get a temperature measurement that is as true as possible.” Buchstaller considers this more important than setting the degree of emissivity, the amount of heat radiation that is emitted by every object or subject. In addition to scanning in a proper way, the interpretation of the imagery requires a solid knowledge of local building techniques, materials and rules. Like Meyer, Buchstaller uses the FLIR Reporter software to provide his customers with a comprehensive report that includes imagery, description and advice for removal of the fault. “I set the camera on a rainbow-color palette so that the customer can better see the temperature differences on the measured objects.” In addition, the camera provides support in showing Buchstaller or his business partner, Martin Gastager, where not to drill when doing leak surveys or water damage assessments, an asset in a region where floor heating is common. Buchstaller chose the FLIR B360 infrared camera. “The camera’s screen size is important, not only for our user comfort, but also for the customer who finds the technology quite impressive. The tiltable lens unit is very handy and the camera’s weight (1.94 lbs.) makes working very easy.” The articulating lens on the B-Series allows the user to ergonomically look at the screen while rotating the lens up or down so the operator doesn’t have to hold the camera in awkward positions to get the right angle. This feature also comes in handy when looking around corners in tight spaces.
Skyrocketing heating costs and an affordable technology are opening up new market and service perspectives for building professionals. Buchstaller believes strongly that his infrared camera investment will pay for itself through increased business in no time.
Through the lens of thermal imaging, both Buchstaller and Meyer are looking at a bright future when it comes to helping builders and homeowners realize the benefits of maximum energy efficiency.