Have you ever used a Thermal Imaging Camera?

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Have you ever used a Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC)? It’s a fascinating experience that teaches you a lot about your house. You’ll find draughts, cold spots, gaps in the floorboards – all the myriad ways uncontrolled air and cold can enter the home. Some find it depressing, others get quite excited about the opportunity to do something positive about home and energy bills.

I’m part of the team managing the TIC in my home town. We are privileged to have a local council who purchased a camera, then handed it to Sustainable St Albans to manage. There is no charge and the loan is for 24  hours – quite long enough to gain all the information you need.

What to look for

The camera uses colour to show differences in temperature. The one I’m used so shows heat as red or orange and cold as blue. And it always shows this. So it can be rather alarming to point the camera at something you think is well insulated and be faced with a sea of blue! 

The trick is to look for the numbers on the screen. The number in the top right hand corner will show the ambient temperature range of the space you’re in. In the centre of the screen will be a number that indicates the temperature where the cursor is pointing. Whether the temperature difference is two degrees or 15 it will still show blue and orange. It’s that difference that is all important. Two or three degrees is neither here nor there. Anything above that needs action.  

Primary culprits

From running the camera training sessions and chatting with borrowers I’ve discovered there are regular culprits that sit in all our homes:

  • Gaps in the floorboards – if you have a suspended floor, cold air is probably seeping in from the sub floor void (the gap between the ground and the floor). If you can’t insulate under the floor (which is highly recommended), then filling in the gaps between floorboards can reduce the cold.
  • Cold windows – remarkably, there are still many homes with single glazing. We’re talking U value here (see more explanation in Beginner’s Guide to Eco Renovation). Simply put, a low U value keeps the warm in. If the budget will run to new windows and doors, then shop around to get the lowest U value you can find. This gives a warm surface that stops condensation and gets rid of cold air that comes in through the glass, around the window or through gaps between window and wall.
  • Letterboxes – a pretty obvious one. And don’t forget to check the door itself. A brilliant letterbox brush in a leaky door won’t do you much good at all.
  • Gaps in insulation – check out your loft, loft hatches and cavity walls. I’ve yet to find anyone who refills cavities, although I assume it must be possible (bit like refiling your duvet!). A quick shot from the TIC can identify where the gaps are and make remedial action much easier.
  • Leaky doors – external doors are often culprits, but also check internal doors, especially if you keep specific areas cold – utility rooms, hallways, bedrooms. We’re a perfect example of this – we always sleep with the bedroom window open so it makes no sense spending money to heat up the room. But we also don’t want the cold leaking into the rest of the house. We’ve solved the problem by putting a door spring on so we know the door will always be closed off.

Checking on work done

 Each time the camera comes back to me, I check it’s OK by pointing it a door or window. On one such occasion I discovered that the new double doors in the kitchen had gone out of kilter, creating a cold corner. A quick picture on my phone showing the result gave me all the evidence I needed and the supplier returned to make the necessary adjustment.

Borrowing a camera after having builders or installers in is a great way to check on work done. And if there are any problems, you have direct evidence of the issue to hand over to your provider, which makes life a lot simpler! 

Get borrowing

 The camera can only provide useful information on a cold day – you must have at least 10 degrees difference between inside and outside so that cold air from the outside is obvious as it enters the house. So now is the time to get going. Even if you can’t do the required work now, you can be ready before next winter. 

Once you have used the camera and found your trouble spots you can refer to my Stay Warm for Less booklet, full of easy to do energy saving hacks. My guess is that whatever you find will be covered in there. So soon you’ll feel much warmer as well as reducing cost. 

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