Once a significant investment ($100-$200), prices have dropped considerably. This one, the General Tools IRT207, is under $40 from Lowes or Sears; you can find low end devices for under $20 from some outlets.
Pricier "thermal imaging cameras" are a more recent innovation, which take still photos or video of infrared emissions. Running $2000 and up, these are out of range of most home-owners and small commercial users; but have become mainstays of home inspectors, electrical contracting, energy engineers, etc. And while prices have dropped (and features and capabilities have risen) these devices are still out of reach for most consumers.
But recently, several devices have become available in a much lower price range. While I am sure there are competitive units out there, I'm going to spotlight two different devices from Flir Systems.
First, the FLIR TG165 Imaging IR Thermometer is a neat cross-over device; an infrared thermometer with a small (80x60 px) video image. The video is a little gung-ho for my taste, with driving rock music and Monster Truck Rally voice-over such as:
- "...not your old-school spot radiometer..."
- "....download images and data, and whip up a report later..."
Nevertheless, it seems like a great little device, and at ~$500 retail, it's dropped into the affordable range for many.
Next, and more exciting (to me) is the Flir One: Thermal imaging device for your iPhone 5/5s. This is a case for the iPhone device that includes a thermal / infrared imaging device. At $350 it's even more affordable than the handheld device, has a bigger image size, although perhaps less "point and shoot" ability (laser sight, etc.)
The applications of these types of devices are pretty broad for the creative home-owner, business owner or hobbyist, but some of the things I've stumbled across over the years include:
- Electrical inspection
- Mechanical inspection (fans and motors, automotive belts, pulleys, etc.)
- Energy conservation (checking insulation, windows, doors, ducts, walls, roofs, etc.)
- Checking for insects / pests / vermin in walls (apparently they produce a thermal signature)
- Checking plumbing fixtures.
- Checking / calibrating cooktops and overs
- Seeing in the dark (security)