Hands on Review: FLIR MR160 Moisture Meter with Infrared

FLIR MR160 In DepthFLIR recently previewed their new MR160 Imaging Moisture Meter to excited onlookers at the annual Inframation conference. Part moisture meter and part thermal camera, the MR160 enables contractors and builders to identify areas of potential moisture through an infrared image, then follow up with a measurement. Rather than guessing or hunting around for the areas of highest moisture concentration, these can be located visibly then quickly tested. FLIR is quiet on pricing, but we hear it is more in line with high-end moisture meters than with thermal cameras.

Moisture Meter
FLIR is quick to point out that the MR160 is a moisture meter first and foremost. We agree with that sentiment, and would quickly add that, based on our testing, it’s a very good moisture meter. Those familiar with the FLIR MR77 will immediately note the marked similarity between the two. Yet on the MR160 the sensor pad on the back used for non-destructive testing has been enlarged, providing better measurements on thicker substrates. While most users will rely primarily on the pin-less detector technology, the meter also includes a port for attaching the included pin probe or even an optional hammer probe for penetrating deeper into questionable floors and walls.

We find the FLIR MR160 responsive and accurate. One standout was the linearity of its readings. Rather than jump immediately from a very low reading to a maximum reading, the meter had a broad spectrum of moisture tolerance. Only visibly wet surfaces triggered a full scale “100” reading. This will give users a more detailed picture of where the water damage is at its worst.

Thermal Camera
The imaging capability of the FLIR MR160 is meant to complement the functionality of the moisture meter. Powered by the impressive FLIR Lepton core, the MR160 has a resolution of 80 x 60 pixels. While not enough resolution to create clear images of the family dog, it is nonetheless a decent resolution for spotting more extensive water damage at ranges out to about 10 feet. Once water is located, the MR160 uses a laser pointer mounted overtop the thermal camera to help you better locate the area of concern, and thereby better place the meter for a moisture check.

FLIR MR160 Wet Carpet

The MR160 ice palette highlights in blue a spill on the carpet.

A novel feature of the thermal image of the MR160 is its unique “Ice” palette. Rather than the more common iron and rainbow palettes, the MR160 utilizes a palette that highlights warmer areas as a grayscale (white being hot), combined with a blue palette to highlight objects that are cooler in the image. For many users it may seem a bit odd at first, but it does give the advantage of highlighting areas that are more likely to be moisture. (The ice palette will feel more familiar to veteran users of the isotherm feature offered on some FLIR cameras.)

Thermal sensitivity of the FLIR MR160 is rated at 0.15 °C. While we might wish for better sensitivity when looking for moisture that may be lurking near ambient temperatures, for situations when there is a known moisture problem users should still be able to discern the trouble spots. The imaging temperature range is not given for the MR160, though we expect it to be similar to other Lepton products, in the neighborhood of about freezing up to around 260 °F (127 °C). The thermal camera is focus free, and uses a 51° wide angle lens to give a broad picture of the inspection area. You can be as close as 4 inches and still have the target in focus.

Use
Upon startup, the FLIR MR160 moisture meter shows a live thermal image of the targeted area. As you scan a room and locate potential water damage, the MR160 has an excellent trick up its sleeve. Keep the target area in view on the screen, and hold down the camera button for three seconds. The laser pointer is then activated until the button is released. Upon release, the image is frozen while you place the MR160 on the area identified by the laser. When the moisture meter is in the right spot and showing a reading, then push the camera button again. The MR160 now stores the moisture reading in the upper left corner of the image that you froze while standing back. This captures the picture and moisture meter data in one combined image, providing a wealth of information for subsequent reporting or documentation for a home owner, building manager, or insurance adjuster.

FLIR MR160 and FLIR C2 Comparison

The FLIR MR160 (left) does a good job of drawing the eye to the problem area. Seen here alongside the FLIR C2 (right).

The MR160 includes three unique screen views, allowing the device to act as a moisture meter only, a combined IR camera and moisture meter, or as an infrared camera only. The moisture meter alarm threshold is user adjustable to give greater control over audible warnings. A built in rechargeable battery charges through a standard USB micro cable. The same connection also downloads the stored images as bmp files. These pictures include the thermal image and any moisture data if applicable. As with the FLIR TG165, the bmp files do not include radiometric temperature data for every pixel. Downloaded images can be imported and organized in the free FLIR Tools software, but they cannot be further manipulated after download as with a traditional thermal camera.

Final Thoughts
The FLIR MR160 amounts to an excellent moisture meter with helpful thermal imaging capabilities. The ice palette takes some getting used to, and certainly limits the variety of scenes that can be imaged. In the less common situations where moisture might be warmer than it’s surroundings, novice users may miss the water entirely since it would show as white rather than the highlighted blue. But the ice palette will prove useful on most of the occasions when you would reach for a moisture meter.

flir-mr160-leak

Wet carpet seen through the MR160 at a distance of 6 feet.

If a good thermal camera for locating moisture is what you’re after, you would be better off with a dedicated building camera such as the FLIR E6 or FLIR E40bx. Yet as an aid to locating the most intense water damage, the FLIR MR160 does a good job of showing where to capture the measurement with the moisture meter. The MR160 takes some of the guesswork out of where the most moisture is located, saving time and reducing errors. Used in this way, the FLIR MR160 performs very well indeed, and will find its way into many a contractor’s tool bag.

Questions or comments about the FLIR MR160? Feel free to post below or drop us a line at [email protected]

 

More Information
FLIR MR160 Moisture Meter with Infrared on sale now at Ivy Tools

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