We are relatively new to this Residential Home Assessment industry and while we have all the needed certifications, we still need to buy equipment.

 

Any feedback on certain Blower Doors and IR Cameras? Consumer Reports is not really a place we can go and I think this equipment information might assist everyone on this board.

 

 

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  • You can't go wrong with either the TEC or Retrotec blower door or duct testers/blasters.  I teach using both brands, but I find the TEC DG-700 slightly more intuitive for new users because of the layout of the input and reference taps on the face of the device.  

    For my auditing business, I have a Retrotec blower door and a TEC duct blaster.  That gives me two manometers to do zonal pressure tests.  Other's may find it a little odd using a Retrotec blower door and a TEC duct blaster hooked together to the outside when doing a duct leakage test WRT to the outside but the air doesn't care what brand you use.  If you only have one device, then the Testo 510 makes a nice, relatively inexpensive 2nd manometer.  And, with a pitot tube, you can measure air velocity coming out of air supplies, if you want to get into air balancing a little.

    When I got into the business, I rented the equipment from another auditor for a few weeks so that I felt comfortable with it. Then, I bought used once I felt confident enough to evaluate the equipment.  (My first day, I did a ton of blower tests on an apartment, so I got real practiced real quick.)  The only issue I found buying used is getting the equipment calibrated by the manufacturer.  I used escrow.com for the transaction, so I felt protected from problems.

    I did purchase a Fluke TiR thermal camera.  It has 160x120 resolution, which is just barely enough...you'll find you'll always want more resolution with a thermal camera.  I chose Fluke because it's rated to withstand a 2meter drop.  I know someday it's going to slip out of my hands.  Training is mandatory, otherwise you'll take pretty pictures, but you'll misinterpret what you're seeing.  Better to take the training, first, then buy the camera.

    I always charge extra when pulling out the thermal camera.  RESNET has standards for thermal imaging which requires a delta T of 18 degrees between the inside and the outside.  It also requires a blower door, with thermal imaging before and during use of the blower door so you can see where the air is infiltrating.  RESNET has IR standards, BPI doesn't.

    With the exception of insulation and duct work in the walls, I believe I find 90% to 95% of all the problems in a home with the blower door, smoke stick, and experience, so I don't tend to sell the thermal camera hard, especially in homes around 2,000 sf or less.  Then again, I know how a blower door and experience stacks up to a thermal camera because I've spent a good amount of time practicing with both.  Training and a rental can get you that same experience.

    Where a thermal camera comes in great is in a larger house (3,000+ sf) at least 20 years old that has inaccessible attics.  In that instance, a thermal camera was the only way to convince a particular homeowner they needed to cut accesses into their sealed off attics so we could weatherize.  It also showed the fallen insulation on a 20 foot wall, which was a major cause of the drafts they felt in the room in the winter due to convective loops...and leaky duct work in other walls.

    Good luck!

  • For the blower door and Duct Tester/Blaster I have Retrotec. I have also used the Minneapolis during certification tests.Both are fine pieces of equipment. The Retrotec manometer seems a bit more versatile as it has formulas built in and can run other manufacturers equipment   

    The suggestion by Paul Raymer of having a single channel manaometer is excellent I wish I had gotten the same advice coming in

    For combustion analyses I own Bacharach but Testo and make fine equipment as well. Fieldpiece makes a multi fuctional unit

    IR Cameras are great and have come down significantly in price. Fluke and Flir are the two most reputable. go to http://irtalk.com   for another forum that is run by the Snell Company but has many different camera users on their site

    The cameras themselves are not an end all without proper training they simply take pretty pictures. I would recommend Level I training.

    good luck 

    • Really good advice.  My 2c behind it...

      I have Minneapolis.  Get whatever your friends have as you may need to borrow equipment, and learning the other type during an audit will not be fun.  

      I have the testo 510 also.  Get one, and get 2 probes.  If you start to learn equipment you'll find yourself in situations wondering about ESP, filter drop, coil restriction, etc.  "I wish I knew system static" is an unpleasant thought.  Understanding how the current equipment matches to duct work often will lend to a broader understanding of homeowner complaints, and how to cure them.  

      The cameras themselves are not an end all without proper training they simply take pretty pictures. I would recommend Level I training.

      I'd agree with that, even take it a step further.  Don't bother with a camera. Unless you are going to spend additional thousands going to classes it's more of a sales gimmick.  It will help diagnose specific problems, but that's not what you'll get paid for.  It will "prove" to the homeowner top plates and rim joists leak, but you already knew that and smoke shows it too.  You really only have so much time in the house, with the homeowner.  At some point another gee wiz item becomes too much.  

      Most importantly, unlike the blower door it does not really help quantify savings opportunity.  IMO it is more important as a QC tool than an auditor tool.  Fantastic tool for the install crew to insure they've filled/sealed/etc, whatever they were supposed to fill. 

  • You can buy either a Minneapolis or RetroTec blower door and be perfectly satisfied. If you're going to invest in IR, I would definitely invest in Level 1 training first. The major manufacturers all make good units, but you have to decide which features and specs you need.

  • My Two Cents-
    I have an Energy Conservatory Model 3 Minneapolis Blower Door, which I have used since 2007. (Prior to that, I had a rather home-made affair, which is not a point of comparison but a personal investigative tool.) At the time of my purchase, I did as much research as I could, seeking common traits and elements of RetroTec, Infiltec and TEC (enough Tec one might say).

    I contacted each company and all were very helpful, but the folks in Minneapolis stood out, for me. Nothing against their competition, but my sense at the time was that they were broadly more helpful and "into it". Their package price was higher by about ten percent, but that was not a deciding factor for me. Since then, I have found their support and technical assistance to be outstanding. I would add that features between them, as within any "tight market", tend to become level rapidly. When one comes out with a feature, the others will be close-behind. Competition is good.

    Understanding that all blower doors do the same thing essentially, the software features, ease of use, all become subjective. I bought mine "blind" in that I had not personally used any of the systems but had assisted and witnessed tests done with the Minneapolis and RetroTec systems. Not enough to give a nod, because I was more interested in the results at the time.

    Since my purchase, I bought from TEC, a Zone Pressure Diagnostics setup. Formerly this was their "APT" data logger and lots of tubing. Now it is in the form of CAT-5 cables, a USB hub and as many DG-700 gauges, one per zone tested. This has not yet been placed into service, but I have come to rely on the DG-700 for a wider variety of general pressure measurements doing diagnostic and TAB work.

    I have also bought a FLIR b50 IR camera, as a medium-range hand-held. Budget was key and the price had just come down. Price was a factor in this case. I know other practitioners who use the Fluke equipment, but in the wider format (the "two hands" cameras) for their more commercial work. In each case, the resolution was excellent and more or less proportional to the price. You do get what you pay for.

    The only criticism of the FLIR I have is an initial glitch whereby the battery indicator would say I had about 2/3rds power remaining, but the camera would just shut off on low battery after an hours use. This was corrected at the local FLIR technical center here in MA. The second glitch which still occurs is that if the battery depletes in the camera or is removed between charging sessions, sometimes but not always, the internal date/time clock resets to 2005. Annoying and unnecessary but not a big deal. I was told to charge the battery outside the camera and to remove it when not in use. This has not necessarily solved the issue but makes it less frequent. I asked if an internal battery needed changing and was told that this was not the issue. I have some issues of ease of use with the FLIR Quick Report software but cannot give specific examples right now. You could write to me off line to discuss further. bewhite at rcn dot com.

    I bought the FLIR from TEC, but service is directly had from FLIR. Given the product type, I think this makes sense. Also FLIR is 20 miles from me.

    Not a lot to go on, but this is my experience with one good company.

    Brad
  • While I'm obviously somewhat biased, the simple fact is that both the Retrotec Blower Doors and those sold my TEC will do the job. If you have any specific questions regarding what's available, feel free to give us a call @ 1.855.738.7683 or email info@retrotec.com, we'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
  • Caroline.  My whole job for the last 6+ years has been to help people who are involved in building diagnostics (whether it be moisture investigations or insulation issues) to select the right IR camera and then provide training.  Hundreds of people have spent 15 - 30 minutes with me using 'go-to-meeting' where I can show/demonstrate images taken with our various Fluke cameras.  There's no sales pressure at all.  I would be happy just to share what I've learned and answer your questions so that you are better equipped to make a decision.  Call me at 888-617-3266 ext 301.  You can also see some video clips at www.moistureview.com

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  • While I personally use a Minneapolis Blower Door System (Model 3 fan and all of the accessories), and have nothing but good things to say about it, I have also heard very positive things about the Retrotec systems.

     

    As far as infrared imaging systems go, I am more than a little biased towards Fluke. (~laugh~)   Each person's wants, needs, and budget is a little different, however.   I do highly recommend doing a lot of research on the subject, as the purchase and use of a thermal imager is an investment in both your business and the ongoing quality of your work.   Do more than just look at specifications on a piece of paper or on a web page.  Also look for fit-and-finish, durability, image quality, ease-of-use, pre- and post-sale support, reputation within the industry and with other users, etc.  And above all else, make sure that you get to see the cameras that you are considering in person to get the most accurate comparison possible... a "personal point of view" so to speak.... try them out to understand how all of these factors come together.

     

    I know that many people have also found great value in the online seminar that the Snell Group offers on "Buying an Infrared Camera":  Buying an Infrared Camera

  • You're right about the lack of info on tools.  I have started writing a column for Home Energy, the first of which will be in the next issue on the Minneapolis DG700 and Retrotec DM2A.  The doors are pretty similar with minor variations in velcro location.  The manometers can be used for many things.  These two are the primary tools, but I would also suggest looking into investing in a simpler, single channel manometer like the Testo 510 that can be used for zonal pressure diagnostics while the blower door is running.

    • Paul, 

      Is there a way to lock in the minneapolis manometer with the blower door running, then detach the hoses and use the manometer to do zonal pressure diagnostics?

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