The hot topic for energy conservation

To assess the lasting importance of any new technology, just look at education and training. This sector is constantly taking soundings from industry and professional bodies to ensure its provision accurately reflects the need for up and coming skills. And one hot topic that is percolating through the sector, from secondary education through to certified, vocational training is thermal imaging says Andrew Baker, UK and Ireland Sales Manager for FLIR Systems Ltd.


Once it was just the manufacturers of thermal imaging cameras that offered dedicated training in the theory behind infrared and the practical application of the technology. Now the choice of training provider is extensive with specialised courses developed for specific applications.

Thermography for building science has commanded the greatest attention. Not only has the technology demonstrated its wide scope of application in this field, it has also proven itself to be the perfect technology for spotting the causes of energy loss. It helps the building and construction sectors maximise the thermal efficiency of the built environment, a requirement that is of global importance.

World class facility

With this aim as the driving force, the University of Salford has set up the ERDF Energy Hub Project, a brand new testing and development facility that is unique, not just in the UK but in wider Europe too.

Built on-campus and match funded by the EU, The Salford Energy House is an accurate replica of a pre-1920s Victorian terraced house that has been constructed in a fully environmentally controllable chamber. This facility allows climatic conditions to be maintained, varied, repeated and patterns monitored. It enables leading researchers in energy efficiency to work collaboratively with industry on the development of new and innovative energy related products, systems and solutions.

One of the ways in which the performance of these new products can be assessed in line with Government targets for a zero carbon built environment is thermal imaging. This is a technology in which the University has been involved for many years. Indeed, since 1981 its Thermal Measurement Laboratory has provided independent expertise in the thermal properties of building and insulation materials for energy conservation.

The University’s involvement with FLIR Systems has developed with this expertise and the quality of its camera products made it the preferred brand when it came to equipping The Salford Energy House for effective thermal analysis. For this purpose, the University is using four FLIR thermal imaging cameras; three FLIR B425 models specifically developed for building science thermography and one FLIR E60. All were supplied and are supported by Metrum Information Storage.

The pre-1919 terraced house was chosen for this project as it represents 21% of the UK’s current housing stock. It is a structure that is recognised as being difficult to treat, from an energy efficiency standpoint, as this type of construction pre-dates the introduction of cavity walls. It is also characterised by single glazed windows and suspended floors.

The University’s FLIR thermal imaging cameras are used on this unique facility for a range of bespoke energy monitoring and research work as well as for air tightness testing. For this purpose they are located in the corners of the climatic chamber, on pan and tilt mountings and work in tandem with visual cameras. They are programmed to monitor heat loss from the Energy House continually and their findings are captured by a central data logging system.

Cutting time to market

Richard Fitton is the Energy House Technical Manager, he says: “Typically we are using our FLIR thermal imaging cameras to test the efficiency of new insulation materials and structures such as doors and windows. The manufacturer may need our help with design or in proving the efficiency of the finished product. They key thing is we are able to do this under controlled conditions and to cut development time as a result.”

Products can also be tested under different conditions over a very short period of time. For example, the test chamber can vary ambient temperature between -5°C and 30°C and humidity from 20% to 80%. It can apply light wind loading, rainfall equivalent to 200mm per hour and even snow. Getting the minimal temperature difference between the inside and outside of a building to test thermal efficiency is also very easy to achieve and there is no sun radiance to skew thermal results.

In addition to monitoring energy loss the cameras are used to identify potential sites for condensation build-up. Richard Fitton continued: “Many of our customers know that their products work well to stop energy loss but they need to be certain that this doesn’t cause other issues. Recently a manufacturer wanted to know what the condensation drop out would be on existing windows if a newly developed secondary glazing system were to be installed. Thermal imaging is a good choice for any research involving air ingress.”

The ERDF Energy Hub Project is proving to be a huge academic as well as a commercial success. It is attracting fellow academics and chartered institutes such as RICS and RIBA and other professionals involved in energy management. Usage is a clear 50/50 split between academia and industry.

The facility also provides the ideal forum to demonstrate best practice in thermal imaging. Commercial Manager Dave Hall explained: It’s a great tool if interpreted correctly and bad, if not. So within the project we are working with thermal imaging experts to provide thermography training including introductory and air tightness testing courses as well as Level I and Level II certification.

Thermal imaging is also an important technology at West Suffolk College. The College is part of a network of like-minded bodies that operates the Sustainable Efficiency East (SEE) project that is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

The scope of the College’s work includes an outreach programme to local businesses which includes a free energy audit for qualifying local companies. It too uses FLIR cameras to seek out faults that cause inefficient energy usage and typically problems are wide ranging. They can be in the fabric of the building leading to energy loss, or in electrical and mechanical systems resulting in excess power consumption or poor process performance.

The College in Bury St. Edmunds also houses one of a series of SEE demonstration centres for low energy innovation in the region. This Energy Centre provides the local manufacturing industry with information on reducing the need for energy and ensuring its best use. It pulls together all technologies that can help businesses improve their green credentials and save costs in the process.

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