thermal home scan

Getting Started with Thermal Imaging

Thermal imaging is hot.  Demand for thermographic imagery has been rapidly increasing as infrared photographs provide a wide variety of valuable applications representing a fast-growing segment of the energy, security, home inspection industries.  If you haven’t yet made use of the technology, we’d like to help you get started with this and succeeding posts on the subject. 

So what is it, exactly?  Basically, thermal imagery is a means to capture infrared waves beyond the visible spectrum and cameras translate thermal energy, or heat, into visible light to analyze an object or area. Thermal/Infrared cameras convert infrared radiation into images using an infrared detector that provides useful temperature data, and instead of simply getting a numerical temperature reading, this technology enables users to get a photo displaying the temperature differences of a surface or area.  The simplified graphical display has enabled wider access to the technology and increased adoption across a range of fields and industries. Frequent and amazing advances in drone technology have greatly accelerated the uptake as many affordable drones either come equipped with thermal cameras or allow drone operators to manually attach a camera to the drone.  

A Brief History

The mere existence of the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum wasn’t even known prior to 1800.  Sir William Herschel, Royal Astronomer to America’s favorite/least favorite (depending on your perspective) King of England, George III, discovered the spectrum while searching for an optical filter material to reduce the brightness of the Sun’s image in telescopes during solar observations.  Herschel coined the term of this new portion of the electromagnetic spectrum as the “thermometrical spectrum”, and referred to the radiation itself as “dark heat” or simply “the invisible rays.”

Military Development

Like many advanced technologies consumers enjoy today, thermal imaging owes much of its rapid development to the value it provided military applications.  In 1929, Herschel’s discovery was put to valuable use when Hungarian physicist Kálmán Tihanyi invented the first infrared-sensitive electronic camera for anti-aircraft defense in Britain.  After the technology became de-classified, usage grew and was quickly adopted by the United States military and used readily during the Korean War, among other conflicts.  In 1978, today’s leading provider or IR imaging systems, FLIR, was founded as a provider of IR imaging systems installed on vehicles for use in conducting energy audits.

Thermal Imagery in 2020 and Beyond

Fast forward to today.  As camera and software prices have dropped, the number of specific uses and individuals using them have increased correspondingly.  Firefighters use them to discover fire hotspots, see through smoke, and find people. It is now common for police departments to own and operate drones that use infrared technology to track down suspects and investigate crime scenes.  Home inspectors use thermal cameras to identify energy leaks. The list of uses seemingly grows every day as previously unimagined innovations regularly come to the market. 

Common Applications for Thermal Imagery

Home Inspections

thermalA major driver of demand for home inspection scans is potential improvements in energy efficiency. Homes that have poor insulation, old windows, and doors can be inefficient and expensive to maintain. Inspection services can conduct infrared scans of the homes to identify money-wasting leaks throughout a property as thermal imaging is non-invasive and allows inspectors to scan large areas very quickly.  These scans can be most effective during seasons involving heavy usage of air conditioning or heating; infrared scans conducted properly will show where the house is losing energy.

Inside Scans of houses can also be an important part of an infrared home inspection. As seen in the reference image below, poor insulation in the corner of the house, as well as poor window sealing, has allowed the cold air to radiate through the walls.

thermographic imageIn home inspections, Infrared scans can lead to discoveries that are not always evident, common, or predictable, and thus require assessment on a case by case basis. To better understand the unpredictability of home inspections the following situation provides an example of what can happen on a home inspection.  In a home where there was an automated thermostat in each room that would auto-adjust the temperature of a room via an internal thermostat; the room remained colder than others. Before conducting an infrared scan, the the homeowners hypothesized the room was losing heat through the door or window or the thermostat needed to be replaced.  After conducting the thermal inspection, it was determined the homeowners’ Keurig Coffee brewer was touching the wall where the thermostat was connected, providing a false temperature reading in the room, therefore incorrectly auto adjusting the room to a lower temperature than the room actually was.

Electrical Inspections

Infrared cameras have practically become essential for electrical inspections. In many cases, infrared scans provide the safest way to deal with energized electrical equipment. In the sample image below, the Infrared camera allows for the inspector to safely analyze and capture the overheating connections.

Many energized systems use Infrared Windows allowing access to get internal measurements without opening the system. Although this is a good way to safely view an energized system, it is imperfect due to the limited field of view.

thermal electrical

Electrician using a thermal imaging camera for overheating temperature inspection of electrical equipment

Thermal Drone Services

Thermography in the Drone Industry is fast growing with new IR and Drone technology developing.

Solar Scans

Infrared Solar Scans are an important way for the PV system managers to keep up with their systems. Solar modules constantly fail and under produce lowering the energy efficiency of the entire site. When a panel is producing inefficiently, infrared cameras can detect the heat signature being lower or higher than the surrounding panels. This allows for the site manager to replace the defective panel, row, or array.

Companies offering infrared solar scans have largely benefited from drone technology as it allows for the most effective scans and for Orthomosaic Mapping of the site. Beneficial for creating organized reports with a clear reference.

thermal solar

Exterior Home Scans

Like solar, home inspection efficiency rises with the usage of drones. The ability to capture aerial angles allows for important parts of the house to be inspected. Providing infrared aerial scans offers a better service to customers and improves both safety and effectiveness for businesses conducting aerial roof inspections.


How do I begin?

If you are new to thermal imaging, it could be beneficial to pursue a certification and/or enroll in one of the many of training courses offered online and in-person.  You should also thoroughly evaluate the cameras and equipment available to determine which one would be best for you.  

Infrared Thermography Training

Although there are no federal or industry-level certification and licensing requirements, courses in Infrared Thermography that can help operators and technicians advance their knowledge and demonstrate expertise.  

FLIR, the leading Infrared camera company, offers its ITC Training (Infrared Training Course) offers certification that some companies require to conduct Infrared Scans. FLIR’s ITC Certification comes with an identification card and letter of completion. The certification is valid for 4 years.

InterNACHI, The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, offers courses of its own.  

Cameras & Equipment

For many businesses and drone pilots who are new to thermal, DJI’s Mavic 2 Enterprise model,  has become a popular option as it comes with a built-in thermal camera.  If you are more advanced or experienced, you may want to consider a DJI Inspire 2 or Matrice series UAV that will allow you to equip the drone with your own thermal camera. 

More Infrared 

Infrared technology is useful in many fields expanding far past the industries listed. Technology is rapidly developing with new ways to create better products and services. Stay tuned to learn more about thermal imagery and its respective applications!  We hope you found this information useful. If you are interested in dronegenuity drone pilot jobs, or if you’d like to get more great drone industry content from dronegenuity, simply follow us on our social media channels: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and subscribe to our mailing list for regular updates.





About the Author

Ethan Swansey