Windfall, I got the IR thermometer at Harbor Freight a couple years ago. It was about $20 at the time.
We need to put one of our hives on some scales to get data on winter consumption at warmer temps. If the bees aren’t generating heat to stay warm, are they really going to be burning through the stores? I doubt it, that’s not what I have seen. Making heat is what takes a lot of energy. Discounting brood consumption, Stores consumed = Energy generated in the hive. Insulated hives require less watts. If the hives are above clustering temps and the bees are not rearing brood, they really aren’t making much heat.
Just as an aside; the main reason I’m using a screened top on my foam nucs is so I can observe how to bees are responding over winter in these super insulated hives. It sounds like you, I, and Derek are the only ones on this forum admitting to using super insulated homemade foam nucs so there may not be a lot of hard data for us. The screens can be a good way to collect hard data regarding their behavior.
You can also gauge hive strength with a top screen and you can feed all winter with a top screen if you want. If anybody else makes any of these super insulated hives, you might want to consider using a top screen on some of them.