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Here, we provide answers to common questions in thermal imaging. Whether you’re a professional thermographer or new to the field, our expert insights will help you navigate through technical aspects and best practices in thermography.

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Updated: Jan 2024

Infrared thermography is a scientific technique that uses thermal cameras to detect and measure the invisible heat radiation (infrared) emitted by objects. It converts this heat energy into a visual image, called a thermogram, showing the temperature variations across the surface of the object.

Using infrared cameras, we can visualize the temperature range of objects by converting their emitted heat into an image. The camera’s detector captures this heat and translates it into a signal, displayed as an image where colors represent different temperatures.

Infrared thermography is a non-contact, non-destructive testing method that detects and measures the heat emitted from objects. It uses an infrared camera to create thermal images, which can be used to identify potential electrical problems.

  • Easy Fault Detection: Infrared thermography can identify hot spots in electrical systems, which often indicate potential issues like overloading, poor connections, or imbalanced loads before they lead to failures.
  • Energy Efficiency: By detecting areas of energy loss or inefficiency in the system, infrared thermography can help in optimizing energy use and reducing costs.
  • Non-Intrusive Inspection: Since it’s a non-destructive method, it doesn’t require shutting down systems for inspection, allowing for continuous operation.
  • Comprehensive Analysis: It provides a holistic view of the electrical system, including hard-to-reach areas, which might be overlooked during traditional inspections.
  • Safe: This technology enables inspections to be conducted without direct contact with the electrical components, reducing the risk of electric shocks or arc flash accidents.
  • Reduced Fire Risk: By identifying overheating components, it helps in preventing electrical fires, which are often caused by faulty or aging electrical equipment.
  • Versatile: Suitable for a wide range of electrical systems, from high-voltage equipment to low-voltage installations in commercial and residential settings.
  • Detection of Water Intrusion: Infrared cameras can identify areas of moisture accumulation that might not be visible to the naked eye, helping to prevent mold growth and structural damage.

  • Energy Efficiency Analysis: By detecting areas where insulation is missing, damaged, or inadequate, infrared thermography helps in identifying heat loss or gain, leading to improved energy efficiency and reduced utility costs.

  • Identifying Air Leaks: It can reveal points of air infiltration or exfiltration in the building envelope, which are crucial for maintaining efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

  • Structural Integrity Assessment: Thermography can help in detecting structural problems like delamination in concrete, hidden foundation cracks, or other anomalies that compromise the building’s integrity.

  • HVAC System Inspection: It can be used to check the performance of HVAC systems, identifying blockages, leaks, or uneven distribution of heating or cooling.

  • Electrical System Safety: Similar to electrical inspections, it can detect overheating or faulty components in the building’s electrical installations, preventing potential hazards.

  • Roof Inspection: Infrared thermography is effective in assessing roof conditions, identifying areas with trapped moisture or poor insulation.

  • Pest Infestation Detection: The technology can sometimes detect infestations by highlighting areas of the building where heat is being generated by nests or colonies.

  • Historical Building Analysis: For older buildings, thermography can be used to assess the condition of structural components without the need for invasive techniques, preserving the integrity of the historical structure.

  • Pre-Purchase Assessment: Infrared inspections can provide valuable information for potential buyers on the condition of a property, highlighting issues that might not be apparent in a standard inspection.

  • Non-contact: No need to open panels or de-energize equipment, making it safer and faster than traditional methods.
  • Early detection: Can identify potential problems before they become major failures, preventing costly downtime and repairs.
  • Quantitative data: Provides temperature measurements for accurate assessment of severity and prioritization of repairs. This data can be also referred to at a later date to monitor performance over time.
  • Visualization: Thermal images provide a clear picture of the problem area, making it easier to diagnose and communicate the issue.
  • Efficient and No Down-time: Operations do not need to stop to perform thermal inspections. In fact, it is more beneficial to perform one during operations to get a more accurate diagnosis. 
  • Saves Money: With the above listed advantages, overall, Thermal Inspections helps saves the company a lot of money through early problem prevention, safer operations and no down-time.

For the most thorough inspection and in most cases, yes.

However, some information can be obtained through closed panels, especially for identifying major hot spots, though difficult.

The frequency of electrical inspections using thermal cameras (infrared thermography) can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of facility, the age and condition of the electrical equipment, the environment in which the equipment operates, and previous maintenance history. However, some general guidelines can be provided:

  1. Annual Inspections: For most commercial and industrial facilities, an annual thermal inspection is recommended as a part of preventive maintenance. This helps in identifying potential issues before they become serious problems.

  2. Semi-Annual Inspections: In environments with higher electrical loads or in facilities that are critical to operations (like data centers, hospitals, or manufacturing plants), conducting inspections every six months may be advisable.

  3. Following Major Installations or Repairs: After the installation of new electrical equipment or major repairs, an inspection should be done to ensure everything is functioning correctly and safely.

  4. High-Risk Environments: In areas prone to extreme conditions, such as high humidity, temperature fluctuations, or corrosive atmospheres, more frequent inspections (possibly quarterly) are advisable.

  5. Older Electrical Systems: Facilities with older electrical systems might require more frequent inspections, as aging components are more likely to develop faults.

  6. As Part of Energy Efficiency Programs: If a facility is actively engaged in energy-saving initiatives, periodic thermal inspections can help track the effectiveness of these measures.

  7. Regulatory Compliance: Certain industries or regions may have specific regulations dictating the frequency of electrical inspections.

  8. After Significant Load Changes: If there’s a significant change in the electrical load of a facility (such as an expansion or addition of major equipment), it’s wise to conduct an inspection.

  9. Insurance Requirements: Sometimes, insurance providers might have specific requirements for thermal inspections to maintain coverage.

It’s important to tailor the inspection frequency to the specific needs and conditions of each facility. Consulting with a professional who understands the particularities of your electrical system and operational environment is advisable for setting the optimal inspection schedule. Regular inspections not only ensure safety and compliance but also contribute to the longevity and efficiency of the electrical systems.

According to the BCA’s Periodic Facade Inspection (PFI) guidelines:

Periodic Facade Inspection (PFI) Criteria and Frequency

Buildings that are more than 20 years of age are to be inspected every 7 years with the exception of:

  • Detached houses, semi-detached houses, terraced or linked houses which are used solely as places of residence
  • Temporary buildings as defined under the Building Control (Temporary Buildings) Regulations 2018
  • Buildings where the highest point (including its roof, if applicable) is 13 metres or lower when measured from the ground.

Temperature range: Most thermal cameras for electrical & building inspections have a temperature range of -20°C to 550°C or -4°F to 1022°F.

Field of view: The field of view determines how much area the camera can see at once.

Wider fields of view or wide-angled lens are good for scanning large areas, or when you are in a small room and can’t move back.

Narrower fields of view or telephoto / zoom lens are better for focusing on specific areas or if your target is further away and you can’t move closer.

Having a certified infrared thermographer conduct inspections is crucial for several reasons:

  • Expertise and Accuracy: Certified thermographers have the training and knowledge to accurately interpret infrared images, ensuring reliable diagnostics.
  • Understanding of Equipment: They know how to properly use and calibrate the equipment, which is vital for accurate measurements.
  • Safety Compliance: Certified professionals understand safety protocols, reducing risks during inspections.
  • Quality Assurance: Certification typically indicates adherence to industry standards, ensuring high-quality inspections.
  • Detailed Reporting: They can provide comprehensive reports that accurately identify and document issues, aiding in effective maintenance planning.
  • Professional Credibility: Certification lends credibility to the inspection process, which can be important for regulatory compliance and insurance purposes.

In summary, certified thermographers bring a level of professionalism and expertise that is essential for effective and safe infrared inspections.

While an electrician may have an infrared camera, they may not have the necessary training and experience to properly interpret the data and provide a comprehensive report

It is best to use a certified thermographer for electrical inspections.

The frequency of calibrating a thermal camera can vary based on the manufacturer’s recommendations, the camera’s usage, the environment in which it’s used and your accreditation requirements ie. ISO, etc.

Generally, it’s advisable to calibrate thermal cameras annually to ensure accuracy and reliability.

However, if the camera is used frequently or in harsh environments, more frequent calibration might be necessary. Always refer to the specific guidelines provided by the camera’s manufacturer for the best practices regarding calibration.

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