Eco-Minded Gadgets

Meltech Thermal Imaging employs special technology to track airflow and leakage throughout a house. Dark areas indicate spaces where the building envelope is weak.

Meltech Thermal Imaging Inc. finds defects in the building envelope with military technology.

Accuracy is of paramount importance to battlefield operations, which is why military forces rely on infrared technologies, such as thermal imaging, to provide a clear picture of the enemy environment. But thermal imaging isn’t just limited to military operations; today, a number of companies in a variety of industries use the technology to make buildings more sustainable.

“Once the private sector saw what the technology could do, thermal imaging started evolving, and today it’s used in almost every aspect of the construction industry,” says Gordon Melvin, president of Moncton, New Brunswick-based Meltech Thermal Imaging. “Because it works by finding temperature difference in the infrared spectrum, it can locate hot spots or cold spots, which can indicate electrical problems, ant infestations, or building-envelope leaks from air or water.”

The benefit is that, whether buying it new, investigating walls and the structure prior to a renovation, or performing preventative maintenance, Meltech Thermal Imaging’s clients are presented with a more accurate understanding of a home or building. “It’s all demolition-free, meaning we don’t have to tear down walls to discover the problem,” Melvin says.

THE WORD ON GREEN

While president Gordon Melvin is passionate about bringing thermal-imaging technology into the residential market, he also has interesting perspectives on other sustainable trends. Here are his thoughts on a few of them.

SOLAR ENERGY: “The sun and wind are natural resources that have been around for millions of years and will be around for millions more, so why aren’t we putting more effort into developing the technology?”

“GREEN”: “The greater part of the population doesn’t understand sustainable technology or construction, and the term ‘green’ makes it approachable. Green refers to trees and grass—the environment.”

LEED: “Building to LEED standards is like buying a computer that becomes outdated in three years. The technologies you use are better today than they were 10 years ago when LEED came out. We’re going to be reinventing the wheel forever, because there will always be newer and better technologies and construction methods coming to market—and that’s not a bad thing.”

Melvin first became interested in thermal imaging in 2005, when he opened Meltech Building Services. Prior to founding his own business, Melvin worked as a certified civil-engineering technologist, designing, drafting, and inspecting buildings, roads, and bridges for more than 20 years. As a consulting firm, Meltech Building Services helps guide individuals and businesses through the building process by drafting plans, budgeting, getting permits, and overseeing project management during construction. The transition to thermal just made sense.

“I’ve known about thermal imaging for the past 20 years and have always been impressed by the technology,” Melvin says. “So when I opened Meltech Building Services, I knew I wanted to include it.”

But Melvin was surprised by how quickly the technology took off. Up until around 2000, thermal-imaging equipment was prohibitively expensive and cumbersome, requiring a five-ton truck for transportation from site to site. Today, the technology has dropped in price and is no larger than an old Polaroid camera (some models even look like a handheld flashlight). Thermal imaging quickly took over the business, so Melvin founded Meltech Thermal Imaging as a separate company.

Much of the demand comes from the insurance industry, because thermal imaging allows insurance companies to ascertain that all systems are functional and safe. “Sometimes we’re asked to use thermal imaging to tell an insurance company if there’s any problem with a building’s mechanical and electrical systems,” Melvin says. “Other times, a pipe has broken and the insurance company wants to determine the location and extent of any water damage.”

However, Melvin would like to see more clients use thermal imaging to make their homes more sustainable. “The technology helps you locate where air is leaking into or out of the building, and that’s paramount to the green-construction process,” he says. “In the southern states, clients are more concerned with keeping cool air inside; in the northern states and Canada, they’re more concerned with keeping heat inside.”

To that end, Melvin is trying to educate his clients—particularly residential customers, who currently make up just five percent of his business—about the benefits of using thermal imaging to go green. “I’d love to see more homeowners use thermal imaging, but no one likes to pay for something that’s not a necessity,” he says.

Although pricing is based on location to the site and the size of the building, a thermal-imaging analysis on a typical home within a 50-mile radius costs just $250. “People know you have to do preventative maintenance, but no one wants to spend $250 to have someone do an evaluation,” Melvin says. “There’s the old saying: ‘What you don’t see doesn’t hurt you.’ That’s the hardest part with the residential portion of this work. The sad part is, every home I do go into, I find enough problems that are so easy to fix, it pays my bill within six months.”