Contractors and technicians are always looking for tools that can help them improve their efficiency on the job site and ensure that they leave their customers without any ongoing HVAC issues. Thermal imaging cameras offer a solution to help them do this.
What is a Thermal Imaging Camera, and How Does It Work?
A thermal imaging camera is a tool that measures the infrared rays emitted from objects and displays the data as a visual image. According to Ricardo Pedroso, product manager at Bosch Power Tools, measuring the infrared waves allows the device to capture the surface temperature of objects in a given area, identifying temperature differences and heat distributions in an easy-to-read visual format.
“They are best used for HVAC to determine temperature anomalies in vents,” said Pedroso. They explained that a camera can be used to check the airflow of hot and cold air flowing through vents and ducts, saving money and preventing overworking a system during heating/cooling. The tool can also check that a motor is running at the proper temperature (avoiding costly repair) and ensure that circuits are not overheating or being overloaded.
The team also said that a top benefit of the tool is granting the technician the ability to see temperature variations to expose air leaks in vents or lost insulation. Pedroso listed some additional advantages of using thermal imaging technology in an HVAC contracting company.
- Repair time is reduced when the problem is easily identified. This saves costly repairs.
- Technicians can check motor temperatures as a form of preventative maintenance, eliminating problems that could have otherwise resulted in large bills.
- Technicians can detect refrigerant leaks and problems with condenser coils.
- A camera allows for detection of electrical problems, such as improper circuit temperatures, overheating or bad connections in electrical systems, or issues with circuit breakers.
- With radiant floor heating systems, a thermal camera will identify cold or over-heating spots in the systems.
- Coil temperatures can also be measured with the tool.
“The contractor is benefitted by saving time analyzing issues, and improving overall efficiency,” said Pedroso. “They can also provide detailed documents to owners on both the problem’s cause and repair-work needed.”
Pedroso also shared a list of features that contractors should look for when purchasing a thermal camera.
Camera and Software Capabilities:
- Image resolution
- Temperature range
- Ability to capture both standard and thermal images
- Large viewing area
- A color palette to distinguish or adjust the color to find a thermal issue.
- Image overlay
- Fixed and auto scale for comparisons.
- Analysis capabilities
- Battery platform
- Types of connectivity (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi)
- Size of memory
- Longer run on 12V Battery
According to Testo-Direct.com, infrared thermography technology can also help detect leaking pipes, find mold formation, and locate mechanical failures.
“The slightest temperature sensitivities can signal a fatigued or overheated fan motor, condenser or evaporate coils, control valves, and any other component that might not otherwise be noticed,” Testo-Direct stated on its site. “HVAC professionals responsible for the installation, performance, and upkeep of both residential and commercial heating and cooling systems can think of the thermal imager as a helping hand, a tool that complements the know-how they already have to not only inspect and troubleshoot issues, but prevent problems before they ever happen.”
The site explained that technicians can use a thermal imager to identify water-related problems that a normal inspection might not uncover, such as improperly insulated ducting becoming wet from condensation and dripping in attics.
Water leakage can cause the formation of mold. The site explained that thermal imagers use the externally determined ambient temperature and humidity, as well as the measured surface temperature, to calculate the relative surface moisture value for each measuring point. This can identify and prevent mold growth at an early stage.
“Thermal imagers use the externally determined ambient temperature and humidity, as well as the measured surface temperature, to calculate the relative surface moisture value for each measuring point,” the site said. “Thermal imagers make it possible for HVAC technicians to pinpoint and prevent mold at an early stage.”
Nuanced Testing and General Inspections
Thermal imaging can help identify elusive issues in a home’s HVAC, said the site HVACToolReview. Water leaks and moisture are some of the most difficult problems to find, but a thermal camera can help with this too, since wet areas appear cooler on the display. Slight moisture changes only affect the temperature minimally, but the right thermal imaging camera can pick up these problems.
FLIR, manufacturer of a thermal camera, said that “Nearly everything that uses or transmits power gets hot before it fails.” Because of this reason, thermal imaging can be used as a predictive maintenance tool, according to HVACToolReview.
“Restrictions in the refrigerant system such as a plugged filter drier, a stuck reversing valve, a partially plugged pass on a coil, or a compressor (like the type pictured above) not loading/unloading can all be easily spotted with a glance of a thermal camera,” the site said. The heat generated from problems in circuits, motors, and other systems can be detected by the camera, which can then lead the technician to discovering the source of the issues, such as improper belt tension, need of more lubrication, dirty coils, or a myriad of other potential causes.