When it comes to underground piping systems, leaks are a common problem. Because they are located underground, these leaks could exist for a while before they are detected. This could lead to major problems and expensive repair bills. The sooner these leaks are detected, the faster they can be prepared. This is where thermal imaging can be helpful. Whether underground utilities carry hot or cold products, infrared thermography can help in the detection of leaks stemming from buried systems.

What does thermal imaging detect?

Thermal imaging, which often goes by the name infrared thermography, is used to detect fluctuations in the electromagnetic spectrum in the infrared range. The human eye can only interpret visible light; however, thermal imaging can interpret wavelengths that the human eye does not normally see.

Can Thermal Imaging Detect Leaks?

Yes. Thermal imaging is used to detecting leaks because everything that is warmer than absolute zero emits infrared radiation. This even applies to liquids. By mapping the different temperatures recorded in a given area, thermal imaging shows you where liquid is running through pipes within a structure and underground, as well as where the liquid is seeping out of them.

Under the right circumstances, thermal imaging can be used to locate leaks involving underground utilities. This might include leaking pipes that might otherwise be overlooked. With respect to pipe leaks, a thermal imaging camera does not actually “see” moisture; however, it is used to detect small temperature differences that often arise from leaking pipes.

Locating Utility Leak with Thermal Imaging

When a leak first develops in a piping system that has been buried, fluid leaks out into its surroundings. If the leak stems from a piping system that is carrying fluid that has been heated or cooled, temperature changes take place underground in the areas surrounding the leak. This can be detected by a thermal imaging utility locator.

When leaks come from buried piping, they usually look like unusual, amorphously shaped, thermal anomalies. Some of the factors that will play a role in how this leak appears to include:

  • The temperature of the pipe,
  • How the pipes have been constructed,
  • How deeply they were buried underground,
  • The amount of fluid that is being lost,
  • The amount of ground cover,
  • The type of soil and its moisture content.

There are a few keys that everyone should follow when it comes to locating leaks using infrared imaging.

Inspections with Infrared Imaging

When it comes to inspections of buried piping systems, it is better to perform them at night or during the winter. Ideally, there should be light or zero wind. This is because the temperature differences underground will be easier to identify. Bright sunlight can interfere with the operation of infrared imaging technology. This is commonly called solar loading or solar reflection. If the pipes are located inside, it is still possible to perform them during the day. Do everything possible to eliminate interference from other light and heat sources, including sun that might shine through the window.

It is possible to perform infrared imaging inspections on foot, using an aircraft, or via motor vehicle. The thermal imager needs to be maneuvered over the piping pathway itself. Because pipes are usually built in straight lines with well-defined networks, they should show up on the infrared imaging scanner. If the pipe appears to have a bulge in it, this could be a sign of a link. Usually, this is an ill-defined shape. On the scanner, the leak might show up as a different color when compared to the rest of the pipe. This is because the liquid is usually heated or cooled as it passes through the pipe. When it leaves the piping system itself, there will be a sudden temperature change, which should cause the liquid to change color.

Can thermal imaging see through concrete?

Not exactly. Thermal imaging equipment cannot see movement or leaks on the other side of concrete structures or walls, but it can usually detect temperature differences in utility lines running through concrete.

How do you detect a water leak underground?

Underground water leaks can be detected using thermal imaging. It tracks subtle temperature differences and patterns that reveal the existence of water.

How does thermal imaging detect moisture?

Thermal imaging can be used to detect moisture and predict where mold may be causing damage. A thermal camera highlights the difference in the regular ground temperature or temperature of the building material and any wet areas. This is because water naturally lowers the temperature of the material that is infiltrated.

Advantages of Using Infrared Imaging to Locate Leaks

Once a leak has been identified, it needs to be marked for further investigation. Some of the biggest advantages of using a thermal imaging utility locator for underground utilities include the cost of the system, its ease of deployment, and how quickly it can detect underground leaks.

This video discusses some of the on-the-job benefits of using thermal imaging to locate leaks.

With thermal imaging, utility location crews are able to find the leak without extensive excavating and avoid inconvenient complications, such as needing to shut off the water main. Technicians can dig directly down to the leak and this allows access to make repairs without leaving a wide footprint. The sooner these leaks are detected, the faster they can be repaired. This helps companies save money.

Thermal Imaging and Drone Technology

Thermal imaging technology becomes even more accurate and convenient when it’s combined with drones. A drone equipped with a thermal camera can access and provide an overview of virtually any site in order to detect a gas or water leak.

Call Us Today to Learn More

This is a brief overview of what thermal imaging is, how it works, and how it can be used to detect underground utility leaks. These leaks have the potential to cause major problems for residential and commercial locations. If you would like to learn more about thermal imaging and how it can help you, give us a call today!

We have a tremendous amount of experience dealing with a variety of issues when it comes to underground piping systems. Our professionals would be happy to help you with all of your residential and commercial underground utility needs.


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