Dirty Jobs in Government: Building Inspection

Spotting energy loss with thermographic cameras.

by / May 30, 2013
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. Copyright by Ulrich Miller. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. Copyright by Ulrich Miller.

Thanks to rising power costs and growing efficiency requirements, it’s more important than ever to spot energy loss in homes and offices. Now technology makes it easier to find air leaks and thermal defects that run up gas and electricity bills.

Thermographic cameras let inspectors survey thermal efficiency from inside or outside a building by detecting infrared radiation. The cameras produce images called thermograms, which depict temperature variations. These tools aren’t new, but technological advances have made them more affordable.

Jim Schwarz, a principal member of Center Grove Real Estate Inspections in Indianapolis said that thermal imaging is important to his business. He uses thermal cameras to investigate the heating components of HVAC systems in city buildings.

“I use it all the time trying to find hidden moisture,” he said. “I like to make sure we’re using thermal imaging technology [to] find out where we’re dealing with energy loss in general.”

Older thermographic equipment required heavy battery belts and huge cooling systems, said Bill Warner, educational director of the National Association of Commercial Building Inspectors. “Not many people provided it,” he said.

Today’s equipment is lighter, with batteries similar to those in video cameras. And prices have fallen dramatically, Warner said. “Twenty years ago, you were looking at a $60,000 investment or more just to buy the camera alone. Today you can get into the industry for around $8,000 for a decent quality camera.”  

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Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.