The Good: Easy-to-use weapon to track down air leaks that are stealing money out of your pocket.
The Bad: You may find yourself making laser blaster sounds as you zap those air leaks.
The Bottom Line: It’s still up to you to fix the air leaks you find but now you know where to start.
MSRP: $60; widely available for less online and at home stores.
It was 32 degrees with light flurries, the first snow of the year. It’s time to put the Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector to work.
By pressing the big orange power button and pointing the unit at an interior wall, I set a reference temperature of 65.4 degrees F on the lighted digital display. The unit projects a green circle on the wall. All set. I pointed the detector at the glass fireplace doors. The light turned to blue as the digital read out indicated 59.5 F. The Thermal Leak Detector uses infrared sensors to detect the temperature of the objects you point it at. When it hits a spot that’s higher or lower than the reference temperature the LED spotlight changes from green to blue or red to identify a cold or hot leak, respectively.
There are three levels of reference temperature that control when the light indicates a high or low temperature relative to the reference point. Set it at one degree, five degrees or 10 degrees of difference from the reference. I had it set on 5 degrees. The scale can also be changed from Fahrenheit to Celsius.
In a brief scan of my house, the detector confirmed some of my suspicions. The fireplace was still leaking air, despite my putting a chimney cap on it. There were small air leaks around some of the electrical outlets on the exterior wall in the dining room. The wall around one outlet was about 7 degrees colder than the reference temperature.
The biggest culprit, though, was the French entry doors. I’ve tried weather stripping, draft stoppers and other things that didn't seem to work. The doors just don’t fit properly, especially at the bottom. That’s why the bottom section of the door and floor, bathed in blue light from the unit, was a chilly 48.2 F. Air was leaking through the door like a sieve. And so were my utility bill payments.
The Thermal Leak Detector is an easy-to-use gadget to help you improve the energy efficiency of your home. Essentially you can give your home a basic energy audit. It’s not as sensitive or descriptive as an infra-red thermal imaging camera that a professional home energy auditor might use. Those cost $1,500 and up, but are really cool. Although the Black and Decker Thermal Leak Detector won’t show you precisely where the leaks are like the thermal imaging camera, it will point you in the right direction.
The range of detection depends on how far you hold the device from the object you’re testing. It can be as close as six inches and as far as 24 inches to the object. Frank DeSantis, group product manager for Black & Decker, recommends using the 5 degree setting to hone in on problem areas. “One degree may be too sensitive and with 10 degrees, you may be able to see the hole in your wall,” he said.
He also recommends using it in winter rather than summer, because it’s easier to track the cool air leaking into the home. Research from the U.S. EPA indicates that plugging air leaks can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs. DeSantis said Black & Decker’s own research shows that the average home as a lot of small leaks but they add up to a 2-foot hole in the wall. “That a lot of air that’s escaping and energy being lost throughout the home,” he said.
After an evening with the Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector, I know where the problem areas are in my house. Some are easy fixes, such as putting foam sealer in a few electrical outlets. I think the insulation has fallen down or otherwise become compromised in a wall, so that could be a major project. Then, there’s those French doors. It’s time for plan B, whatever that is. Thanks to the Thermal Leak Detector, I know where to begin improving the energy efficiency of my home.
Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.