ICS Magazine

IR Cameras: A Different Way of Looking at Restoration

December 10, 2010

Once what was a luxurious “toy” to show off for clients is becoming more commonplace and, in some cases, a necessity. While infrared (IR) cameras are not quite amazing enough to turn you into Superman with X-ray vision, they can do much to build customer confidence in your professional knowledge, abilities and results.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but when price points were in the tens of thousands of dollars, IR cameras were beyond most budgets. Now that’s changed; there are models available today for less than $1,500. Now that more restoration professionals can afford them, let’s discuss what they can and can’t do.

First, a little background without too much “geek speak.” Everything on Earth emits infrared energy. Infrared is part of the light spectrum beyond the red – remember your rainbow colors? You can’t see it, but your IR camera can. The IR cameras pick up that energy and covert it to pictures. The more energy an object emits, the higher its temperature. Most of today’s IR cameras not only give you a picture, they also give you the surface temperature readings; you can see how smoothly they come into play for restoration contractors.

IR cameras do not use X-rays. They can’t “see” through walls, no matter how many movies or sci-fi shows you’ve seen to the contrary. They can’t see water in materials, either. They simply show you surface temperatures.

If they can’t sense water, then why – and more importantly, how – do we use them for water restoration? Well, what they can do is provide a visual of effects of water on a surface. But how exactly does that work?

 When you sweat and fan yourself to feel cooler, you are experiencing “evaporative cooling.”  The surface cools as the liquid evaporates from it. When a ceiling, for example, is wet and air movement is applied, the wetted surface will cool. The IR camera can sense that cooler area and differentiate it compared with the rest of the ceiling.

Not all cool areas result from water evaporating; missing insulation or air leaks also look cool at certain times, so to confirm whether there is excess water present, you need to verify with a moisture meter. IR cameras are very helpful for surveying a loss quickly to find areas to verify with your moisture meter – saving valuable time and helping keep you from missing areas.

IR cameras are used by technicians utilizing heat drying methods, to be sure the heat energy they’re using is being applied to all the wet materials. Another important use is to quickly and easily assess whether surface temperatures are close to the dew point of the air where secondary damage can occur.

Back to “showing off” for your clients – IR cameras are very impressive. They are also a very good documentation tool when you can properly interpret the pictures. Clients may not be able to understand moisture readings and psychrometric graphs, but the blue spot on the red wall makes the problem obvious.

IR cameras, because of improvements and lower cost of investment, are becoming more popular, but are still not being utilized by the majority of contractors. This can be a marketing advantage for those utilizing the technology and providing that service.