FLIR Systems infrared cameras—such as this ThermaCAM P25—work with their reporting and database software to help with collecting, reporting, and archiving of IR images and thermal data in a range of inspection applications. Photos: FLIR Systems
Left: This thermogram shows the presence of moisture in dry-wall surrounding a break in a freezer line, later confirmed with a moisture meter. Right: the image shows that the middle phase of a three-phase circuit is more than 50° F hotter than surrounding phases; a loose connection is the probable cause.

Mike Casanova of the Lee County Facilities Management Group in Ft. Myers, Fla., responds to about 60 air quality complaints each year. Each usually requires a one-week inspection to pinpoint the problem; some then call for complex investigations and could take several months to fix. Casanova's group, which reports to the County Board of Commissioners, is responsible for the maintenance of more than 150 facilities owned or leased by the county, whose population of 500,000 is on the rise.

"Most complaints now are mold related," said Casanova, a certified indoor environmentalist and mold remediator. "They of course are taken very seriously, as employee comfort and health are a major issue."

To speed his job, Casanova uses a ThermaCAM E4 infrared (IR) camera from Wilson, Ore.-based FLIR Systems. It allows him to scan an area quickly to determine the source and extent of the water intrusion responsible for potential mold growth without destructive sampling of the walls. "A fast scan sometimes picks up something that isn't visible to the human eye," he said.

"We also scan for temperature leaks in HVAC duct work and return and supply vents, and sometimes find the system is not even working. A lot of times the vents trap moisture and saturate the dry-wall or ceiling tile around them," said Casanova.

"Before IR, investigations were a bit more destructive," Casanova added. The camera enables his teams to discover and correct problems that previous methods most likely would have missed.

In addition to air-quality purposes, the 10 Maintenance Group staffers who have taken the Level I Thermographer Certification Course have found other uses for the technology. One unit uses the E4 to look for wet building materials and to scan roofs for hot spots indicative of moisture retention and problems with HVAC equipment. A second unit uses a ThermaCAM P20 to cover electrical components and the recycling plant.

"We cover over 3 million square feet, scanning the electrical panels for loose connections in the county's 150 facilities," said Marco Dano, the group's preventive maintenance coordinator.

In addition, the group uses the technology to inspect the Lee County Waste to Energy Plant. The facility converts more than 400,000 tons of refuse a year into usable electricity for approximately 25,000 homes.

"There's a thousand and one uses for this technology," said Casanova, "from monitoring electrical connections, energy loss, closed conveyor systems, to looking for worn or misaligned bearings or cracks in steel."

Dick Price is business development manager for FLIR Systems.

How infrared thermography works

Thermography enables I us to see and measure heat. All materials on earth emit heat energy, in the infrared (IR) portion of the spectrum. However, the unaided human eye cannot see in that range. Thermographic images allow the camera user to see thermally, revealing temperature anomalies that in turn identify potential problems in buildings and their component electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and waterproofing systems.

Today's lightweight and rugged IR cameras can not only see in real time, but can also record IR images and measure the temperatures of target objects quite accurately—to within +/- 0.25° F. Points of concern show up clearly as hot or cold spots in relation to their surroundings. Recorded thermal images easily can be inserted into reports and distributed, improving communications among the trades, attorneys, and other professionals and serving as invaluable, rational, evidentiary data in cases involving controversy.