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Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

Infrared thermography for building diagnostics

C.A. Balaras*, A.A. Argiriou
Group Energy Conservation, Institute for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development, National Observatory of Athens,
I. Metaxa & V. Pavlou, GR 15236 Palaia Penteli, Hellas, Greece

The use of thermal infrared (IR) imaging is a valuable tool for inspecting and performing non-destructive testing of building elements,
detecting where and how energy is leaking from a building's envelope, collecting data for clarifying the operating conditions of hard to
reach heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) installations, identifying problems with the electrical and mechanical installations
under full-load operating conditions. IR inspections involve the detection of IR electromagnetic radiation emitted by the inspected object.
The collected information can be used as part of other investigative procedures to identify potential problems, quantify potential energy
savings, schedule interventions and set priorities for preventive and predictive maintenance or the need for immediate service to minimise
the risk of failure. This paper reviews the main areas for using IR in building diagnostics with an emphasis on how it was implemented to
support ofce building audits following the TOBUS methodology. Representative examples from building envelope, mechanical and
electrical inspections in audited Hellenic ofce buildings are presented to demonstrate common problems and data interpretation.
# 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Infrared (IR); Thermography; Building diagnostics; Energy audits; TOBUS

1. Introduction
The human naked eye can only detect visible light waves
or visible radiation of the electromagnetic spectrum (0.39
0.77 mm) that is the result of indirect (or reected) radiation
provided by solar radiation or by articial lights. The eye
cannot detect the infrared (IR) radiation that typically falls
between wavelengths of 215 mm that is between the visible
and microwave parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Near
IR waves (0.725 mm) are close to visible light but with a
wavelength that is longer than visible and shorter than
microwaves and with a frequency that is lower than visible
and higher than microwaves. Far IR waves (251000 mm)
are closer to the microwave region.
All objects radiate energy that is transported in the form of
electromagnetic waves, which travel at speed of light. The
quantity of energy leaving a surface as radiant heat is
proportional to its emissivity and the fourth power of its
absolute temperature given by
q00 seT 4
where q00 is the hemispherical total emissive power (radiated
energy per unit area, W/m2), s the StefanBoltzmann constant (5:67051  10 8 W/m2 K), e the total hemispherical
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (C.A. Balaras).

emissivity of the surface (0 < e < 1) and T is the surface

absolute temperature (K).
Any object with a temperature other than absolute zero
( 273.158C or 0 K) radiates within a range of wavelengths
from 0 to 1. For the temperatures commonly encountered in
building physics and the installed electrical and mechanical
equipment, the major part of the emissive power ranges
within the IR part of the electromagnetic spectrum. For these
conditions, the higher the temperature of an object the more
IR radiation it emits. For example, the heat one feels from a
heat source (i.e. an open re, a heat radiator or even an
uninsulated at roof during the summer) is mainly IR
radiation. However, even a ``cold'' surface emits enough
radiation that can be detected using the proper equipment.
IR spot measurements can be made using a simple IR
radiometer (sensor). The sensor measures the object's
emitted IR energy and converts it to digital temperature
readout. However, a point radiometer does not provide an
image of the object and, thus, it is difcult to nd what or
where the problem is precisely located without actually
scanning the entire object or surface.
An IR thermal imager is a device that makes an image of
the thermal patterns and is calibrated to measure the emissive power of surfaces in an area at various temperature
ranges. They use a lens to focus the emitted IR radiation onto
a detector and the electrical response signal is converted into
visual display (digital picture) in which the different colours

0378-7788/02/$ see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 3 7 8 - 7 7 8 8 ( 0 1 ) 0 0 1 0 5 - 0


C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

(or shades of grey) correspond to various temperature levels

of the surface (target) on which it is focused. Available
software can then be used to analyse the thermographic
images and even quantify these differences [1]. Temperatures can also be calculated provided that the emissivity of
the surface, within the spectral range of the IR detector, is
known. Using this technology it is possible to ``see'' the
surface temperature of any object, that is the end-effect of
heat transfer by conduction from within the object to its
surface and assess the amount of radiated heat that is
associated to an estimate of its surface temperature. The
equipment commonly used is an IR camera that has the size
of a common video camcorder. The accuracy of the measurement depends on various parameters like emissivity,
atmospheric particles (gas and vapour molecules or solid
particles), ambient temperature, wind speed and distance
from the target. Measurements can be made at a distance
from the object although atmospheric conditions can affect
the amount of IR energy that is detected as a result of
The total hemispherical emissivity of the surface depends
only on the temperature of the surface. It is a measure of how
efciently that surface emits energy compared to a surface at
the same temperature that is a perfect emitter (blackbody)
with an emissivity equal to one. For real surface analyses it is
common to assume that the surface is a diffuse emitter and
that is modelled as a grey surface (monochromatic hemispherical emissivity is independent of wavelength). Most
non-metallic surfaces, such as paint, wood, and plastics have
a high emissivity value, usually greater than 0.80. However,
surfaces with a low emissivity like clean, well-polished
metallic surfaces, because of their electron structure, do
not emit radiant energy efciently and they are difcult to
see thermal patterns or measure their temperature. The
emissivity values for shiny metals are typically between
0.05 and 0.2, but in time if they become coated with oxides
and other impurities they will also obtain considerably
higher emissivity values. Despite features that allow for
an emissivity correction factor to be entered in the equipment before making a measurement, accurate reading are
not possible on unpainted, clean and shiny metal mechanical
and electrical components with an emissivity of about 0.5 or
lower. Alternatively, if it is possible, high emissivity (around
0.9) targets could be afxed on the shiny metal surfaces to be
inspected, like paper stickers, paint or electrician's tape [1].
Using a water-soluble black paint, it can be wiped off after
the inspection procedure. However, the most reliable technique for determining emissivity requires that at some time
one measures specimen temperature (simultaneously with
the radiation measurement) by some independent means,
such as a thermocouple. The radiation emissivity is then
adjusted until the temperatures indicated by the two instruments agree. If there are no changes in conditions, this
emissivity setting can be used for future measurements.
However, although the assumed emissivity value may be
in error, it will not cause proportionate errors in the

output signal from the equipment and the temperature error

will be of the fourth power law. A review of emissivity
measurement techniques and how emissivity measurement
uncertainties propagate to temperature uncertainties is available in [2].
Another potential source of error is energy loss in transmitting the radiation from the measured object to the
detector. Large size particles that may be present in the
atmosphere (i.e. water vapour, carbon dioxide gas molecules
and ozone) that will attenuate radiation as well as scattering
effects from dust particles and water droplets. Atmospheric
attenuation produces two main transmission wavebands of
about 35 and 812 mm. Usually IR equipment are designed
to respond within one or the other waveband, thus, making it
insensitive to absorption effects. In general, the 813 mm
band is preferred for high performance thermal detectors
because of the greater sensitivity to ambient temperature
objects and good transmission through smoke. The 35 mm
band may be more appropriate for hotter objects or if
sensitivity is less important than contrast. Special lters
can also be used to make measurements when the
object has special spectral characteristics (i.e. to exclude
certain wavelengths). Since the absorption varies with the
thickness of the gas traversed by the radiation, the effect is
not an instrument constant and cannot be compensated. The
lenses used in IR instruments are made of special materials,
since glasses normally utilised for the visible spectrum
are almost opaque to radiation wavelengths longer than
about 2 mm.
The ambient air temperature inuences the temperature of
the equipment (i.e. IR camera and lenses) and its performance. This may produce a drift and erroneous measurements. For this reason, IR equipment have an internal
compensation system that will correct for this variation.
In addition, it may inuence to some extend the amount of
IR radiation emitted from the surface. At very high or very
low-temperatures, IR detection systems become less stable.
High ambient temperatures can mask thermal information,
especially when dealing with reective surfaces [3].
Wind effects can also inuence the phenomena. High
winds will enhance heat transfer from the surface and higher
convective heat losses can reduce the surface temperature.
Accordingly, one should avoid outdoor inspections under
windy conditions. In general, if winds exceed 5 m/s then be
cautious when analysing the data. Probably you will encounter problems in identifying some problems and can even
miss other ones all together. On the other hand, when trying
to identify air inltration problems around openings, then
relatively high winds will make it easier to detect during the
inspection of the interior windows and doors.
Distance effects and the angle of vision are also factors
that affect data collection and may play a role in the
interpretation of the results. The resolution of the thermographic image decreases with distance. Since each point on
the thermographic image corresponds to a specic area of
the subject surface, an increase in distance implies that each

C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

image point must represent a larger surface area. As a result,

the radiation emitted from that area is averaged and detail is
lost. Viewing an object at an acute angle presents less
information than one taken at right angles, something similar to the results obtained by taking a regular photograph.
However, in this case, the information may be further
distorted depending on the surface material and its ability
to radiate in different directions [3].
The end result of an inspection using IR thermography is
usually a recorded visual display (digital picture) of the
image, called a thermograph. The warmer the object, the
brighter it appears on a thermograph. In raw IR, a white
colour represents a hot area, while a dark colour represents a
colder area. This way one can easily identify irregular
thermographic patterns referred as ``thermal anomalies''.
Different types of anomalies, like an increase or a decrease
of surface temperature or retained residual heat, indicate
specic problems. These temperature differences can be
quantied to assess the importance of the problem and
schedule a proper set of actions. A thermograph is also
associated with a regular photograph of the object in order to
make the proper cross-comparisons when analysing the
measurements. It is also customary to include both pictures
in a follow-up report.
This paper reviews some of the potential uses of IR
thermography from audit campaigns of Hellenic ofce
building [4,5] performed following the European TOBUS
methodology [6]. It includes various illustrative examples
collected during these audits identifying problems or even
good examples of inspected objects from the building
envelope, mechanical and heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, and electrical installations. The
collected information can complement the other available
data from the building audit and is an optional supplementary activity of the TOBUS methodology. IR thermography
can also be used independently of a building audit or a
renovation project, as part of a preventive and regular
maintenance programme [7]. Although the additional
inspections using IR thermography will increase the time
of an audit, it is still worth the time invested since it can
reveal valuable information that visual inspections cannot
provide, limit the guess work, provide useful evidence to
substantiate proposals, and ne-tune cost estimates for the
necessary retrot and the extend of repair works. Compared
with other kind of measurements IR thermography is quick
and accurate. For practical purposes, due to space limitations, the visual material included in this paper is limited to
2. Applications
IR thermography, thermal imaging, IR radiometry, IR
imaging, and IR condition monitoring, are commonly used
terms for this non-destructive testing and non-contact diagnostic technology that has a broad range of applicability [8].


IR inspections can be incorporated during an audit of a

building and its electromechanical installations to locate
problem areas that may be otherwise go undetected or reveal
the source of a problem. Scheduled maintenance can also
become more effective. Identifying an anomaly before it
evolves into a serious problem or even a failure in some
cases, it is possible to reduce the downtime of mechanical
and electrical installations, cut-down the maintenance and
replacement costs (i.e. for a moisture damaged roof or wall,
faulty electrical connections, misaligned motors).
IR inspections of building envelopes can be used to detect
heat losses, missing or damaged thermal insulation in walls
and roofs, thermal bridges, air leakage and moisture sources.
As a result, interventions can be well targeted with a reduced
repair cost, while saving heating and cooling costs. IR
inspections of electrical installations can be used to locate
both loose and corroded connections before they cause a
catastrophic failure or serious damage, with a possible
serious impact on the connected equipment or even become
a re hazard and endanger the life of employees and
technical personnel. Any electrical equipment that is accessible it can, and should be inspected, including transformers,
switchgear, distribution centres, sub-feed panels, distribution panels, bus ducts, motor control centres, disconnects,
variable frequency drives, power correcting banks, etc.
Maintenance personnel can plan their work by knowing
in advance their priorities, thus, minimising the need for
troubleshooting, organise the appropriate manpower, get the
necessary materials and, thus, shorten the repair time. IR
inspections of mechanical equipment can be used to identify
boilers with missing and damaged insulation resulting to
increased heat losses and energy costs. Overheating motors
have a shorter life span and a lower efciency since it takes a
lot of extra energy to produce that much heat. Difcult to
access HVAC installations can also be inspected. For example, IR imaging can be used to distinguish air supply and
exhaust outlets from hard to reach ceiling diffusers and
determine their operational status. It is also possible to
locate and trace hot and cold pipes inside building elements
(i.e. oor piping in water heating systems), to identify the
loops and minimise the guesswork when there is a need to
replace them, to check for heat losses as a result of poorly
insulated pipes and ducts, etc.
The interpretation of IR images assumes a good understanding of various principles from heat transfer, thermodynamics, optics and electronics [8]. As a result this
technology may on one hand appear too complex and limit
its applicability. However, if properly used by qualied
personnel it can provide unique information that reveal
problems and with their proper analysis reach suitable
solutions, that can save a lot of money. On the other
hand, the use of IR technology can be abused, resulting
to erroneous measurements and interpretations or may
even endanger an unqualied auditor who does not take
suitable precautions during, for example, electrical inspections. The rst sign of a problem is usually a temperature


C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

rise. However, to determine the source of the problem and

what needs to be done to solve the problem, requires a good
knowledge of the object being inspected and why it appears
hot or not.
Specic examples for building diagnostics, mechanical
and electrical inspections, are presented in the following
sections. Some precautionary safety measures are also outlined for the case of electrical inspections. However, this is
not a comprehensive guide and an auditor should get professional training before getting involved in this kind of
3. Building diagnostics
During an energy building audit, IR thermography can be
used to quickly survey the entire building and spot heat
losses or gains through the envelope and substantiate proposals using the IR images as a proof of a problem or support
other data and information collected during an audit. Accurate and detailed information of where a problem occurs can
reveal the source of the problem, thus, avoiding extensive
renovation work that can increase the cost. Instead, it is
possible to use the insight information provided by the IR
inspection, to make low-cost local repairs. Some examples
include the location of missing, improperly installed or
damaged insulation, thermal bridges, costly air leakage
around openings, moisture damages and detection of cracks
in concrete structures.
Using IR thermography to inspect a building envelope one
has to be aware of the physical phenomena taking place and
how the outdoor environment interacts with the indoors.
During the day, the incident solar radiation on the external
building surfaces is absorbed and increases its surface
temperature. As a result of the temperature difference
between the external and internal wall surface, heat is
conducted through the wall. Another parameter that will

inuence the phenomena is the wind, since convective heat

losses depend on the wind velocity. At night, heat is dissipated from the wall external surface to the lower temperature environment by radiation. Depending on the building
element under investigation (i.e. wall, glazing facade, roof)
it is possible to observe different phenomena. For example,
during winter, the external surface of a wall or a section of a
wall with no insulation will have a lower surface temperature. In order though to avoid the conict of temperature
increase as a result of the incident solar radiation, IR
measurements should be performed at night or during a
cloudy day, with low wind speeds to minimise convective
heat losses. Alternatively, one can perform similar measurements on interior walls, thus, minimising the impact of
adverse outdoor conditions. However, keep in mind that
the impact from the absorbed solar energy continues for a
few hours. Another common problem that can be identied
with an IR inspection is moisture damage. A wet mass
retains the absorbed heat for a longer period than a dry
mass and, therefore, it takes longer to radiate this heat. This
is the way to identify moisture problems in walls or roofs
that are most common.
Thermal insulation reduces heat losses by conduction
through the building envelope (i.e. walls, roof) during winter
and heat gains during summer. As a result, it reduces the
heating or cooling energy costs and improves indoor thermal
comfort conditions by increasing the interior surface wall
temperature in winter and by reducing it in summer. Cold
and hot surfaces have a direct negative impact on human
thermal comfort and despite that the air temperature is at the
appropriate levels it will cause thermal discomfort. Missing
or damaged insulation can be located when the thermograph
indicates a temperature difference of about 118C between
the internal and external surface temperature. Missing insulation will appear on a thermograph as a light coloured
patch with distinct edges, which generally outline the noninsulated area (Fig. 1). Improperly installed or damaged

Fig. 1. Thermograph of an interior roof surface with missing insulation.

C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183


Fig. 2. Thermographs of the exterior surface of a single-glass curtain wall facade (general view: top row and detail view: bottom row) during winter and
summer. At floor level, there is a 70 cm high and 25 cm thick concrete parapet, behind the glass curtain wall.

insulation will also appear on a thermograph as a light patch

with well-dened edges that outline the problematic areas.
A single-glazing window or facade will loose more heat
during winter and have higher heat gains during summer if it
is not shaded. Fig. 2 illustrates two thermographs of a singleglass curtain wall facade during winter and during summer

taken from the outdoors. A similar thermograph is illustrated

in Fig. 3 but this time the view of the glazing is from indoors.
Part of the glazing is internally shaded. Notice the high
surface temperature on the unshaded glazing. This causes
discomfort as a result of radiative heat gains and glare. An
inspection methodology for accurate assessments of exterior

Fig. 3. Thermograph of the interior surface of a single-glazing during winter. The right-hand side of the glazing is internally shaded. The cold areas (dark
surfaces) below the window shill are from induction air-conditioning units.


C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

Fig. 4. Thermograph of a building facade illustrating missing wall thermal insulation and thermal bridges.

wall assemblies, including masonry, architectural precast,

metal and glass curtain walls, and insulated steel assemblies,
is presented in [9]. The study provides information related to
moisture accumulation, air leakage, variations within thermal resistances of similar assembly conguration, and
structural thermal bridging.
Envelope thermal bridges are usually caused by structural components that penetrate the insulation's thermal
barrier. As a result, this creates a short-circuit path for the
heat ow, which is conducted through the component
causing heat losses during winter and heat gains during
summer. Taking an outdoor thermograph of the structural
component during winter, thermal bridges appear as light
coloured areas because the heat losses from the indoor
heated space cause a temperature increase (Fig. 4). An
indoor thermograph of the component during summer will
show a similar problem as a result of the absorbed solar

heat gains from the external surface that are conducted

through the building materials.
Air leakage through windows and doors allows unwanted
outdoor air to enter inside the building (inltration) or indoor
air to escape (exltration). Outdoor air increases heat losses
in winter and heat gains in summer, thus, increasing both
heating and cooling loads. Especially in winter, cold air
drafts near the openings may be the main cause of thermal
discomfort for the occupants. An IR inspection around a
window or a door frame can easily pinpoint the leaking
areas. Using IR thermography to identify an air leakage, the
auditor does not actually see the air or measure the air
temperature. Actually, one can only see the end result of the
airow, that is one can measure the surface temperature of an
element through which the air ows. For example, a common location for air inltration is around a window or a door
(Fig. 5) frame. Proper sealing and pressure balancing can

Fig. 5. Thermograph of an exterior door viewed from the heated interior space. Cold air infiltration around the door frame appears in the dark colour.

C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183


Fig. 6. Thermograph illustrating roof areas with anomalies on the covering. Roof areas with high heat losses can be attributed to bad insulation. Moisture
leaks and roof water damages can be located since damp insulation shows up as areas with a higher temperature.

reduce and even eliminate air inltration. Care should be

exercised to ensure that when sealing a building, especially
old constructions, the mechanical ventilation system will
provide the necessary air changes and fresh air supply in
order to avoid indoor air quality problems.
Water can cause serious damages on roofs by reducing the
thermal effectiveness of insulation, promote membrane
deterioration, add unwanted loads to the building system
and cause damages to interior surfaces if left untreated. An
IR roof inspection is a powerful extension to conventional
roof inspections (i.e. with moisture meter). It can locate
water-damaged areas with a good accuracy and provide vital
information to where possible problems occur (Fig. 6). This
way it is possible to limit any necessary repair works to the
areas where the problem exists rather than having to replace
the entire roof. Keeping the roof in a dry condition minimises roof degradation and extends the life of the roof that
usually suffers the most among building elements. IR roof
inspections ideally should be performed at night and denitely when the roof surface is dry. Although temperature
differences between wet and dry insulation exist during both
day and night, day-time IR surveys should be avoided,
because the absorbed direct solar radiation and the resulting
high-temperature covers-up potential differences caused by
the wet insulation. Moisture-saturated insulation, if extensive, appears on a thermograph as a ``mottled'' or ``patchy''
pattern. The image will detect temperature differences that
exist between areas on the roof surface above wet insulation
and areas above dry insulation. For example, a thermal
anomaly can be detected during the winter as building
heat is conducted through wet insulation more rapidly
than through dry insulation, thus, creating a warmer surface
over the wet insulation [10]. Moisture leaks and roof
water damages are identied as areas with a higher temperature since damp insulation has a different overall heat
transfer coefcient.

Visual inspection of concrete structures for the detection

of cracks (i.e. surface breaking that allows water penetration) can be an elaborate and time-consuming process, with
questionable results. Using IR thermography under microwave heating is a useful testing technique [11]. Applying
microwave heating to the concrete structure with wet cracks,
the temperature distribution around the crack appears as a
linear heat source, thus, enabling an easier detection.
4. Electrical inspections
Electrical inspections can reveal some serious problems
that usually go undetected until a serious breakdown occurs.
At the same time, electricity leaks or not properly balanced
loads increase electricity peak loads and, thus, may result to
unnecessary charges. An IR inspection of the electrical
installations can detect various problems in the central
power installations of large ofce buildings and local
switchboards, like poor connections, short-circuits, overloads, load imbalances (Fig. 7), improperly installed electrical components, etc. When performing an IR electrical
inspection one must follow the strictest precautionary measures, discussed latter on in this paper.
One of the main advantages of electrical inspections is
that they are performed under full-load and real operating
conditions. The inspection of even large electrical installations can be performed in a short amount of time, without
interrupting service. Identifying the potential source of a
problem can minimise guesswork and prevent costly failures. Overall, electrical inspections provide very useful
inside information that can be of primary importance in
identifying potentially hazardous problems. It is usually
recommended to dene ahead of time a list of equipment
to be inspected. Consulting with the technical department
personnel who have a good insight of common operational


C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

Fig. 7. Thermograph showing a high-temperature difference on two main phase fuses (about 208C above the left fuse). This is a result from an overload that
has caused frequent failures. The problem can be resolved by separating the loads. It is recommended to check and replace the fuses, if necessary, and any
damaged wires.

problems, failure history and the experience, it is possible to

dene the most critical components that should be given
priority. Focusing on specic components will signicantly
cut down the time required for a short building audit. Various
issues on the denition of critical equipment are available in
[12]. This document can also be used to set up an effective
electrical preventive maintenance (EPM) program.
In large size installations, a good starting point is to make
a quick preliminary scan of the entire installation in order to
identify the ones with large temperature differences. This
can minimise the time required during the survey and some
times pinpoint the areas with the most serious problems
that may require immediate attention. However, for a proper
inspection, it is necessary to inspect all the installation
components. One must have visual contact with the installations inside the electrical panels, by opening the panel-doors.
Identifying a problem is one thing and nding its cause or
even resolving it is another. Tracking down the source of the
problem may not be always evident. Sometimes it is necessary to have specic information about the operating characteristics of the installation. Otherwise the auditor can
speculate but may not be always possible to identify the
exact cause. Most of the time it is necessary to involve the

facility technical staff to trace the source of an abnormal

behaviour. Interacting with the building's electrical technician can provide inside knowledge of actual operating
conditions and problems that may have occurred or past
actions that may have altered design conditions. This can at
least provide a starting point or bring-up specic problems
that need to be investigated more cautiously.
During follow-up repair works to solve a problem, the
technical staff should look a little further than simply xing
the ``obvious'' They should investigate possible direct or
indirect effects on the installation or the connected equipment,
since the resulting overheating from a malfunction may have
caused local melting and damages. Once all the repairs have
been completed, it is recommended to arrange for a follow-up
inspection, to ensure that everything has been done properly
or that no permanent damages have been overlooked.
The interpretation of the observed temperature differences from the anticipated values can follow the general
guidelines presented in Table 1. A representative example
from an inspection of a three-phase main power supply is
illustrated in Fig. 8. However, these rules of thumb should be
used with caution and before making a nal decision one
should take into account other factors like safety, criticality

Table 1
Possible interpretations for observed temperature differences (DT) from anticipated values
DT (K)

Minor problem. There is a small possibility of physical damage. It is recommended to fix the problem during the next regular
Average problem. There is a small possibility that there may be damages to near by components. It is recommended to fix the
problem in the near future; check load breakdown and adjust them accordingly; inspect for possible physical damage; check
neighbouring components for other possible damages.
Serious problem. It is recommended to fix the problem as soon as possible; replace the inspected component; carefully inspect all
neighbouring components for physical damage.
Critical problem danger exists. Needs immediate repair; if possible; replace the inspected component; carefully inspect all
neighbouring components; perform a follow-up IR inspection after the repairs to ensure that no damages have been overlooked.

C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183


Fig. 8. Thermograph showing a high-temperature difference on the centre phase of the bus connection (about 208C above the right phase). The possible cause
may be a loose connection or uneven loads. The temperature difference indicates an average problem that should be checked in the near future.

and reliability. A more representative assessment procedure

[13], including a time-based maintenance schedule and
matrix proposed by the International Electrical Testing
Association (NETA) that along with the culmination of
historical testing data and trending, can lead to more representative interpretations.
A common problem is loose electrical connections, which
cause overheating. Since the material resistance increases
with temperature the end result is a greater temperature
increase. Repeating this cycle may eventually lead to an
electrical failure. Loose connections can occur practically
throughout the network, but will cause different damages,
depending on their specic location. For example, a loose
fuse connection (Fig. 9) or cable connection (Fig. 10).
In general, the interpretation of IR thermographs from
electrical inspections need to take into account that the
problem identication involves by default some errors since

the accuracy of the temperature measurement is not sufciently high in order to determine the microscopic area of
high resistance where the heat is generated. Consequently,
the temperature at some specic locations may even reach
the melting point. However, at a distance of even a few
centimetres this may appear within the expected ranges.
In addition, the evolution of the phenomena may alter the
problem. For example, it is possible that a previous undetected problem may have caused local damages, which are
not visible any more (i.e. possible melting may have caused
rejoining of the contacts). This may result to a temporary
temperature drop. One also needs to be cautious when
interpreting a low-temperature difference and take into
account the load operating conditions. The magnitude of
the problem may be a more serious one that it appears when
the operating conditions at the time of the inspection are not
at full-load. For example, a 108C temperature difference

Fig. 9. Thermograph showing two hot spots on the left- and right-hand side fuse clips. The load on all three phases is almost the same. The possible cause
may be a loose connection. Their temperature difference compared with the middle fuse is greater than 30 K and is a serious problem.


C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

Fig. 10. Thermograph showing a critical problem with the connection on the centre phase and to a lower degree on the bottom phase. The possible cause may
be loose connections. Needs immediate repair.

when the load is at 50% of the peak load and the installation is
usually operating at higher levels, then this may mandate a
more immediate intervention than if the operating conditions
were constant at the 50% load. Keep in mind that high loads
may expedite the evolution of a minor problem. An acceptable rule-of-thumb is that if the observed temperature difference is greater than 10 K then you should get it xed [1].
Transformers are usually one of the most dependable elements of an electrical installation. However, they are vulnerable to heat related failures. Operating temperature rises over
ambient of 658C for oil lled and 1508C for air cooled
transformers are common. Above these temperatures the
internal insulation begins to fail very rapidly due to a breakdown in the insulation on the windings causing an electrical
short. A 108C rise over the maximum rated transformer
operating temperature will result in a 50% loss of life [8].
Although common sense would probably be sufcient for
most IR inspections during building diagnostics, electrical
inspections would need special safety measures. First of all,
keep in mind that ionised air may be trapped in mediumvoltage switch gear and bus enclosures. Accordingly, before
opening electrical enclosures, it is advisable to rst deenergise equipment or wear a ash suit with other personal
protective equipment. In some cases it is also necessary to
wear special eye protection from the ash associated with an
electrical arc ash. Hazardous ash can occur in any electrical device, regardless of voltage, in which energy is high
enough to sustain an arc. Keeping a safe distance (at least
1 m) from electrical installations during the inspections is
a minimum precautionary measure. Minimum safety distances for ash protection are specied in [14]. Sometimes,
available space around electrical installations may be limited, especially at aged facilities that may even not be in
accordance to today's regulations. In this case, one must
restrain from any actions that may initiate an arc. For
example, trying to get closer in order to gain a better view
or even pointing a nger to illustrate a possible problem area.

One must avoid going through an inspection of main electrical installations alone. Try to concentrate on the inspection work and the general environment, while another person
assists the auditor in taking notes on relevant observations or
carrying any other equipment (i.e. regular camera).
5. Mechanical inspections
The IR mechanical inspections can concentrate to HVAC
equipment and components, and to rotating equipment. For
example, to inspect pipes and ducts, to locate leaks from
distribution networks (i.e. air ducts, pipes, boiler ue gas
leaks), to locate underoor heat distribution pipes, to check
operating status of air supply inlets and outlets located at
hard to reach places, and to verify proper operating conditions of rotating equipment.
Pipe inspection can identify internally damaged sections,
as a result of erosion that locally reduces wall thickness (i.e.
especially in pipe elbows). This way one can identify the
problematic sections and repair them instead of replacing the
entire pipeline. Using IR thermography it is possible to
detect subsurface defects, with measurements under transient conditions. For example, to inspect a network of chilled
or hot water pipes, the measurements are made when the
main system starts its operation, that is when a thermal
transient is generated inside the pipe as the water temperature is changing. The wall thickness is then related to the
time of observation when the corresponding thermal
changes appear on the external surface and the thermal
difussivity of the material [15]. Areas with thinner walls
respond with a faster temperature change. Alternatively, if
during the inspection there is no uid ow, then it is possible
to use a reective method by applying a uniform heat source
to the exterior of the pipe using, for example, a heat gun.
Local pipe surface corrosion under insulation is another
hidden problem that can be revealed with an IR inspection,

C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183


Fig. 11. Thermograph of an underfloor hot water supply and return pipes from the manifolds to radiators. One can easily identify the exact position, trace the
entire pipe network and even identify water leaks.

before it grows to become a serious one. Corrosion is most

severe in steel pipes at about 908C (common conditions for
most hot water heating systems). The problem is caused by
the entrance of water (i.e. from water leakage, condensation)
into the insulation that traps the water in contact with the
metal surface. One should rst inspect sections with
damaged or deteriorated insulation. Although the auditor
cannot see through the insulation material, the IR inspection
can detect a temperature difference between dry and wet
insulation and, thus, it is possible that there is corrosion
under the wet insulation area.
Hot water distribution pipes in hot water heating systems
usually run underoor to connect radiators. When there is a
need to repair the oor or if there is a need to identify the
loops between the radiators, an IR inspection can reveal
what is hidden underoor. It is of course necessary that the
heating system is operating in order to identify the heated
areas along the hot water supply and return pipes (Fig. 11).
Verifying proper operating conditions of air supply
outlets can be a tedious work, especially in large size ofce

buildings. Most of the times, ceiling air outlets and inlets are
located at hard to reach points. A thermograph of a large
space can quickly identify problematic grilles or diffusers
(Fig. 12). This way one can easily pinpoint obstructed or
closed vanes that may need a simple adjustment.
Electrical motors (i.e. for pumps and fans) depend on
proper alignment of connecting shafts for long-term, efcient operation. Misalignment causes stress on the motorend bearing that may result to early bearing failure and an
increase of the operating costs. In addition, problems like
faulty bearings, inadequate lubrication, improper use or
normal wear, result to friction that causes excessive heat
and a temperature difference, which can be easily identied on an IR thermograph (Fig. 13). Poor lubrication
generates heat that as a result destroys the remaining
available lubricant, thus, increasing friction and the
surface temperature that come into contact. Pinpointing
the weak or faulty equipment points it is possible to
repair them on time before they cause a serious damage
or fail altogether.

Fig. 12. Thermographs of ceiling air supply diffusers. Notice the temperature difference from the top blades indicating a problem in the air supply flow from
the left diffuser. The right-hand side diffuser is operating properly.


C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

Fig. 13. Thermograph of a water pump motor for chilled water distribution.

Motors are rated by their maximum allowable operating

temperature, which is determined by the type of electrical
insulating materials used in the motor. Insulation degrades
rapidly when it exceeds its thermal rating. For every 108C
rise over their rating, anticipated motor life is reduced by
50% [16]. Ratings for motors are based on the hottest spot
allowed in the insulating system (inside the motor) when the
motor is operating in a 408C ambient air temperature. The
outside motor temperature detected by an IR thermograph is
usually 208C less than the temperature inside the motor.
A thermograph of an ac motor that reveals a hot spot or
uneven heating can indicate a resistive imbalance, with the
high resistance phase being cooler [16]. An overall temperature increase or uneven heating may result from an
inductive imbalance in the stator due to a shorted coil.
Shorted coils in an ac synchronous will have cooler poles
on the rotor while hotter poles are associated with damaged
pole laminations. Uneven heating between the speed control
and the slip rings on an ac induction motor may be caused by
shorts in the rotor coil. For a dc motor a hot spot can indicate
an excessive resistance, which can cause problems with
torque and speed controls. Hot motor leads may result from
shorts in coils or loss of inductance in a dc eld or armature
winding. An overall temperature increase or hot connective
leads may result from cracked rotor bars in a squirrel cage
inductive motor. Shorted bars in a dc armature will appear
warmer while open bars will appear cooler. Dirt build-up
inside a motor can also cause an overall increase in temperature. In addition, it is recommended to use other technologies, especially motor current analysis and vibration
analysis, to verify ndings.
6. Conclusions
IR thermography can be a powerful tool for fast and
accurate building diagnostics. It reveals a different dimension

and enables an auditor to substantiate observations when

there are no obvious problems, can reduce guesswork,
identify abnormalities that could otherwise go undetected
and before they evolve to more serious problems or even
a costly failures and widespread damages. Having this
inside information it is also possible to ne-tune rst cost
estimates by pinpointing in a more accurate way the extend
of a problem. Another advantage is that the inspection of
electromechanical installations can be performed while the
equipment operate at real conditions and near full-load
Follow-up corrective measures will demand a more careful investigation and expert analysis. Depending on the
nature of the problem the course of action may be simple
with a low-cost or may mandate more elaborate actions. In
any event, knowing there is a possible problem can be of
critical importance and one can plan accordingly. A typical
report includes photographs and thermographs in order to be
able to better interpret the problem associated with the
observed temperature difference. An interpretation of the
observed abnormalities and a recommendation of possible
actions are usually also included, although this may not
always be possible. Some problems will require further
investigation and expertise.
IR inspections can also be part of a preventative maintenance program. The technical department can schedule the
necessary works (i.e. depending on the nature of the problem, some can be handled during weekends or overnight)
by setting the right priorities to maintain the building and its
facilities in a good operating condition. This will improve
tenant satisfaction that plays a critical role in ofce buildings. Follow-up inspections, after the implementation of the
repairs, can secure that there have been no oversights and
ensure that the problem has been handled properly.
In order to collect accurate data take into account the
parameters that affect the accuracy of the measurements and
respect the limitations of this technique. Try to get as close

C.A. Balaras, A.A. Argiriou / Energy and Buildings 34 (2002) 171183

as possible to the object and view it at a right angle.

However, maintain a safe distance, especially during
inspections of electrical installations. Outdoor building
envelope inspections should be performed, if possible,
during night-time.
Although an IR inspection will increase the time necessary to perform a building audit, it can provide some very
useful information. It was implemented during the TOBUS
audits of Hellenic ofce buildings with success. A practical
approach, especially for large size buildings and wide spread
installations, is to consult with the technical department
personnel in order to dene a priority list of building
elements and equipment that need to be inspected. One
should also obtain ahead of time the necessary permits in
order to visit the technical installations and have full access
to restricted areas. The TOBUS building audit procedure is
well organised and gives the auditor the opportunity to go
through all the installations and examine all the building
elements, in order to collect the necessary data in a wellstructured manner.
TOBUS was developed in the framework of a European
research project and was partly nanced by the European
Commission (D.G. XII) in the JOULE II program (JOR3CT98-0235).
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