Having had my appetite for this subject wetted, by a course with the National Flood School, I spent a morning at the PCA thermography day in Huntingdon this week.
PCA general manager Steve Hodgson sat at the back of a room which was full of the usual suspects; those PCA members who never tire of learning new skills and exploring new methods. delegates included PCA contractor members (like me) and independent consultants. My local nemesis, Martin Hughes, of Yorkshire Dampcourse (my Dad’s old firm), who is Chairman of the PCA was also on hand.
Paul Sacker, of Crimson Industrial Vision, presented a fascinating and thought provoking presentation on thermography in the built environment.
Instead of launching into a sales presentation, which would have bored everyone’s pants off, Paul concentrated on the fundamentals of thermography; making sure that delegates grasped these basics, before exploring site use.
This approach worked a treat, because the guys were soon coming up with ideas and comments on usage and limitations. The to-and-fro between Paul and the surveyors in the room was lively and added a lot to everyone’s learning experience.
So what can we see, through a thermal imaging camera, which we can’t with our own eyes?
I’m not going to wax on about the science bit (fascinating as it is), but basically our eyes see a very narrow section of the radiation around us. Visible light is the tip of the iceberg and infrared light, which we don’t see, is emitted by everything above 00kelvin.
Modern IR cameras, of the type a surveyor would use, see long wave infrared. The small differences in the amount of IR radiation emitted from wet and dry building elements stand out to the camera sensor. Clever electronics in the camera represent this invisible light as a grey scale or false colour image, along with the actual data the camera is receiving.
There’s energy all around us and as this moves, from warm to colder areas, or is converted, say, to evaporate water, less radiation is emitted – we see the damp.
It’s not exactly this straightforward of course, but that’s the crux. With proper training and care, a user can find and diagnose damp problems more quickly and even find completely invisible issues, before they become problems.
In addition, blocked cavities, missing insulation and leaks behind finishes or even under floors can be found. In the hands of damp/timber and wall tie specialists the number of uses will grow and grow.
Diagnosing problems, which appear visible to the naked eye can be made easier too; a huge amount of data is stored with each image for study later. Dew points, warm spots, cold bridges and more can be recorded and retrieved with intuitive software , which is becoming increasingly tuned to the needs of specialists and building surveyors.
I’m looking forward to using my camera for finding bridged cavities, where my boroscope is challenged; insulated houses and such. Damp will get easier to diagnose and the technology will also; crucially, help get my diagnosis over to my clients; without reams of writing and numbers, which switch them off.
Thermal imaging would already be well understood and used by damp specialists, had the cost of the equipment being within reach in the past. Those high initial prices ruled out the technology for us, so nobody really bothered to test the equipment in our environment. However, now that costs have fallen, I can see these cameras becoming standard kit for switched on surveyors very soon.
Though useful, thermal imaging cameras are by no means indispensable, but as an additional tool, used alongside existing kit, they are worth the £7000 cost of a mid-performance model. The lower resolution/sensitivity units are adequate for basic work, however most surveyors, having shelled out for a camera, will want to explore more opportunities. They’ll stretch the performance envelope of their new purchase. I can see buyers of cheaper models wanting to trade-up fairly quickly, as they find their original choice restricting.
The seminar was really enlightening and even though I’d swatted up beforehand and read a couple of guides on the subject, I came away with enough knowledge to make the trip to Huntingdon well worth it. That’s the benefit of witnessing an expert like Paul, being engaged by a group of experienced and enquiring minds – the spin-off from all those questions and answers was gold dust.
Give it a few years and those few surveyors without this kit, are going to look a little behind the times – which are changing.