Many types of heating and cooling systems use a system of ductwork to distribute heated and cooled air throughout the space. Problems with ductwork can impact HVAC operation in many ways. That’s why it’s so important to be able to access and inspect ducts. Yet because they are often enclosed inside walls and in crawl spaces, manual inspection can be challenging. Duct inspection cameras, and also robots that actually crawl through the ducts, can be the answer.
Duct inspection is essential for HVAC maintenance & repairs
There are many HVAC problems that can be caused (or made worse) by damage to duct systems. Here are just a few:
Poor air flow from registers. When treated air escapes from damaged ducts, or the ducts are clogged, the result can be decreased air flow (or none at all in the worst case) coming from the AC and/or heating registers. The air in the space feels stagnant, and certain areas may be difficult to heat or cool.
System running constantly. With reduced air flow, the system may be struggling to reach set temperature and running nearly all the time.
High energy expenses. With the system running more and working harder, it’s using more energy. According to Energy Star, “about 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. The result is higher utility bills and difficulty keeping the house comfortable, no matter how the thermostat is set.”
Musty odors. If ducts get clogged with debris, moisture can be absorbed and lead to mold growth. Over time, musty odors develop and are distributed throughout the space.
To diagnose these problems, you need to check the duct runs for damage, including cracks, leaks, holes, and disconnected sections, as well as obstructions from debris. It’s not unheard of to find birds, rodents, or insects building nests inside damaged ducts! It’s also possible that you’ll find mold growth along with a build up of dust and moisture. That’s a health and safety risk for your customers in addition to a comfort problem.
Duct inspection cameras & robots make the job simple and easy
In most cases, you’ll start with a visual inspection of the ducts you can access easily, along with taking airflow measurements that can powerpoint areas of concern. Once you suspect that a duct run has some damage or obstruction, using a duct inspection camera, also known as a borescope or endoscope, can be the quickest way to find the cause of the problem.
Most duct inspection cameras have a handheld monitor or a case-mounted monitor attached to a length of cable that has a camera on the end. Using it is as simple as pushing the cable into the supply or return vent and slowly extending it as far as possible, while viewing the image on the handheld device to see the condition. Technicians do report that it can require a bit of patience to maneuver the cable through bends in the ductwork.
Recently a number of vendors have come out with robots that make the job even easier. A small robotic device actually crawls through the ducts, and can have multiple cameras attached for better visualization of the entire inside surface of the duct.
Duct inspection cameras: features to look for
Image quality. Look for a device that captures color HD video and has a high resolution monitor for the best visualization.
Multiple lenses and angles. At a lower price point, a duct inspection camera device has a single camera at the end of the cable. However, you can purchase devices that have multiple cameras so you can see different angles simultaneously without having to move the cable.
Lighting. Good lighting is essential to get a good view. Look for LED lights on the camera that can be adjusted for brightness.
Cable: For inspecting long duct runs with bends, you’ll want a device with a long, semi-rigid cable. 50 feet is a practical choice for duct inspection, but you can get devices with much longer probes, up to 120 meters.
Photo and video recording. Many devices can now capture and record images and video, which is useful to show your customer the problems you find. Typically you’ll get JPEG photos and AVI video stored on a memory card for easy transfer to a computer or phone.
Microphone & speaker. Some devices even have a microphone so you can explain and record what you’re seeing, and a speaker allowing playback on the device itself, making it easy to share with a customer or other technicians.
Waterproof. Chances are, you’re working in areas that can have moisture, and certainly the ducts themselves might be damp. A waterproof device is a smart choice.
Rechargeable Lithium Battery. When snaking cable through a long duct run, the last thing you want to worry about is access to power or dealing with a long power cord. Many devices are now cordless and rechargeable.
Robotic models. If you do duct cleaning work, you might want to invest in a robotic model that crawls through the ductwork on wheels and has more control options.
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