If you work in the HVACR industry, especially with large heating and cooling systems, one thing is undeniably true – they all leak at one point or another. Finding and repairing those leaks is important to maintaining a healthy and efficient system. However, before you can fix a leak, you need to find it, and that’s where Fieldpiece leak detectors come in.
If the HVAC system you’re working on is losing refrigerant, the first tools you can use are nearby – your eyes and ears. Start by looking around for oil stains and listen for pinhole leaks near weld joints or other connections. If you don’t see or hear anything obvious, the leak is probably very small. Soap bubbles and UV dyes are two effective ways to help you finding small leaks, but they do have their drawbacks. First of all, they can both be messy and second, you will usually need a direct line of sight to see smaller leaks.
Infrared, heated diode and ultrasonic sensors are three versions of leak detectors that can immediately detect the presence of refrigerant. However, they can be extremely sensitive to minor fluctuations and should be used slowly and methodically. These detectors are so sensitive that they can find leaks as small as 1 gram of refrigerant a year; you don’t find a leak that small by waving your detector all over the vicinity. If you or the detector are moving around a lot, if there are small drafts in the room, or even mild temperature swings, these elements can affect the flow of air and gas, making the leak harder to detect.
Since refrigerant is heavier than air, it flows down from the leak and settles in low areas; it also dilutes in as little as a few seconds. Knowing how gas acts actually helps us find the source of the leak. If your electronic detector sniffs any presence of refrigerant, it will beep or light up. Once you’ve detected the presence of refrigerant, start by slowly moving your detector from low spots to high until the detector stops beeping. Repeatedly doing this helps you pinpoint the location of even the smallest pinhole leaks.
How slowly should you move the detector? About three inches per second. Yes, that’s really slow. But this deliberate, methodical movement ensures that you aren’t creating a breeze that affects the detection of a leak. It also allows leaking refrigerant enough time to reach the sensor and react. To confirm that you have found the leak, move the detector to clean air and back over the suspected leak location to make sure the detector alarms again.
Leak detectors are becoming more and more sensitive, but the best way to take advantage of these new advances is to make sure that you always use them correctly.