Thermal Imaging to Help be Green

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williaty

Member
Jan 12, 2015
103
Licking County, Ohio
One of the things a lot of people fail to realize is that air movement is the biggest way heat moves in and out of your house. It doesn’t matter how much insulation you have or how efficient of windows you have if the heat is just catching a free ride on some moving air and totally bypassing your fancy windows/doors/insulation. There’s a lot of good ways to look for such problems, foremost of which is a Blower Door test and some work with a smoke source. However, the cost of the Blower Door setup is a little out of the reach for the average casual homeowner, so another way to look at it is through thermal imaging. Home Depot rents IR cameras in some parts of the country but not around here. A few years ago, a company called FLiR came out with The FLiR ONE, a camera that attached to an iPhone but it was still kind of expensive. This year, they came up with an upgrade with twice the resolution and a way lower price. After months of being on backorder, mine finally arrived last week.

We’ve been working on an assay of our house to try to find specific issues to correct and I thought maybe some of you might be interested enough to want to look at some of the pictures as well. With the color scheme I’m using on the camera, white and yellows are hottest, oranges and light purples are moderate, and dark purples and blacks are coldest.

This first picture is from outdoors showing our back door. Since we’re outside and it’s cold, you want everything you’re looking at to be as cold as possible (since warm things outside means heat leaking out of the house).
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The large black area is the little porch. It’s exposed to air on all sides and the upper surface is exposed to the sky (meaning the porch radiates energy towards the sky but the sky doesn’t radiate any back). You can see that the sides of the porch are slightly warmer because they can “see” the ground so they’re getting some radiation “back” from the ground. The crosshairs are centered on the back door, which is doing OK in the middle of the panel but not very well around the edges. We had to scratch our heads about this one for a while. We think it’s because it’s a steel-clad door. The steel face of the door wraps around the edge of the door past the weather seal, meaning that the edge of the steel is exposed to the inside air. The metal is functioning as a thermal bridge, allowing heat to flow out of the house. You can see the effect is even worse near the deadbolt and door knob. Additionally you can see that the glass (bright white square at the top) is leaking massive amounts of heat because it’s not low-E glass and it’s letting the stuff inside the house radiate heat right through the glass. We might put something over the glass because of this. I’m also wondering why we have some hot spots along that diagonal seam towards the left side of the picture!
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This picture shows the crushed stone landscaping (cold texture at the bottom), the shingles, and the small amount of foundation exposed above grade. What’s the super-hot stripe in the foundation? Don’t know, but it definitely needs found and fixed!
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This one shows the side/roof on the north side of the house. What’s with that serious hot spot (right underneath the reticle)? Definitely losing some energy there.
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The black rectangle is a window with low-E glass in it. Because of the coating on the glass, you can’t see the hot interior. Instead, what you see is outer space (very cold) reflected in the window. Look carefully at the upper corners. What’s with those two hot flares? This is a casement window and, based on looking at some of other identical windows up close, I think the weatherstripping that the window shuts against might be failed. Of course, that ignores the elephant in the room: the HUGE hot spot up under the eaves! No idea how that’s happening but I bet it costs us a fortune!
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This is the same type of casement window, but down at ground level, and a double rather than a single. Note how you can actually see the heat flaring out the top of the right hand side. The window is leaking so much air that the hot air rises up the side of the house and heats the wood siding directly above the window. Again, I think this is a failure of the weatherstripping the window shuts against but we’ll have to experiment to be sure.
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This is the underside of a balcony hanging off the master bedroom. Note the massive heat leak beside the deck joist where it (presumably) passes into the house. We’ll have to fix this one too.
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Finally, here’s one from inside the garage (underneath the main level of the house). There’s a lot going on here. At the far left edge, you can see that the panels of the garage door are pretty cold because they’re not well insulated. You can also see that the glass (two cold rectangles, right-ish side of picture) are quite cold because they aren’t low-E glass either. You can also see some cold lines around the where the door shuts, indicating there’s energy loss somehow. We’ll test it with a smoke stick later. However, the real issue is that hot mess at the top! the large orange and purple rectangle coming in from the left is the main duct trunk from the furnace that feeds the registers in the Great Room. Above the right edge of the door is one of the registers. Connecting the trunk to the register is a section of flex duct. It’s leaking like mad. The white-hot line shows a major leak where the flex ties into the trunk. The flex is also leaking somewhere else, though, as you can see a hot spot on the upper left corner of the door due to hot air blowing on it from the leak. Now, this is all in the garage, which isn’t supposed to be heated. So every bit of furnace air that leaks into this space is wasted money because it’s not heating any place that we want heated.

I have dozens more, but really they’re uninteresting to anyone who isn’t working on this house. I just thought some of you guys might be interested in the kind of stuff you can find and fix with a camera like this.
 

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DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,246
Central NY
Hi Williaty, what was the price of the device, not including the iPhone?
 

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
4,009
SW Virginia
Nice post Ty. Thanks for sharing.
I have a IR camera also and been working on the envelope of our house for some time trying to address the leaks.
You start by discussing infiltration and I totally agree that air leaks should be addressed first.
You go on and seem to say that you can either do a blower door test or IR survey to identify leaks. I'd suggest that air leaks are best identified when both are used simultaneously. Pressurizing or depressurizing the house with a fan and then doing the IR survey from the exterior or interior, respectively, both tend to quickly identify air leak locations. The fan need not be a calibrated blower door since you're not trying to assess overall leakage (ACH).
Thermal insulation issues are best identified under static air conditions when the air pressure in the house is equal to that outside. Of course the pressure varies within the house itself due to the stack effect so that needs to be considered. For example, under static air conditions (no fan), air leaks at the higher portions of the house may show up better on the camera from the outside while air leaks in the basement may show better from the inside as cold air comes in as makeup air for that leaving the upper levels.
 

laynes69

Minister of Fire
Oct 2, 2006
2,596
Ashland OH
We have the seek thermal cam, and I've found many areas of leakage that's saved us money. Fortunately for us and for others, some electric companies will issue energy audits for free. We have a co-op and it cost us nothing. I wish however I had the thermal cam at the time. I've used large box fans in doorways to pressurize rooms to find leaks also.
 

DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,246
Central NY
It's currently $250
Pretty reasonable. Thanks for the info. Something like this would be pretty useful to iteratively look for problems during new construction or remodeling.
 

williaty

Member
Jan 12, 2015
103
Licking County, Ohio
Pretty reasonable. Thanks for the info. Something like this would be pretty useful to iteratively look for problems during new construction or remodeling.
Yeah there's a lot of other useful stuff it'll do too. It can help you find blockages in pipes (pour hot water into one side, look to see where the temp suddenly stops warming up). It can help you find water where it shouldn't be (water in wood, drywall, carpet, etc will evaporate, slightly cooling the affected area). It can help you find overloaded electrical circuits (they get hot).
 
Flir is oddly coy about i-phone 5 and 5s with the new Flir One (not to be confused with the "Flir ONE", which Flir helpfully suggests should now be referred to as "first generation." But the new one is not supposed to be referred to as "second generation." It's just the Flir One ...)

Anyway, their materials all say things like "works with apple devices with a lightning connector, including the i-phone 6." Meanwhile, they continue to sell the "first generation Flir One" and on their site, they even headline it "First generation Flir One for i-phone 5/5s."

So what the heck? Why are they unwilling to come right out and say "works with i-phone 5 and above, the every other app and hardware maker would phrase it? Does the thing work with 5 and 5s or doesn't it?

Is this just a case of techie jargon unfiltered because they have no competent public relations staffer? Or is there really some issue with the new camera and the i-Phone 5/5s?
 

williaty

Member
Jan 12, 2015
103
Licking County, Ohio
Well, now my opinion has swung around to saying you shouldn't buy a FLIR product. For all the fact that I posted some useful work with it in the first post, I just have lost faith in the company.

Supposedly I have a FLIR ONE thermal camera. I say "supposedly" because I bought it and waited 7 months on backorder. Then, when it got here, I only used it a few days before it was apparent that it had a battery problem and had to go in for service. They've had the camera just shy of a month and no sign of a fix, a replacement, or any progress. I ask about it weekly and I get told every time that it'll ship out later that day and yet it never does. I should have returned the camera as defective to Amazon and bought a competing brand.

Never, ever, buy a FLIR product!
 

Lake Girl

Moderator
Nov 12, 2011
6,940
NW Ontario
Any chance Amazon can provide an assist on getting your issue resolved?

Neat images ... you do have some starting points for projects even though the camera is under repair.
 
I used my Chrismas Flir tonight, identified some areas that needed caulking, did the caulking, and then got the camera back out. I was first annoyed and dejected, then amused when I figured it out, at the fact that the caulk-lines were colder than similar areas I hadn't yet caulked. I'm pretty sure this is because the drying of the caulk is sucking heat from the caulk in order to evaporate the liquid. Does anyone have enough knowledge of how caulk sets/dries to confirm this?
 

williaty

Member
Jan 12, 2015
103
Licking County, Ohio
With latex based products, that's definitely the case. I don't know if silicone-based caulks are exo- or endo- thermic during curing. We sealed up a major leak two nights ago using the Daptex Latex foam in a can. Under normal conditions, the area near the leak was ~10F colder than the surrounding area and you could see cold streaks blowing out across the floor. We had a formal energy audit on Monday and, when the blower door was running to depressurize the house, it took the area down to just 2-3F above the outdoor temperature. So we foamed the hell out of the area and, at first, were really disappointed when the foamed area was still ~10F colder than the surrounding area but we did notice that we didn't have the cold streaks blowing out into the house, suggesting that the air movement had stopped. Thinking about it for a while, I came to the same conclusion you did: the latex foam cures by the water evaporating out of it, which cools it down. 36 hours later and the foamed area is only 2-3F colder than the surrounding areas and there's no detectable air movement. So it looks like we sealed up a major leak.

The camera is a really nice tool to have because I took a picture before we started the repair, during the curing process, and after it was done. By looking at all of them I can confirm that we plugged up the worst leak but also that we stopped the sealing about 6" short of where we should have. I guess the other possibility is that sealing one area is pushing the air out a little farther down the wall. Either way, it's good to be able to identify problems, correct them, and confirm they're fixed.
 

williaty

Member
Jan 12, 2015
103
Licking County, Ohio
williaty, you got your camera back??
Yeah. It took them a month and I actually didn't get it back until I started publicly complaining on every social media website I could think of. It was actually their Twitter team who escalated the problem to management who then lit a fire under service. Anyway, they just issued me a new camera. Unfortunately, the new one has the same terrible battery life as the first one.

Obviously, they're lying about the one-hour battery life and only the initial pre-production samples sent to reviewers worked that well. The ones they're shipping now get less than 20 minutes. The work-around I've found is to carry a small lithium ion battery bank in my shirt pocket with a USB cable connecting it to the camera. They say in the instructions that you can't operate the camera while "charging", but you obviously can. It's a cludgy setup, but it's the only way to use the camera for a longer period of time.
 
I would mention that my battery life doesn't seem as long as promised either. It hasn't been a big deal, as I'm pretty rigorous about turning it on, looking at an area, then turning it off while I take action, and since it's really just a hobby for me, in the course of tinkering on our house, and then probably looking at the houses of my immediate family, it's not a big deal.

But if your experience and mine are typical, the FLIR doesn't seem up to use by a contractor, unless they have a work-around like your secondary power source. I guess that an energy auditor would expect to get a real thermal camera anyway, but I might have hoped that the availability of the technology would mean that better contractors might use it to test their work and that of their staff and subs, leading to better results.

And that may be happening. But they'll need to be patient and resourceful with a camera that doesn't hold it's power very long. In a final review of work, a quick run-through taking shots and then downloading them for review later could be done in the time you've got with the camera.
 
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I've been doing a lot of just walking around the house scanning different areas, but I've come to realize that the "standing air" shots are much less useful at capturing air leakage issues, since it would take a rather big leak to make a dramatic color difference under normal circumstances. It's only when I turn fans on to pull air through those leaks that it really shows.

For instance, I did some caulking in a very cold '3-season room' yesterday. The walls are painted, but the ceiling has a natural wood finish, as does the molding. I was concerned about how caulk wood look in the wood-next-to-wood areas, so I only caulked the wall-to-molding, not the molding-to-ceiling. Today, in standing air, the spaces above and below the molding look similar. But if I turn the bathroom and range-top fans on, I get broad areas of cool along the ceiling with no corresponding areas down the wall.

Makes sense. That's why they have the blower on when the pros do an energy audit. But I hadn't realized just how different it would be.
 

laynes69

Minister of Fire
Oct 2, 2006
2,596
Ashland OH
I've never depressurized a room to find a leak with our seek. They pretty much show almost instantly. If it's cold and windy out, they show right away. If I'm specifically looking for leaks, I'll set my camera to a specific range where only those areas show color.
 

williaty

Member
Jan 12, 2015
103
Licking County, Ohio
I've never depressurized a room to find a leak with our seek. They pretty much show almost instantly. If it's cold and windy out, they show right away. If I'm specifically looking for leaks, I'll set my camera to a specific range where only those areas show color.
You're changing the pressure in your rooms by looking while it's cold and windy. With no air exchange, you'll find nearly nothing with any low-end thermal camera becauase the temperature deltas aren't large enough. With a blower door running, you get MUCH more air exchange and therefore much clearer results.
 

laynes69

Minister of Fire
Oct 2, 2006
2,596
Ashland OH
Right, it's the chimney effect that allows me to see the leaks. I don't use mechanical means to find them. Even in 50 degree weather, I have found numerous leaks in the house that I've taken care of, but the colder the better. While the image quality isn't high with my cam, it doesn't take too much of a difference to find problem areas.
 

billb3

Minister of Fire
Dec 14, 2007
4,676
SE Mass
Flir is oddly coy about i-phone 5 and 5s with the new Flir One (not to be confused with the "Flir ONE", which Flir helpfully suggests should now be referred to as "first generation." But the new one is not supposed to be referred to as "second generation." It's just the Flir One ...)

Anyway, their materials all say things like "works with apple devices with a lightning connector, including the i-phone 6." Meanwhile, they continue to sell the "first generation Flir One" and on their site, they even headline it "First generation Flir One for i-phone 5/5s."

So what the heck? Why are they unwilling to come right out and say "works with i-phone 5 and above, the every other app and hardware maker would phrase it? Does the thing work with 5 and 5s or doesn't it?

Is this just a case of techie jargon unfiltered because they have no competent public relations staffer? Or is there really some issue with the new camera and the i-Phone 5/5s?
the 5/5s flir one was made to fit on the 5/5s (first gen)
the iOS flir one fits on 5/5s, 6/6s. 6+/6s+ and ipads with lightning connectors

the 5/5s flir one is like a case for the 5/5s (first gen)
the iOS flir one is more like a oversize gps dongle


I've wanted one of these for a while. I've been working on air sealing my house, my mom's and my sister's up the street when I get some free time and taking dozens and dozens of readings with a IR temp gun is a bit of a PITA.
 
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