What is Thermography

Thermography is simply the collection of data by measuring thermal radiation and capturing it in an image, called a thermogram. The field as a whole has seemingly endless applications from finding termites in a wall, revealing failures in a jet engine, or spotting cancer in a patient.

The reason that thermal imaging can be applied so broadly is because all physical matter at a temperature above absolute zero (-459.67 F°) emits a thermal signature. This is the product of energized particles' natural vibration, which creates and emits electromagnetic radiation within the infrared spectrum.

So no matter if it is a commercial rooftop, a private jet, or broken Christmas tree lights, with a thermal camera the data can be collected. With the right knowledge, the data can be turned into understanding and action.

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The ability to accurately locate latent moisture, energy loss, and overheating makes thermographic services a natural tool in property maintenance, both for preventive and cost saving purposes.

As billions of dollars are wasted each year on unnecessary repairs and avoidable malfunctions, the difference is made by using state-of-the-art information collection and analysis to reveal what others can not see.

Also see our Industry News page to read weekly articles about thermography and its used in effective property maintenance.


Thermography in Flat Roof Maintenance

The roof is the most actively maintained part of any commercial building, most commonly in response to leaks and other moisture damages. There are many ways in which moisture can wreak havoc on a roof: punctures or deterioration allow infiltration, a membrane is installed before the concrete deck dries, improperly installed roof top units, and more.

When insulation has become saturated, the increased density of water in that area holds onto collected heat from sunlight longer than dry areas. Once the sun sets and the roof begins to cool, dry areas emit their thermal energy quickly leaving only a white-hot thermogram of saturated insulation. This process of observing heat differentials applies similarly to walls and masonry with latent moisture.

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Solar radiation

Interior Heating

Roof deck

Insulation layers

Roof membrane

Permeated moisture

Signal probing for electronic resistance

Moisture emits

excess thermal radiation

Capacitance meter

Infrared camera

Flat roof moisture surveys are weather dependant. The roof must be clear of rain water or snow, and scanned at a time when there is no direct sunlight. Surveys are usually conducted in the evening or at night.

Most surveys are conducted in the spring, summer, and fall because of the longer periods of sunlight and greater temperature swings between day and night. Spectrum IR can scan in the winter as well, provided the building has internal heat and the day's temperature change is sufficient.

We often pair capacitance metering with thermal surveys to guarantee the accuracy and efficiency of scans. A capacitance meter is another non-destructive inspection tool which sends a signal into the roof searching for increased electronic resistance, i.e. where moisture is present.


History of the Technology

The first instrument capable of measuring thermal radiation, the bolometer, was invented in 1878 by Samuel P Langley. The Bolometer was originally used to study celestial bodies by astronomers, it was further developed for commercial applications such as spotting icebergs (1913), watching for forest fires (1934), and as a quality control device for freshly forged steel beams (1935). The bolometer, however, did not produce an actual image like a camera.

It was in 1929 when British military scientists developed the first thermal imaging device to be used in the UK's air defense. From then on, military development drove innovation for thermal imaging as the US and British Royal Navies used similar systems to track carrier aircraft and, later during the Vietnam War, to guide newly invented smart-bombs.

Only after the Gulf War did the US government declassify the microbolometer, the type of thermal sensor used in most modern infrared cameras. Once these cameras went into full civilian production in 1992, they began to see mainstream integration into the economy.

Spectrum IR Services' Place in History

Our company Founder, Ronald H Morriss, began his career in 1984 working for Alfred Bernhard Nobel's company: Dynamit Nobel. Dynamit's plastics and chemicals division was one of the very first to introduce single-ply PVC roofing to the United States. It was also one of the even fewer pioneers to apply thermal imaging to monitor and maintain their roofs.

With a huge head start on the industry, Spectrum IR Services was founded in 1988. Ever since, our company has continued to learn, grow, and develop knowledge of infrared roof inspections and the broader thermographic field to deliver the most capable service in the industry.