Turning a Smartphone Into a Thermal Imaging Device
The Flir One attaches to Apple's iPhone to create a special camera that sees thermal energy
An Oregon company has introduced a $349 gadget that turns an Apple iPhone into a thermal imaging device capable of detecting heating and cooling leaks in buildings.
Flir introduced the Flir One at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on January 7. The company said it would start selling the device worldwide this spring. The Flir One fits on an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S, the most recent models.
A Flir-equipped iPhone displays an image showing heat rather than visible light, so it can show heat loss through walls or around windows. That could help builders and remodelers see areas where insulation or air-sealing need to be improved. Among other uses, the company said, are spotting water damage and detecting intruders at night.
The device has its own rechargeable battery good enough for two hours of operation, and it boosts the iPhone's battery life by as much as 50%, the company says.
Flir, based in Wilsonville, Oregon, said that the thermal imager is the first of its kind designed specifically for consumers. Pro models can cost thousands of dollars.
Its exact specs haven't been published
David Meiland, a builder in Washington State and a frequent contributor to Green Building Advisor forums, said that Flir is a "dominant" manufacturer of infrared equipment. But he cautioned that an imager in this price range may not have the resolution or thermal sensitivity of more expensive devices, so its usefulness would be somewhat limited.
Meiland, who has been using an $8,000 Fluke imager for the last four years, says there are times when detecting temperature differences of as little a .05 degree Celsius are important. But in other situations, measuring minute temperature differences wouldn't be critical. Suppose, for example, that a builder suspects that a hidden heating duct has split, spilling warm air into a wall or ceiling cavity. "In those circumstances, low resolution and a slow processor and a small image would probably give you the same result," Meiland said.
Flir posts the range of temperatures that the One will detect, but not the temperature sensitivity — the minimum difference in temperature in adjacent surfaces that would appear in the image. Nor does the website list the resolution of the image. The Flir sales office in Boston said it didn't have the information, and that technical inquiries would be handled by e-mail.
As useful as thermal imagers can be in tracking down elusive information about buildings, Meiland said they're not magical. "The real issue with infrared is getting an incorrect diagnosis," he said. "It's really easy to look at something and say, ‘Oh, here's what's going on.’ And then you check it with other tools and you realize, ‘Wait, that isn't what's going on. There's more going on.’ You can get all kinds of incorrect conclusions out of infrared. That's where the risk is. Sometimes I still have to get out a Sawzall, look inside the wall."
If you want to read more about thermal imaging, read this blog by GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com senior editor Martin Holladay.
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