Disadvantages of infrared thermal imaging technology

Category: building surveying, Detect & Inspect Property Defects, Discover & Diagnose Energy Inefficiencies, Infrared Technology

Thermographer with IRT camera: Disadvantages of infrared thermal imaging technology


You will not be surprised to read that there is very little we don’t like about infrared thermal imaging technology. It is safe, carries minimum risk, makes no noise, leaves no mess, does not create any disruption to the occupier. It provides key information on the energy efficiency of buildings and their defects. That’s why it is a must-have tool in your building and energy management kit.
Like any other technology, there are disadvantages to infrared thermal imaging technology. Although we don’t believe these are major obstacles that prevent you from embracing the technology, you need to be aware of them.

Disadvantages of infrared thermal imaging technology: Falling cost of IRT cameras

Camera prices have fallen sharply over the last 5 years, meaning the barrier to market is now almost non-existent. That has raised probably the biggest and most recent disadvantage for the technology: that of training and a basic understanding of the images themselves. The cameras were tens of thousands of pounds 20 years ago. Today, £200 buys you a module you plug into your mobile phone, which is amazing and most welcome, but also dangerous.

The danger comes from the potential expensive mistakes that can result from using low-end cameras. When you are surveying a building, for example, with the aim of trying to apportion blame for a failed refurbishment, or to establish the correct specification for a remediation, an untrained surveyor armed with a cheap camera could  make the wrong conclusions which would cost the building owner thousands if not millions of pounds, sending the case to court very quickly.

Low camera prices attract cowboys. You can tell them from the professionals quite easily. They are very young companies, with low end kit and offering the service at very low prices. Every company is young at one point of course but the cameras and pricing structure for sure are strong indicators of the professionalism of the company in question. Carry out your due diligence and minimise your risks by asking the right questions when choosing an IRT survey company.

Disadvantages of infrared thermal imaging technology: Training is not enough

Basic training in the use of the camera doesn’t really make someone a thermographer either. Much like passing your driving test, it is not because you have a new driving licence that you instantly become a skilled driver like Lewis Hamilton. A thermographer may understand the physics behind the image and can understand the thermal colours – but have no idea about the thermodynamic properties of a portal frame, composite clad building. Knowledge of construction techniques and materials in use is essential. Being able to provide an accurate analysis of the images is a skill that few companies have. Quantifying the images is even a less common service offered.

Disadvantages of infrared thermal imaging technology: The weather influence

Assuming you decide you  have a need for infrared and you find a building specialist with the right experience, training and equipment, you next challenge is the weather. This is probably the most common frustration we experience. Taking infrared thermal images outside on a hot day is a no-no. Taking them on a cold night when it’s raining is also a no-no.

The cold weather season is for us the busiest one and we are one of these few people who actually look forward to the mercury going down. We want and need the conditions to be “just right”. This means:

  • at night
  • no sunlight
  • no solar gain on the fabric
  • dry outside,
  • cold,
  • low wind,
  • heating on in the building.

Things like shadows from trees look exactly like delaminating render if you take the images at the wrong time of day, or if the surveyor doesn’t note the fact that there is a 100 foot oak tree adjacent to the south elevation that has been casting a shadow over the wall all day long. It makes a difference. That difference could lead you to scaffold the building and start doing destructive testing or worse – taking it at face value and tendering  a Refurb when the fabric is okay. If you are a surveyor, you will look mighty silly if you convince your client to part with £500K to Refurb his dangerous walls only to find out they are solid and you are acting upon a shadow from a tree. This is an extreme example to illustrate a point, but it could happen if you don’t carry out a survey diligently.

Disadvantages of infrared thermal imaging technology: Lack of regulation

Another disadvantage of the sector is the weakness of any trade or governing body to license practitioners. There is one, but it isn’t a regulated industry as such – no CORGI registration required for example. You can join or not. There is no vetting process and training is optional when you buy a camera.

This is then easy for unscrupulous ‘surveyors’ to take advantage of building managers who are not too aware of the infrared thermal imaging disadvantages.

If you have used IRT before, what have you found were the biggest disadvantages? How did you overcome them? Let us know.

If you haven’t used IRT before, would you now consider adding infrared thermal imaging to your building management toolkit? Contact IRT surveys today to discuss your requirements and get a free non-obligation quote. Click on the button below.

Get a Quote