Roving thermographer records evidence of heat loss from Philly homes

    Taken out of context, Charles Hogan’s job might sound a little creepy. He will spend the winter driving slowly around residential streets in Philadelphia until midnight or 1 a.m., taking images of homes from a brightly colored Ford Escape.

    “As I’m driving down the road, I just see a lot of people doing double takes, staring at the vehicle,” Hogan said from behind the wheel on a recent evening.

    Hogan works for the Mark Group, a U.K.-based insulation company that launched the mobile thermal imaging vehicle in Philadelphia last week.

    On a narrow residential street near Passyunk Square, the camera attached to the roof of his car snapped a shot of each house he passed. Fellow thermographer Brian Appelbaum used a laptop in the back seat to navigate and monitor the images, meant to illustrate where houses are leaking heat. They look like photo negatives lit up in Technicolor.

    “In this photo we’re seeing a lot of reds around the windows because there’s a lot of leakage,” Appelbaum said, pointing to the laptop screen. “And in the walls, we’re seeing yellows and greens because there’s a lot of heat loss in the walls.”

    The company’s sales team will bring along the images while knocking on doors and pitching attic and wall insulation.

    “A picture’s worth a thousand words,” Appelbaum said. “You can see this image and once you educate the homeowner on what this image means, then they can see that they have a lot of heat loss and the heat loss just translates to losing money.”

    The vehicles were rolled out three years ago in the United Kingdom, where the company said 2.6 million images have translated into 50,000 new customers.

    Dawn Morley, from the company’s U.K. office, said some homeowners there initially had concerns about privacy, but she stressed the cameras can only pick up on heat outside a home.

    “When we explain that each pixel is only picking up a temperature, the temperature’s then converted into a color,” Morley said, “they’re more than happy for us to then discuss how we can help them.”

    The team goes out at night, when temperatures drop and homeowners have turned their heat on for the evening.

    The company plans to take images in neighborhoods in Philadelphia and surrounding counties where it has previously done insulation work, then spread out to the tri-state area.

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