Infrared Technology Can Make Dollars and Sense

Restoration contractors are always looking for an edge over the competition. One way to find it is by investing in the latest, cutting-edge technology as it becomes available. For many contractors, infrared thermography, with its ability to detect evidence of moisture intrusion in the building envelope quickly, accurately and without having to tear down walls, ceilings or floors to do so, is meeting that requirement.

"My job as CEO is to provide the best products for our affiliates, " says Water Out Drying Corp.'s Charlie Cressy. "Our infrared cameras provide us with a comfort level that allows us to show our customers where we were yesterday and where we are today, and why we packed up today: the building's dry.

"And being able to document with infrared pictures your success in drying out a building - something we couldn't do as dramatically with moisture meters - is important and could pay for itself on a single job, by proving we completed it correctly," he said.

Thermography enables us to see and measure heat. All materials on earth emit heat energy in the infrared portion of the spectrum. Unfortunately, the unaided human eye cannot see in infrared. Thermal images reveal temperature anomalies that in turn identify potential problems in buildings and their component electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and waterproofing systems.

Today's infrared cameras not only see in real-time, they can record infrared images and measure the temperatures of target objects to within 1/4-degree Fahrenheit. Points of possible concern show up clearly as hot or cold in relation to their surroundings. Recorded thermal images can be easily inserted into reports and widely distributed, greatly facilitating communications among trades, attorneys, and other professionals and serving as invaluable, rational, evidentiary data in cases involving controversy.

"What we love about IR is the documentation aspect," Eric Anderson, COO of Enviro-Clean, Inc., said. "We can upload the photos - thermal and actual - and present the client with before and after visuals. They rely on our honesty, and it helps build a level of trust."

Anderson points to Enviro-Clean's recent experience in post-hurricane Florida in 2004, where it took about four hours to scan a 30-story condominium complex for indications of moisture, as an example. "It would have taken five to ten times that long without the camera," said Anderson, who uses a moisture meter to confirm that the temperature differences that the camera sees are in fact wet spots.

"Getting in and out of a job more quickly lets you inspect more jobs and with fewer people," Anderson said. "And in large commercial losses, by being able to determine what's wet right away, you can scope out the project more quickly and accurately. Moisture detection is only one of a number of ways that IR cameras can earn their keep. They are also being used to assess energy efficiency; reveal construction defects; inspect electrical, mechanical, and HVAC systems; find roof leaks; and to perform post-disaster inspections. That's important to smaller operators whose volume might make the typical ROI of less than a year somewhat longer if they were to rely on using the camera solely for moisture detection projects.

Training Advised
Regardless of what an IR camera is used to look for or at, its effectiveness is dependent not only on the contractor's knowledge and understanding of the component being inspected, but also his or her skill in operating the camera and understanding of the science involved in the assessment of the thermal evidence.

The trained and experienced thermographer knows that not every hot or cold spot represents a problem, but may in fact reflect a component's normal operation, performance, or location in the structure. Alternatively, a thermal image may actually show heat from sources other than the target that is reflected from or transmitted through the target material. That's why it's often said in the industry that: "There are IR camera operators, and then there are thermographers."

The Infrared Training Center, the world's largest thermographer training organization, in conjunction with the Building Science Institute, has created a curriculum in building science. The three-and-a-half-day Building Science Certification class is currently the only training course in the United States that is ISO-9001 registered.

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