This New Camera Utilizes 159-Year-Old Tech To Detect Air Leaks In Buildings In Real Time

Researchers have unveiled a groundbreaking system that employs a camera to instantly identify air leaks in buildings. This technological advance promises swifter and more precise detection compared to existing diagnostic methods. The development hails from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), offering a solution to address energy efficiency concerns and curb utility expenses for homeowners.

Detecting air leaks in buildings is paramount as they signify energy wastage and financial losses. The escape of air through openings like windows, doors, and walls impacts homeowners’ wallets and has adverse environmental consequences. Traditional methods to identify and seal these openings are often expensive, time-consuming, and inconvenient.

To tackle this challenge, the research team introduced an innovative approach rooted in the 1860s technique known as “schlieren photography,” primarily used to visualize airflow around aeronautical objects. This method involves observing subtle alterations in the background of a series of images to reveal escaping air with a different temperature than the surroundings. When applied to a building’s façade, this temperature contrast creates a mirage.

Philip Boudreaux, a leading ORNL researcher, elaborated, “Even though this mirage is too small to be seen with the naked eye, it can be imaged by a camera. The mirage looks just like wavy patterns you might see rising up from the pavement on a hot day or in the hot exhaust of a car tailpipe.”

In addition to visually identifying leaks, the team is actively developing a means to quantify the extent of these leakages. Boudreaux explained, “We’ve also developed custom software for real-time visualization of the leak with algorithms that measure the velocity and flow rate.” This feature proves invaluable in pinpointing and prioritizing areas requiring immediate sealing.

Boudreaux emphasized the significance of this capability, stating, “Being able to triage the biggest leaks saves time and allows for the energy reduction and carbon burden of buildings to be quickly addressed.” With approximately 130 million buildings in the United States consuming nearly 40 percent of the nation’s total energy supply, reducing unnecessary energy consumption is vital to achieving sustainability goals. The researchers anticipate that this innovation will contribute to this objective.

The team conducted experiments applying this technique to visualize leaks in various cladding materials, including brick, vinyl siding, and concrete masonry blocks, under diverse lighting conditions. The results indicated that leaks could be detected even with a temperature differential as low as 12 to 15 degrees Celsius on concrete and brick claddings.

Boudreaux stated their intention to improve the system further: “Through ongoing research, we intend to get that leak detection temperature limit down to 5 degrees Celsius.” ORNL’s air leakage detection system was recently featured among seven emerging technologies at the lab’s Technology Innovation Showcase, signaling its readiness for potential commercialization.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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