Quantitative thermal performance assessment of building envelopes – emergent practices and infrared thermography




Mahmoodzadeh, Milad

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Since many buildings in Canada were built prior to the advent of national and provincial energy codes and standards, quantifying building envelope thermal performance in existing buildings is an important step in identifying retrofit opportunities. Due to the lack of building codes or standards for existing buildings in Canada, development of a rapid and robust quantitative approach to evaluate and rank buildings for vertical envelope retrofits is required. Hence, this dissertation sought to develop quantitative approaches to evaluate existing building envelope thermal performance in Canada and beyond. Following current professional practices, in Chapter 1, a comprehensive study was conducted on 49 campus buildings at the University of Victoria (UVic) to evaluate potential energy savings from vertical envelope retrofits, and to further validate those savings through more detailed energy models and parametric analyses for a subset of buildings. To this end, the thermal performance of a building envelope was quantified based on its heat loss coefficient (UA), obtained from multiplying its surface area (A) by its thermal transmittance (U-value). Heat loss calculations were used as a metric to inform envelope rehabilitation prioritization, while considering other data such as age and physical condition in parallel. Archetype energy models for selected buildings were used to evaluate the impacts of envelope retrofits on energy and GHG savings. The outcomes of this study allowed the University to weigh the benefits of improved energy performance from envelope retrofits against associated capital cost expenditures. Also, the implemented methodology and studied parameters unveiled a new horizon in evaluating the thermal performance of existing building envelopes in Canada, where a building code for existing buildings has not yet been established. Considering the economic findings of the envelope retrofits studied, it was concluded that in the absence of an existing building energy code, the University would likely require additional incentives, such as higher utility costs, higher carbon taxes, or qualifying for utility incentive programs to justify improving existing building envelope performance on the basis of energy only. The strength of the proposed methodology in Chapter 1 was in its balance of effort and ultimate decision-making utility, where reasonable thermal bridging approximations based on simulation models for existing buildings can yield data accurate enough to inform a ranking exercise on a large breadth of subject buildings. However, since numerical models do not consider degradation of building materials, real moisture content, and errors associated with manufacturing and installation, actual building envelope thermal performance differs from 3D simulation models. To study this limitation, in-situ thermal assessments of building envelopes were performed to quantify their actual thermal performances. To this end, Chapters 2 to 4 of this dissertation attempted to determine the viability of an external infrared thermography (IRT) survey technique for quantification of heat losses through the opaque building envelope, and also explores its potential application in identifying and comparing sources of air leakage. The experiments were performed on wood-framed wall assemblies commonly used in Canada due to growing interest among designers, builders, and governments to encourage the use of wood as a building material. In these studies, (Chapter 2 to Chapter 4), thermal transmittances (U-values) of wall assemblies were estimated with external IRT and compared with 3D computer simulations. Furthermore, the impact of the accuracy of U-values estimated with IRT on the deviation of energy simulation outputs with metered data was examined. Finally, a novel relative quantitative infrared index (IRI) was proposed as a means to facilitate rapid evaluation and subsequent ranking of building envelope thermal performance. From the experiments in Chapters 2 & 3, it was found that the U-values obtained with IRT were comparable with simulated values suggesting IRT can be a reliable tool for estimating the thermal performance of wood-framed wall assemblies. Results also demonstrated that thermal imaging artefacts including nonlinear characteristics of infrared (IR) camera focal array, a.k.a. non-uniformity corrections (NUC) and vignetting could have a substantial influence on the accuracy of results, in particular energy model outputs. This limitation was resolved by introducing a practical approach where thermal images were taken from different incident angle. Overall, IRI was found to be a reliable metric for relative quantitative comparison of building envelope thermal performance regardless of boundary conditions. Moreover, outcomes of the IRT air leakage study in Chapter 4 indicated that combined qualitative and quantitative IRT approaches could potentially be implemented by practitioners to identify sources of air leakage and thermal bridges in buildings and compare their relative severity. Since blower door testing is gradually being introduced as a building code requirement to measure building envelope airtightness in an increasing number of Canadian jurisdictions, performing IRT simultaneously is potentially valuable exercise in this context. Ultimately, the methodologies outlined in Chapters 2 to 4 can help decision-makers to characterize building envelope retrofits from a performance perspective, and potentially serve as a basis for governments to develop policies to improve existing building energy performance. The methodologies in Chapters 2 to 4 prompted opportunities to utilize the emergent technology of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with an infrared camera for quick thermal assessments of building envelopes. The last chapter of this dissertation, Chapter 5, outlines advantages and limitations of aerial IRT (UAV-IRT) surveys compared to conventional stationary IRT. Furthermore, a set of best practices for UAV-IRT were presented to minimize dynamic measurement uncertainty. It was concluded that with the current IR camera technology, aerial surveys for quantitative thermal assessment of building envelope are not as accurate as with conventional infrared thermography; further investigations by manufacturers and researchers are recommended.



Thermal bridge, Infrared Thermography, Energy Modelling, Thermal Performance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), U-value, Air leakage, Quantitative IRT, Wood-framed Envelope, Infrared Index, Conventional Method