Benefits Of Refrigerant Leak Detectors
Last Updated on July 14, 2021 by Gabriel Goddy
Before now, leak detection was not so easy, you’d have to take series of tests to confirm where the leak is coming from. However, with the coming of Refrigerant Leak detectors, you don’t have to spend long hours figuring out where the leak is coming from. In this guide, we’d show you what a Refrigerant Leak detector is. Read through with keenness.
How to Find a Refrigerant Leak
As an HVAC professional, you have a business responsibility to find and fix refrigerant leaks through preventative and corrective maintenance. In addition, various regulatory jurisdictions at the local, state, and federal levels (e.g., EPA 608) require regular leak inspections.
These requirements to find refrigerant leaks can be successfully met by employing the best refrigerant leak detection method(s) for your job needs. Refrigerant leak detection methods include, but are not limited to:
- soap bubble method;
- fluorescent dye method; or
- electronic leak detection method.
As you can see, there are numerous methods that you can use; each with its own benefits, and this is where you need to pay close attention. That’s why we are going to start by looking at the more traditional methods and then move to the newer methods. By the end, you will find out which methods are best.
- SOAP BUBBLE METHOD
The soap bubble method is a mainstay that has been relied upon by residential technicians for decades. It’s fairly self-explanatory. In essence, you apply soapy water or a leak detection spray to see if there are leaks at certain points. Bubbles should appear at leakage points.
While common and trusted, what undermines the soap bubbles method is the fact that it can be difficult to pinpoint leaks under certain conditions, such as if the leak is very small or if it is windy outdoors. That’s why it may be most beneficial for you to use the soap bubble method in combination with another method, particularly with one of the electronic leak detection methods.
- ULTRAVIOLET / FLUORESCENT DYE METHOD
This method uses a specialized dye that is injected into the refrigeration system and circulated along with the host fluid or refrigerant. If there are any leak points in the system, the dye will escape and concentrate at these locations. Using a UV lamp, these leak points can be easily seen and identified.
It should be noted that there is a major downside with this method: that is, the fluorescent dye method can adversely affect the performance and long-term operation of your HVAC-R system(s).
- ELECTRONIC REFRIGERANT LEAK DETECTION METHODS
Currently the most popular method in use. These detectors will work with all refrigerants. They can be very accurate or very inaccurate, depending on sensor condition. They must be checked regularly against a calibrated reference leak to ensure accuracy.
The various electronic leak detectors are covered below. The information is not meant to steer you towards or away from any technology, but is for information purposes only.
The sensor on an electronic leak detector must be checked regularly against a calibrated reference leak to ensure accuracy.
Some electronic detectors act on the total concentration of refrigerant gasses, others act on a change in the concentration of refrigerant gasses. You must know what type of meter you are using and how to correctly use it.
Some electronic detectors act on the total concentration of refrigerant gasses, others act on a change in the concentration of refrigerant gasses. You must know what type of meter you are using and how to correctly use it. Most sensor instruction manuals recommend moving the pickup tube over the unit being checked at a rate of 1-in. to 3-in. per second.
If it triggers, make note of where it started and where it stopped. Reverse direction and again note the start and endpoints of detector notification. The leak should be midway between the trigger points. Never camp on a suspected leak as your detector will automatically zero and quit picking up the leak until you move away for a few seconds to let the detector re-establish a new zero point.
- Halide Leak Detector
This detector is the most traditional way of detecting refrigerants with chlorine as part of the components. Therefore CFCs and HCFCs can be easily detected but HFCs cannot be detected using this method. It can detect leakage down to 1 to 1.5 oz per year. It has a sample tube, an end for the flame, and the other end powered by propane or acetylene gas.
The draft created by the propane will draw the sample of gas near the sample tube. It will then pass over a heated copper element and causes the flame to change color.
Hence, checking it under bright sunlight is not as effective. When methyl chloride is detected, the flame will turn green and blue if higher concentrations of the gas being sampled.
- Detecting Ammonia
Ammonia can be detected by the use of phenolphthalein paper where the moistened paper will turn pink (small amount) or scarlet (bigger amount) when in contact with this gas. The other method is by using a lighted sulfur candle which will give a thick white smoke when it encounters the ammonia gas.
Working principle of infrared refrigerant leak detector
Infrared detectors are very different from their rivals in heating diodes. The heated diodes can detect any substance containing chlorine or fluorine. If they detect a leak, they can move the probe closer and closer until it reaches the correct position. Most engineers and mechanics use this feature daily.
The infrared refrigerant leak detector detects the refrigerant by scanning the area in a slow target scan mode. Therefore, do not wipe the probe in the correct position, but back and forth before the alarm sounds.
Although the infrared unit cannot be used to stop the probe, after some retraining, you can scan back and forth to pinpoint the leak. The great advantage of infrared detectors is that no matter which refrigerant they detect, they all have the same trigger conditions. This is very different from a heating diode, which reacts depending on the type of refrigerant.
Benefits of Refrigerant Leak Detectors
Refrigerant leak detectors have become a handy commodity as they save people thousands of dollars in repairs, spoiled goods, and much more.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are all highly toxic gases that contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer. Refrigerants contain these gases, and most times, the refrigerant leaks are not discovered until there are spoilage and cooling difficulties.
Here are some benefits of refrigerant leak detectors:
- Save Money
Many factors can cause leaks, but the underlying problem is that we fail to detect and diagnose the issue adequately. Factors such as improper installation reduced maintenance, and faulty refrigerant charging can significantly cost you a lot of money to fix and maintain.
If you have a proper leak detector, then you can save yourself anywhere between $500-$1500. That is a significant amount to save and if you are not vigilant, other factors such as the hourly rate of the company, installation fee, and location can raise the price.
- Beneficial for health
Asphyxia is one of the effects that refrigerant gases possess as leaks are rarely detected. Refrigerant gases cannot be detected without a proper HVAC leak detector as they are odorless, colorless, and more substantial than air. If a refrigerant leak occurs, gas will collect from the ground and rise to the ceiling, potentially reaching dangerous levels.
The gas will replace atmospheric oxygen, which will cause asphyxia to people who are present in the room, office, or other inhabited space affected by the leak. The detectors will be able to prevent dizziness, headache, asphyxiation, and other illnesses that may come with the gas leakages. Gases such as Freon, CFCs, and HCFCs will be able to be detected by the leak detectors.
- Maximum Energy Efficiency
Detectors can cut the energy you waste by ensuring the appliances are in proper shape. They check to see if any leakages are present, which will reduce energy efficiency as the majority is being leaked out. The detectors let you know when to service your appliances, replace inoperational equipment, and improves efficiency.
Most leak detectors are long-lasting, which means you won’t have to worry about the excess spending to fix the appliances. Some run on batteries such as the INFICON TEK-Mate 705-202-G1 Refrigerant Leak Detector, which means as long as that power source is available, thousands of dollars can be saved.
- Time Saver
The automatic refrigerant leak detector takes just a few seconds to identify the problem. In contrast, the other methods take longer as they use UV dyes and soapy water. These are the conventional methods of detecting a leak in your HVAC system.
However, a UV dye can reduce the overall performance of the unit if it’s not compatible with the refrigerant, and it’s time-consuming to get soapy water every time you notice a leak.
Of course, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and the method(s) that are right for you depend on your specific application. Ultimately, you must have the right instrumentation to perform your refrigerant leak detection.