What The Heck Is Thermography & Infrared Thermal Imaging?

Posted by JACK TARRY on Feb 24, 2012 3:19:00 PM

A few weeks ago, while attending a social gathering with my wife, I was asked the the 'old stand-by 'cocktail-party-question' by a gentleman munching on a pig-in-a-blanket : "so what do YOU do for a living."  While the question earnest, simple and direct - I have found from past experience - that my reply has sometimes induced a look that is best described as cross-eyed and confused.

You see I am in the 'Building Performance' Industry - and I use infrared thermal imaging to help pinpoint anomalies in building envelopes.  WHAT . . . HUH?  

I warned you.  Now, please allow me to explain . . . 

Do you remember being a kid?  And, how you might run down to the corner drugstore with your allowance burning a hole in your pocket.

That was me - and, I was on a mission to buy one of the latest comic books.  As I recall, on the back inside cover they posted classified advertisements - the coolest of which was a company pitching their special 'X-RAY GLASSES'.

describe the imageOh, the things that I could DO - if only I had a pair of those, I thought.

Some 'kids' never grow up. 

Fast-forward 40 years.

I found the Holy Grail. I stumbled onto the next best thing to those magical goggles. 

As part of my job as a certified thermographer, I use a special 'camera' that's called an infrared thermal imager made by FLIR.  They supply the U.S. Army, Border Patrol, NASA, the Medical Field an many others.

Bottom line?  It is almost as magical as I thought those XRAY VISION glasses might be.  Infrared thermography has actually been around for over 50 years (night vision in the Korean War).  But, now its use is going main-stream.  It's being used for a variety of things - many of which are all around you as a part of your everyday life. 

If you're like me, you may watch the WEATHER MAN as you're getting dressed in the morning.  He points to an INFRARED WEATHER MAP (beamed down by infrared cameras onboard satellites) that precisely pinpoint thermal patterns that reflect where storm fronts are heading through the use of graphic INFRARED COLORS.

Your DOCTOR uses infrared thermometers these days.  He also uses specialized infrared cameras to do thermology on breast exams (without radiation)and even infrared scans of your sinuses to 'see' any abnormalities.

Automaker BMW now has an infrared option (positioned near the headlights) to enable you to see the HEAT signature (thermal image) of a deer crossing the road ahead - even though it is pitch black outside. 

But -hands down -my all-time favorite was in the movie PREDATOR.  If you saw that (back in 1987), you know that this infrared thermal imaging stuff is pretty cool.  

But, alas, I digress . . .

So, as I was saying, this guy woofing down his hors d'ouvres asks me 'what do you do' for a living?

Past experience told me to skip the Science or explanations involving words like radiation or light spectrums.  This would surely lead to a glazed-eyed stare into space that I thought only a life insurance salesman could induce.  

So, I thought to myself, . . . I'll could use some TV analogies, right?

I went on to say, "imagine if you can take a big blender . . . and were able to dump in equal parts of 'Bill Nye the Science Guy' with 'Holmes On Homes,' and throw in a dash of CSI.   Well, if you could do that, you would have the recipe for what I 'DO' for a living. 


describe the image  No pun intended . . but, I think this guy 'got  the picture' when I gave him my convoluted -  and very unscientific - explanation. 

Being a Licensed Builder in the Tri-County Area for over 34 years, I have always had a love affair with my tools.  

But, I must tell you - my high-tech infrared  thermal imager (camera) does everything -  and more - than what I ever could have imagined those  magic 'XRAY' glasses doing. 

 In sports, it is said that 'you are better off  being lucky than good sometimes.  I have  found that to be true.  In retrospect, I realize that  I was very lucky to have discovered this infrared technology in 1986 when I saw an article about the only guy in the entire Midwest doing it.  

So, OVER 26 YEARS AGO I became a Champion for the use of Thermography.  Originally, we used it to pinpoint heat loss, missing insulation and drafts during energy audits of our Green Construction and renovation projects.

 As time has gone on, InfraVision has found more applications to ensure that our clients have the energy-efficient, safe, healthy (mold-free), and structurally-sound workplaces or living space they deserve.  

Our nomination for the Michigan Green Leaders Award for small business reinforced my belief that we need to continue to spread the word about this technology and its benefits.

Infrared Inspections for heat loss, missing insulation, water intrusion, leak detection, locating hidden sources of MOLD, and finding electrical issues are but a few of the applications that can be performed.

In future posts I hope to address your questions on HOW infrared thermal imaging works, WHAT makes thermography 'GREEN', and HOW a property inspection using an infrared camera scan - BEFORE YOU BUY - can save you hundreds - if not thousands of dollars.


Thermally Yours,

Infrared Jack

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