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Who needs a Thermal Imager?

Who Needs a Thermal Imager?

When I first saw a thermal image it was in the movie Predator at a sleepover sometime in the early 90s. You mean there is a camera that shows heat differences in the surrounding environment? Back then I could’ve used that to dominate at hide-and-seek. Now? Now, the technology is available in hand-held thermal imager models that won’t break the bank. Take for example the new Milwaukee Tool 102×77 Spot Infrared Imager, it’s hand-held, dead-simple 1-button operation, and relatively inexpensive. It’s a thermal imager for the trade masses.

What Trades Benefit from a Thermal Imager?


Customer calls complaining of a room that’s always cold or their air conditioner isn’t as cold as it used to be. Whatever it is, you need to fire up the system, start in the mechanical room, and do a little investigation. This tool points out the temps of the ductwork in short order. It can also show the temps at the vents as well.

My drywaller missed cutting out a vent when they hung the rock. How can it be found without just poking holes in the lid and looking around? Fire up the system and look for the warm spot with the thermal imager. Tradespersons of yesteryear never had it so easy.


Need to check a hydronic heating system? Crank up the heat and just wait a little bit. All of the in-floor tubing shows right up as warm spots in a cold slab. Need to find a pipe that feeds a room but it isn’t marked? Open the hot water tap, and watch the copper heat up.


Diagnosing problem circuits/breakers in a panel is made easier when you can see the temps of the panel. AFCI breakers run hotter so don’t be alarmed when those show up warmer than the rest.


I wish my insulators had this tool. I recently noticed a void in the insulation where the ceiling heights stepped from 9′ up to 11′. They neglected to net off and fill in the transition. This was in a million plus dollar house. That conversation with the home owner definitely wasn’t my favorite one ever.

General Contractors

As a GC, we get calls all of the time from customers wondering why is my heating bill so high or why is there mold/frost on the ceiling? Why is my bathroom so cold? Why is the garage a sauna in the summer? You get the idea. Customers are looking for a detective to figure out what is going on in their home. A thermal imager is an investigative tool to help come to some conclusions and ultimately help you work out the right solution for the customer so they can be comfortable and safe in their own home.


MRO (Maintenance, repair, and operations) is like the GC but you’re the detective in your own building. The customers (building tenants/employees) are the ones that may bring stuff to your attention and it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on. A thermal imager is a great tool to have in your kit if you’re in the MRO trade.

Why the Milwaukee Spot Infrared Imager?

Easy to see the hot pipe

Two reasons. The first, the cost is relatively low. Right now a couple online retailers are selling it for $239 US but it normally sells for $299. Either price is a good deal for the features it provides. The second reason is that it is dead simple to operate. It has literally one button, just a trigger. Point and shoot and you’ll have an accurate picture of the heat of the surfaces in the frame. Ok, there’s a second switch in the battery compartment that changes the read out from F to C but that’s a set it and forget it function.

It has a 56:1 spot ratio which means that if you’re 56 inches away from something, the center spot where the temp is being read is 1 inch in diameter. That’s pretty tight, definitely tighter than the infrared thermometers. Those are normally around 12:1. The other major specification is that it has a  screen of 102×77, that’s 7,854 pixels. Pretty high for sub $300 thermal imager.

Is it for you?

Think about what you do every day. Do you ever have the need for an accurate thermometer or a crude building x-ray machine? A thermal imager is both of these. I honestly believe that just about every trade can benefit from this tool. Will you use it every day? Probably not but at under $300 it pays for itself in the first few uses. If you ask me, it’s a no-brainer.

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