The Science Behind Thermal Imaging

Posted by Matt Buchanan

Today we’ve decided to geek out. Let’s channel our inner Bill Nye the Science Guy and do a deep dive into thermal imaging. We’ve blogged before about how to detect water damage in a property. But let’s talk specifically about the science behind thermal imaging so that you can understand exactly how it works in detecting moisture problems in your home or office. If you’re not scientifically inclined, or don’t want to geek out with us, I’m sure next week’s installment will be more your cup of tea!


What is infrared thermography?


Infrared thermography is a method by which object’s infrared energy is detected, its temperature is calculated and an image is displayed detailing those differences. Huh? If you’re like me, it helps to see what it looks like first and then start to understand what that all means. Here’s a picture of infrared thermography in action:


Ok, now that we have something to look at, let’s dissect what we are looking at. In the image above, you see different colors. Those colors are a representation of an area’s thermal condition. Basically, there is a spectrum of colors that is invisible to the human eye that displays according to the heat an object emits. Every object that has a temperature above absolutely freezing emits heat. Even an ice cube emits heat. So in the image above, the different colors represent different temperatures being emitted by the areas in the camera image. As you can see on the color spectrum on the right, the red colors mean hotter temperatures while the blue and darker colors mean cooler temperatures. But what does that have to do with water damage? Well, objects that are wet are cooler. So where you see the blue you see water damage. But the scary part if you’re a homeowner is that without that thermal imaging camera, that water damage is probably completely undetectable.


Why are thermal imaging cameras so important?


When it comes to detecting water damage, there’s a number of ways to skin a cat. We’ve discussed the various systems used before, but when it comes to an initial assessment of moisture problems in a home, there is no better system than a thermal imaging system. The reasons are simple:

  1. It allows you to see a visual representation of the extent of where the moisture has traveled. Other systems can take pinpoint moisture readings but only a thermal imaging camera can scan the entirety of the area and produce a visual that lets you see what you’re up against. What we have found as a water damage restoration company is that showing people the images and videos from a thermal imaging camera helps them understand their home water damage much better than looking at a chart of moisture readings.
  2. It is completely non-invasive. You simply point the camera at a section of the property and it reveals that area’s thermal condition. Other methods may require poking holes in surfaces or even ripping out sections of drywall. While this may be necessary down the road, in the initial assessment phase you just need a road map of where the water damage is.


How is thermography helpful in the water damage space?


Water losses typically fall into 2 broad categories: sudden, overwhelming losses (think flooding from rain, a washing machine hose busting loose, or a basement flood) versus a slow leak (think a missing roof shingle or a connection in a plumbing supply line being loose). When it comes to the former type of loss, what the majority of homeowners don’t realize is that the water has traveled to places they couldn’t imagine. So the benefit of this type of system is that it helps you find that hidden moisture. Without it, you’re in big trouble because we might not realize an area has been affected, thus you wouldn’t focus your drying efforts and you would end up with mold damage.

As for the latter, detecting whether or not you have a slow leak as quickly as possible is important. But these pesky leaks can be hard to detect, especially so if you don’t want to tear out sections of your walls or ceilings to find it. Enter the thermal imaging camera. As we mentioned above, the fact that you can peer behind surfaces without damaging them is immensely helpful in the early stages of water damage detection!

About Matt Buchanan

I grew up in Irving, TX and left for Nashville, TN for college. After college I lived in Washington, DC and then in Cairo, Egypt. After coming back to the states, I spent a couple of years back in Dallas before moving with my wife to Denver!
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