by Jenny Knodell, IQS Editor
In your home and on the job, gas leaks are always something to worry about. If gone undetected, leaks of all kinds could do serious harm and put people’s health at risk. Some leaks could result in an explosion or death, while others waste money and create unsafe working conditions. Regardless, a gas leak, whether it be natural gas, Freon, or air, causes all sorts of unwanted problems. But don’t start panicking just yet—instead of putting your family or employees at risk, wasting your money and causing system malfunctions or product damage, there is something you can do to catch leaks as soon as they happen! They’re called leak detectors, and they not only alert inhabitants that a leak has started, but they are able to identify, distinguish and locate exactly where it is happening.
These handy little systems save lives, businesses and peace of mind everyday. They are able to identify leaks a couple different ways—using helium as a tracer gas, ultrasonic waves to hear the sound a leak makes, or flame ionization color change. They may be permanent and built into things like heating systems, or hand held, which are used when the existence of a leak has been established. But the question is—with so many different kinds of detectors and gas leaks out there, which one do you need?
Natural gas leaks are a huge concern in any building that uses this common energy source for heating or cooking. It’s highly flammable, and if inhaled too much, will prove fatal. In fact, last winter a building a few block from my house exploded due to a gas leak. Although there were no deaths, two local businesses were completely distroyed and seven people were injured. Permanent gas detectors are therefore built in to most heating systems and stoves that use natural gas. Their job is to alert inhabitants if a leak occurs through sound and light alarms or a strong rotten egg smell. If you suspect a natural gas leak is happening, leave the building immediately and call the police on a neighbor’s phone. Do not use your home phone, as it creates a small spark which could ignite the methane gas.
Refrigerant gas detectors are another type of gas monitoring system that is used around air conditioning and refrigeration units. They search for Freon, which refers to all harmful gases that could leak from cooling systems that, if inhaled, could cause heart problems. A Freon gas leak is not nearly as dangerous as natural gas, but should still be monitored. Most Freon gas detectors are hand held and only used if a leak is suspected.
In a more industrial setting, manufacturing facilities and factories that have large networks of gas piping must regularly check for leaks. The main concerns here are employee health problems and system or product malfunction or damage. These portable systems are useful to maneuver around the facility to help pin point the location of the leak. Unfortunately, a hand held leak detector cannot detect, find, measure and determine the type of gas that is leaking. They are generally able to do one or two of these. Therefore, many companies use both leak detectors and gas analyzers in the case of a gas leak.