Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Fact or Fable? Infrared Cameras See Through Walls

Source: www.energy.gov
Infrared camera
An energy auditor comes to your home or business, pulls out a special "infrared camera," and walks around outside. The auditor reports finding gaps in your insulation and energy leaks around doors. That's good information, but did the camera actually see through your walls? 

 

If you find that idea troubling, you can relax. They can't see through anything, not even your windows. What infrared cameras can do is sense the heat given off by an object or person. That's why they are sometimes known as thermal imaging cameras. 

How infrared cameras work 

Infrared cameras have lenses just like other cameras, but these lenses focus on infrared energy (heat) and convert it to electronic signals, which are processed to create video images. The colorful image on the camera monitor displays the temperature variations between objects, ranging from white for warm regions to black for cooler areas.   

The images on the camera help the auditor determine whether insulation is needed or if it has been installed correctly. Infrared inspections can be done inside or outside. The auditor will determine the best method, based on weather conditions and other factors, such as the shape and type of the home or building.

Infrared inspections are often performed along with a blower door test. A blower door is a fan attached to an outside door. The fan pulls air outside, lowering the indoor air pressure. The higher-pressure outside air rushes in through any gaps in the walls. The infrared camera is then used to pinpoint these exaggerated air leaks. 

For you do-it-yourselfers out there, thermal imaging cameras aren't cheap. They range in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the type of equipment and the features they offer. Innovative companies are developing smartphone add-ons that give them infrared imaging capabilities. 

Beyond energy efficiency 

While useful for spotting energy losses, infrared imaging is not limited to the energy industry. Infrared cameras assist police in pursuit; they can see suspects running in the dark or hiding behind trees and bushes. Firemen and rescue personnel use hand-held or helmet-mounted cameras to see through smoke to locate victims, or find "hot spots" in a fire before it spreads.

While they may not have any magical "see-through" capabilities, it's clear that infrared cameras are useful for saving energy and helping to save lives. 

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