FLIR TG130/TG165 Spot Thermal Camera

I have been seriously interested in the value of Infrared photography ever since I had my home inspection almost ten years ago and the inspector went around taking pictures with his ten-thousand dollar thermal camera. A DIY'er can know the value of insulating and caulking like a pro but to actually visually quantify and identify issues in your own home is amazing. So why didn't I just run out and buy an infrared camera ten years ago? Expense. Ten years ago infrared cameras were so price prohibitive that a home owner would never see the return on investment from energy savings.

My home inspector's camera was made by a company called FLIR. FLIR has been the definitive standard for infrared technology since its inception in the late 70's. FLIR has maintained a dual focus not only on quality good enough for aviation and military application, but also for low cost. But we all know what low cost in aviation and military equipment means....still way too expensive for home use.  I grew up with the name FLIR, it was the Cadillac of infrared technology. I never thought I would be able to own infrared, it was too cool and too expensive to purchase without a real strong need.

In the last couple of years there have been some small outfits and independents that have come up with less expensive alternatives usually by coupling a device to your smart phone. While it seems like a great idea at first, I am not particularly keen on this idea. Since you don't have an integrated device the future of your new infrared camera is now linked with your near disposable smart phone. If you get a new smart phone you might have to keep your old one around for compatibility and if you purchase an Android compatible camera you could never lend it to your iPhone wielding friend. My personal woe in this field was a camera I purchased from a company called Seek Thermal that attached to my phone but due to the direction of my USB port the camera faced towards the user instead of away so that effectually I could only take infrared selfies. Personally, IMHO, I would suggest that anyone interested in owning an infrared camera stick with a fully-integrated unit.

After multiple frustrations in the crowd-funded arena I decided to shop for a less expensive infrared camera that was already in production, I just knew I was in for higher prices but a higher price was better than nothing at all. In my search I was absolutely shocked to find an integrated camera for only $200, less than many of the smartphone options. To my further amazement the camera I found wasn't from some odd-ball Chinese import company I had never heard of but was from FLIR, the market leader in infrared technology.

The unit I found was the FLIR TG-130, a pistol gripped camera used with one hand, however the pictures in this article are generated with the more expensive FLIR TG-165 solely because the FLIR TG-130 lacks storage, you can look but you can't save. The TG-130 and TG-165 have near identical optics so what you see in these pictures will be the same as what you will see in the TG-130's screen. A home user doesn't really need to save pictures of the issues found, he just needs to identify them so they can be fixed. If you were to make a money making venture out of the idea and provide home energy audits, the added expense of the TG-165 would be much more palatable.

Since infrared imaging is best when showing temperature differentials it is best to do an energy audit of your home during harsh temperatures. In the summer, while its hot outside and the air conditioning is running, you can go around the inside of your house looking for hot spots. In the winter, try looking for hot spots from the outside and in the attic; heat loss will light up like a Christmas tree. It's summer now, so all my pictures will be from the inside.

To be absolutely honest my first impression when opening the box was mildly underwhelming as there was an incredible lack of documentation. The camera comes with a nice thick book but only two pages are for any given language and are comprised of basic information such as where the ON/OFF button and USB slot are. The very well hidden documentation for the TG-165 is actually stored on the included SD card. But, to be honest again, the use of the camera is actually rather simple. I think I may have been mildly intimidated by the FLIR logo. :)

The TG-165 comes with an incredibly versatile charger and USB charging cable. The first step is simply to find the appropriate plug for your locale, attach it to the charger and plug the camera in via the USB charger and wait for the internal battery to be charged. I didn't time how long mine took to charge as I plugged it in on the way to bed but I can say the charge has lasted long enough to do very informative and thorough walk-through energy audit of three houses and a follow-up on my house for this article and the battery still shows full.

There is a very simple menu system on the camera to change things like the color palette the camera uses to display thermal information and whether to use Celsius or Fahrenheit for temperatures. You can consult the manual if you like, but most of it is pretty straight forward and the options are simpler to understand than the average laser printer.

For my images I opted for Fahrenheit temperatures, a nice Predator-style color palette (loved the first movie) and a target in the middle that shows where my temperature reading is coming from. The target allows me to tell with rather good accuracy where the camera is pointed and easily see that my reading is on the mark for small spot temperature variations.

Since I had replaced several dual pane windows at rather great expense in the last few years my curiosity started there. As you can see in my first picture the window glass does OK but the aluminum frame glows red hot from the summer sun outside.

Next I went into my office which sports a two-part window; a square pane below and a half-circle pane above. As you can see, the half-circle is in need of replacement.

A bedroom window suffering from the same aluminum frame issues as my picture window. Whoever thought black aluminum frames was a good idea really needs to take a peek at these images. This will be a project to address.



While not alarmingly hot, this image shows heat leakage at the upper corners of my outside walls. This is a sign of under-ventilated roof soffits which I am currently addressing to help cool my attic.


This has actually concerned me for a while. In a house filled with dual pane windows, my master bath is adorned with a decorative single pane, round, window. The temperature doesn't seem too extreme in this pic at 76F, but this pic was in the evening and the sun was on the far side of the house. This is purely conductive heat from the air outside. This will be a more involved fix as it is both something I need to preserve the beauty of...and it is annoyingly round.


This image was actually very revealing in two ways. The first WTH moment was; why is that corner of my office wall glowing warm? A quick trip to the attic showed some insulation that had fallen out of place. I wonder how many dollars in HVAC bills that one little spot has caused me over the years? Easy fix. The second oh wow moment....see those lines on the walls? Those lines are the studs behind the Sheetrock. Pretty cool.

Side by side you can see the difference between can lights with covers and can lights without covers. I will be getting covers for the rest of my can lights.

Looks like the air conditioning is working great. A nice 51F breeze at my feet will keep the house cool.


Last but not least, for you ghost buster types....don't freak out when you see this in your camera. It's just your own heat reflection in the glass of the shower door.

All in all I believe it will be easy to get a return on a $200 dollar investment by focusing my efforts at the biggest heat losses in my house and especially by identifying items that I never would have thought of. I can hardly wait for cold weather to do a follow-up heat scan in my attic and around the house to see all the hot spots I missed from the inside.

This product gets a big thumbs up!

1 comment:

  1. Nice share.Infrared imaging is best when showing temperature differentials it is best to do an energy audit of my home during harsh temperatures. In the summer, while its hot outside and the air conditioning is running.More info check out HP Thermal Camera