In-depth IR workshop a hit with NPPD members

[Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the January 2013 Energy Services Bulletin.]

It can be difficult to get busy utility professionals to take any time off for training, but a two-day infrared workshop sponsored by Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) recently drew 16 participants—and rave reviews.

Training utilities need

NPPD partner Southern Power District hosted IR for Weatherization and Energy Audits Nov. 28 and 29 at its headquarters in Grand Island, Neb. “A few contractors and representatives came from government agencies, but most of the trainees were our wholesale partners,” said NPPD Business Partner Consultant Roger Hunt, who organized the event.

The idea for the workshop originated with Hunt, who credits NPPD’s strong relationship with its member utilities for uncovering the need. “We knew a lot of our partners had purchased IR cameras, but they weren’t familiar enough with the technology to get the full value from their investment,” he said. “I’ve been through Level I and II IR certification, so I know how important it is to get the right training.”

Hunt chose The Snell Group to present a class aimed at energy auditors, weatherization contractors and home inspectors. He had once attended a similar workshop sponsored by the Nebraska Energy Office, and felt the focus on residential audits would be most useful to NPPD utilities.

Learn your camera

The course covered all models of thermal imaging equipment and included many hands-on simulations and exercises. “Since Snell doesn’t represent any camera manufacturers, the class was equipment-neutral,” said Western Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann. “The instructors could explain the capabilities and limitations of different cameras.”

That was good news for Wade Rahn, Customer Service Coordinator at Butler Public Power District, who brought along the utility’s ToughCam from IR Cameras, Inc. “I took the workshop to get better acquainted with using the camera in audit situations,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of the workshop if the material focused only on the most common models.”

Having worked with IR cameras and  taken several classes, Hoffmann was very impressed with the course content. It offered more background on thermodynamic theory than other workshops he had attended, Hoffmann observed, and he really enjoyed the exercises. For one demonstration, participants were told to point their cameras at a quarter on a hotplate and adjust the focus so they could read the date on the coin. “It was a fun way to familiarize ourselves with our cameras,” Hoffmann observed.

The IR workshop was a first for Tim Ellis, the new Energy Services representative for the Rocky Mountain Region, so the camera exercises were particularly helpful to him. “It was a great opportunity to learn how to work the camera, where settings were, what they did and how to adjust them,” he said.

Audit practice

The longer workshop provided participants with the chance to do a real energy audit on the home of a Southern Power District employee. “The house had a couple of cold rooms, so the homeowner got a free energy audit in return for letting the class practice what they’d learned,” said Hoffmann. “The employee joined us to analyze the IR pictures after the inspection, even though he wasn’t enrolled in the workshop. It was a good deal for everyone.”

infrared picture of heated nickel
One camera control exercise involved adjusting the focus so the operator could read the date on a heated quarter.

 

The audit included visual and thermographic inspections inside and out, a blower door test and a lot of what Hoffmann termed “audit etiquette.” Nicki White, customer service representative for Cuming County Public Power District, found that part of the training extremely helpful. “It was surprising to learn how much background information auditors need before they go into a home,” she said.

Ellis appreciated the reminders about common courtesy and professionalism. “It’s important to remember that you are in someone’s home,” he said. “Auditors need to make sure the homeowner feels comfortable and confident about the inspection.”

Tips included everything from not trampling gardens to turning off gas water heaters so the blower door doesn’t suck carbon monoxide fumes into the house. Hunt reminds himself to turn the water heater back on before he leaves by putting  his car keys on it..

For Ellis, the audit served as a refresher course in building science and the physics behindheat movement through a building shell. “It gave me a chance to apply what I know to problem-solving at the consumer level,” he said. “This would be excellent training for utilities at any stage of developing a home audit program.”

Worth the time

The course would also be good research for utilities that are considering buying a camera, Ellis added, or for professionals looking for a crash course in residential building science. Participants take a written test at the end and receive continuing education credits, another reason to make time for training.

Hoffmann declared that it was the best IR workshop he had ever attended. “We covered a ton of stuff over in two full days,” he said. “It was really interesting and never felt like we were rushing through the material.”

If your utility is interested in sponsoring an in-depth workshop on infrared thermography or other auditing skills, contact your Energy Services representative for more information.