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Advanced residential construction and home improvement consulting and owner's advocacy in Atlanta, using the latest building performance diagnostic and modeling techniques and tools. Airtightness, insulation, HVAC, ventilation, moisture, and air quality and EMF consulting for homeowners and building professionals alike.

Which Infrared Thermal Camera Should I Buy?

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Home performance articles and stories from the field with internationally respected building forensics guru Corbett Lunsford at the Building Performance Workshop. Hear new episodes of the Building Performance Podcast, see new videos from the Home Performance YouTube channel, and learn all about how diagnostic testing (more than an 'Energy Audit') can make home improvement and new home construction a proven process!

Which Infrared Thermal Camera Should I Buy?

Corbett Lunsford

Hi Corbett,
Besides being fun and cool, can the Flir ONE infrared camera be helpful in assessing wall cavity insulation, attic insulation consistency or detect air leakage in a home, with or without the aid of a blower door? I'm a general contractor and I'd like to get an inexpensive IR camera- what are your thoughts on this matter?
thanks so much,
Matt

Hey there Matt-
Thanks for writing! The short answer is a big fat NO- any pocket infrared camera has very low resolution, and while they're great at demonstrating the simple fact of heat fluctuations, I wouldn’t trust it for QC and inspection of homes. The resolution on a Flir ONE is 80 x 60- that means, incredibly, there are 5,400 infrared thermometers embedded in it, but that's not enough to give you a clear, colorful picture most of the time. See here, in these three images taken of a big bunch of flowers, using the Flir ONE, a Fluke TiR110, and a Testo 885.

Flir ONE flowers: 80 x 60

Flir ONE flowers: 80 x 60

Fluke TiR110 flowers: 160 x 120

Fluke TiR110 flowers: 160 x 120

Testo 885 flowers: 320 x 240

Testo 885 flowers: 320 x 240

While the Flir ONE's 5,400 sensors (80 x 60) are assisted for clarity by combining with the visual camera's outlines, you can see that the Fluke TiR110's 19,200 sensors (160 x 120) mean four times as much resolution!  And the winner here is the Testo 885's 76,800 sensors (320 x 240), which give your eyes the clearest picture yet- that means this >$10,000 camcorder-style infrared camera has almost 15 times as many sensors as the Flir ONE. That being said, bang-for-the-buck-wise, I got my ONE for $250, 1/40th the price of the big mother.  That's a good deal.

I carry the Flir ONE in my pocket, where it stays connected to my iPhone 24/7 so I can shoot infrared photos of whatever is cool on a daily basis. The Fluke TiR110 I take on all my building forensics jobs.  And the Testo 885 I'm using to shoot a high-def video in infrared.  Each has its own special uses.

Here's another example of the resolution and 'color pop' difference when you're choosing an infrared camera: the wire shelves in my oven...

Flir ONE oven: 80 x 60

Flir ONE oven: 80 x 60

Fluke TiR110 oven: 160 x 120

Fluke TiR110 oven: 160 x 120

Testo 885 oven: 320 x 240

Testo 885 oven: 320 x 240

The wire supports are almost completely invisible in the Flir ONE's 80 x 60 resolution, even WITH the added outlines from the visual camera. You get more resolution and snap in the other two cameras, again with an obvious winner in the 320 x 240 resolution. And by the way, anytime you use the infrared camera for home performance testing, you should DEFINITELY always use a blower door to reveal the air leakage- otherwise, you're at the whim of stack effect, wind, and HVAC pressurizations.

I hope this helps with your decision- being a building performance analysis ninja means having the right equipment, and there's probably a reason why the nice tools don't get carried around with you everywhere (hint: $10,000)- that's why it's nice to have a range, if you can swing it!

To find out more about how to use infrared to understand home performance, watch this: