Can Thermal Imaging Detect Moisture | All You Need To Know

Thermal imaging cameras use infrared sensors to detect varying temperatures within your home. They can spot moisture efficiently and help you identify any leaks or water damage, thus enabling you to take preventive measures quickly.

Infrared cameras in thermal leak detection kits can help you detect moisture intrusion within your walls by giving you a clear color-coded image of the same. But there’s more to the mechanism and use that you should know about. 

So, today, we will tell you all about the benefits of thermal imaging and how thermal cameras can be used. We will also walk you through the right process of detecting moisture with thermal cameras and the telltale signs of moisture retention in your homes.

Thermal Imaging

Thermal imaging

Infrared thermography is a technology that uses infrared light invisible to the naked eye to produce an image emitted by an object’s heat or the lack thereof. A thermal camera is similar to a regular camera, but instead of capturing traditional photos, it captures pictures of the heat radiation, where the heat emitted is called “thermal condition.” 

The image that is produced by a thermal camera is often called a “thermogram” or a “thermograph.” With these images, one can detect water damage or any other conditions like energy leaks, air leakage and wrong pressure levels that may be damaging your home. 

Now, to answer the question if a thermal imager can detect water, the answer is yes. A thermal imaging camera can detect the presence of water below any surface due to properties such as heat. 

The IR camera has been successful in detecting many roof failures or leaks. They are a popular technology that helps building contractors who use the device for better inspection and more accurate assessments for their projects. 

To better understand the technology of a thermal imager, it is necessary to understand its working mechanisms. We know that thermal imaging is not visible to the naked eye. This is because its wavelength is much longer than the amount the human eye can perceive. Thermal or infrared energy is a small part of the whole electromagnetic spectrum that can be perceived as heat. 

With an IR camera, anything that has a temperature above zero can potentially emit heat. This is not specified to heat. Even extremely cold objects can be detected by the infrared readings. 

Technically, the higher the object’s temperature, the more infrared is emitted. 

Thermal imaging cameras can produce an image of the heat being radiated. This gives it excellent capability to measure precise temperatures without any contact with the object. When there is moisture present, the temperature drops below the average room temperature. 

What’s Inside The Camera? 

A thermal imaging camera is used to find varying temperatures within an object. 

They are usually made up of 4 main components; a thermal sensor, lens, processing electronics, and mechanical housing. The lens projects infrared energy on the sensor of the device. The sensor can have many different pixel configurations where few include 80×60 and 1280 x 1024 pixels. This pixel configuration is the resolution of the thermal imaging camera. 

Compared to visible light imagers, thermal imaging cameras have relatively lower resolutions. These thermal cameras need to detect energy that has a much larger wavelength when compared to visible light. This requires each sensor to be a lot larger. 

As a result, thermal imaging cameras have much lower resolution than visible sensor cameras. One must keep in mind to choose a thermal imaging camera that includes all aspects from resolution and field of view to thermal sensitivity and spectral range. 

How Thermal Imaging Works

Every object has a heat signature that causes them to emit infrared energy. And a thermal imaging camera detects the infrared energy of these objects and measures them precisely. It does so by converting the data derived from infrared light to an electronic image that can accurately show the temperature of the object being measured. 

An infrared thermal imaging camera contains a special detector chip, which aids the optical system to focus on infrared energy. This detector chip has thousands of detector pixels that are arranged in a grid-like format. 

Every pixel produces an electronic signal when it reacts with the infrared energy focused on it. The camera processor then takes the signal from every pixel and creates a color map of the measured area’s temperature. 

To distinguish each temperature value, they are assigned different colors. Once the colors are obtained, they are sent to the memory of the device and to the camera display that shows it as a temperature picture, also known as a thermal image. 

Many thermal imaging cameras also have a visible light camera that is included within them. This enables the camera to capture a digital image when you pull the trigger of the device. The images are then blended together to form an image that includes both properties. This makes identifying problems with the area or the object you’re inspecting much easier. 

Apart from basic thermal imaging properties, there are many thermal imaging cameras with additional features such as automated functions, voice annotations, support analysis and reporting. Besides, you don’t need any visible structural damage to find any leaks or moisture retention between your walls or roof. 

Moisture Detection With Thermal Cameras

A thermal imaging camera can play a crucial role in moisture meters assessment, energy audits, and water damage investigations when used correctly. There can be many temperature differences that are caused by factors such as evaporation, radiation, thermal bridging, and infiltration. These temperature differences should be evaluated immediately and accurately. 

A thermal imaging camera can spot damaged areas not visible to the naked eye. These findings are then verified after using moisture-detecting equipment, which in turn, prevents any water wicking being left unnoticed. When the thermal imaging camera finds the area of moisture, it’s documented on the visual screen of the device. This makes it easier to understand the problem area and take the necessary steps to rectify it. 

Using a thermal imaging camera to detect moisture can not only save you time but also money from intense repairs. 

When Thermal Imaging Cameras Are Used 

As we know, infrared thermal imaging cameras can detect the presence of water by measuring the temperature difference from the surrounding area. It is a reliable and efficient way of detecting moisture within your walls and roof. 

A thermal imaging camera can be used under the following circumstances: 

  • After any natural disaster like floods
  • If there are broken water lines or equipment failure 
  • Prior the construction of a building  
  • When there is a suspected plumbing leak 
  • If doors, windows, or other openings are leaking 
  • While performing energy audits 
  • During infiltration and exfiltration determination 
  • To determine insulation adequacy 
  • For locating hidden leakage under flooring 
  • To find moisture in inaccessible areas

Many systems, such as flat roofing and synthetic stucco, don’t give any visual clues in the event of leaks or moisture retention. An IR camera can be used to detect these hard-to-inspect surfaces to avoid any further damage due to the leak being prolonged. 

Exterior insulation finish systems, also known as EIFS, have an exterior cladding that can cause moisture retention. Since EIFS retains a lot of moisture, it promotes the growth of mold spores and rotting within any wall cavity. 

When used under the right conditions, thermography can be an early warning of any excessive moisture or mold formation within your walls, inside and out. 

How To Conduct Moisture Detection With Thermal Imaging

1. Preparing For The Test 

Before you start with your detection test, you must be prepared well. Ask yourself these questions to get an understanding of the area you’re working with. 

  • How old is the building?
  • Did the problem occur after a rainstorm?
  • Is your landscaping running against your exterior wall? 
  • Do sprinklers cause exterior straining? 
  • Is the area directly below a bathroom or kitchen? 
  • What access is available around the affected area? 
  • Is extensive landscaping present? 
  • Have any recent repairs occurred around the affected area? 

2. Water Test And Investigation 

First and foremost, make sure that you document the affected area before you use any thermal imaging tests. Once you have accurate photographs and a description of the affected area, you can set up a thermal camera before the test. 

The setup is a simple process, and most thermal imagers can take photos as well as voice notes to accompany them. This can help you store all the information before clearing and after your inspection. 

Certain times, you can re-introduce water to the affected area. This helps you see the problem at its optimal condition. You can start at the bottom and work your way up unless you notice that prominent moisture comes from above, for example, the roof and ceiling.

Tip

Make sure to document the start and finish times. You can move the water used for testing to new locations every 8-10 minutes. The water testing should only last up to 30-45 minutes, or it can cause further damage.

Once the leak is duplicated with extra water, you can refrain from testing in that particular location again. But keep testing throughout other wall locations to ensure that there aren’t more moisture leaks. 

Another thing to remember is to take notes while taking the thermal camera photos. Once the test is done, it may be hard to identify the problem just by looking at the thermal image. Notes would help the image make more sense in this case. 

3. Optimal Weather 

Performing these moisture detection tests under optimal weather conditions is essential. This will ensure that there is necessary temperature control in the area that you are testing, so as to avoid misreading the temperature. The greater the similarity in temperature between the outside and inside of the building, the better the thermal camera results. 

An ideal weather for thermal investigation is warm/hot weather since air conditioning would cool the interior of the building. The water used will also become cooler, allowing a greater temperature difference between the water and the tested surfaces, producing better thermal images. 

Something to keep in mind would be the materials of the area being tested. Certain exteriors, like stucco, tend to be more porous, which in turn absorbs more moisture. 

Using hot water in a colder area will also be helpful. However, applying enough hot water to locate the problem efficiently can be challenging. 

Why Thermal Imaging Is Essential

Thermal cameras stand out due to their affordability and ready-to-use technology; hence, they are being used in many “building forensic investigations.” These cameras can be used on their own and combined with a contractor’s inspection skills to make full use of the technology and attain precise assessments. 

Thermal imaging is the most ideal way to spot moisture in interior walls, roofs, and other surfaces. When the water damage is detected early on, you can take the necessary steps to stop it from progressing. 

Often, water accumulation is overlooked in an energy leak investigation. Other times, it may sometimes require breaking up certain walls or pipes to inspect the area for detecting a leak. However, thermal detectors allow the problem to be inspected without damaging your property. Hence, their popularity for solving water leakage and moisture problems has risen. 

Signs Of Moisture Retention 

1. Smell Of Mold 

The first and foremost thing that can give away the presence of any moisture within your walls is the smell of mold. It can be a musty smell that emits from your walls or ceiling. When you smell mold, you may have a moisture retention problem. 

2. Apparent Mold Growth 

If the mold has grown uncontrollably, the chances of you being able to spot it are pretty high. If you see a slight presence of mold, there can be more mold growth within your walls or ceilings. Look out for any indication of mold growth that can confirm the presence of moisture within your walls.

3. High Humidity 

Living in an area with quite a lot of humidity can create the ideal environment for mold to grow. Higher humidity can cause more moisture, which can be a significant factor in mold growth. If you experience high humidity, it would be wise to get a mold check done or invest in a dehumidifier to control the temperatures. 

4. Water Leaks 

If you have a water leakage, it can create a warm, damp area. This area is the perfect place for mold to grow. In case of a water leak, make sure to get it fixed immediately without any further delay. Also, keep in mind to check for mold growth after the leaks. 

At certain times, wall pipes can develop a leak. In this case, you can only use a thermal imaging camera to be able to detect the leak and rectify the situation. A leaking radiator can also be a significant culprit in moisture retention. If you have knowledge on how to fix a leaking radiator, it might be wise to do it immediately to prevent further damage. 

5. Rust 

A prominent sign of moisture in your home is rust. Many factors, such as humidity, dampness, or a water leak can cause it. If you notice the signs of rust within your walls or roof, be sure to check for mold as well, as they can be closely related in the event of excess moisture. Some signs for rust formations are red/brown streaks on the walls, or small scattered stains.

6. Blocked Gutters 

When you have a blocked gutter, water is unable to run down the gutter and away from your home. However, the water still has to flow somewhere, and it might flow into your home. In this case, check your walls and roof for any leaks or damage.

7. Lack Of Good Ventilation 

Poor ventilation can prevent airflow, which keeps any retaining moisture from drying out. You have to ensure that your house’s ventilation system works properly. If it does not, make sure that you keep water away from that particular area. 

Bathrooms generally have extreme moisture retention. If poor ventilation is a problem in your bathroom, make sure you leave the windows open or use fans to improve ventilation. 

Traditional Water Tracking Methods 

To investigate a water leak, you can use both invasive and non-invasive invasive or non-invasive. As such, invasive methods include cutting open drywall or opening exterior envelopes. Adding extra water is also a traditional technique used to detect water presence by duplicating the environment of a water leak. Non-invasive methods, on the other hand, include the use of technology like IR cameras and thermal leak detectors. 

Can thermal imaging detect moisture conclusion 

Can Thermal Imaging Detect Moisture Conclusion 

Thermal imaging is a great modern invention in technology. It enables the user to determine any leaks or moisture retention that may be present in their walls without tearing them up. This non-invasive method is excellent for finding moisture within walls and taking preventive measures when needed. 

With that, it’s time for me to wrap up for today. If you found this guide insightful, you might want to check my other read on “mechanical pencil guide.” See you again!

Lorelai Greene
Lorelai is a London born interior designer by trade, a designer that choose sunny Barcelona against rainy London to pursue writing after graduation, she then joined Architecture Lab in 2017 as a design contributor.

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