Infrared thermography, or thermal imaging, has become more and more popular in recent years as infrared cameras become less expensive and more accessible to a wide variety of users. In the past, a relatively basic camera cost tens of thousands of dollars, was gas-cooled, and required sophisticated and expensive software to interpret the images.
Now, an entry level IR camera can be purchased for two or three thousand dollars, is quite compact and easy to use, and includes basic software to adjust, analyze, and interpret the infrared images. Consequently, these cameras have become popular for many different applications.
With rising energy costs, and increased interest and concern for the environment and energy efficiency, one of the most popular uses for thermal imaging cameras is in conducting home energy efficiency audits. In fact, most home energy auditors include an infrared camera as part of their standard tool set.
Infrared is heat energy, and since inferred cameras detect this energy, it's possible to literally see the heat moving through walls. During a home energy audit, users can see areas of missing insulation in a wall, leaky windows, and other gaps in the building envelope integrity.
Another popular application of an IR camera is in detecting faults in electrical systems. Electrical systems often experience degradation in components over time, or loose connections, which increase resistance to electrical current. This greater resistance in turn creates heat, which is visible to an IR camera. Infrared thermographers are able to detect bad fuses, circuit breakers, and faulty connections that both waste energy and are potentially very dangerous. For this reason, insurance companies often require regular infrared audits of electrical systems, or offer a large discount on premiums for doing so.
Infrared cameras are even becoming more and more popular in human medicine, particularly in early breast cancer detection. Before breast cancer develops to the extent a tumor can be detected with a mammogram, small changes and increased blood flow can be detected in the infrared. This method has the added benefice of being totally passive and non-invasive. The infrared camera is also much less expensive than other breast cancer detection equipment.