HVAC Leak Detection: Considering all Factors

Engineers will know that there are several ways of detecting leaks, but it’s easy to overlook some of the more recent additions to the HVAC industry.

As well as being aware of what products and tools are available, it’s also important to consider the context in how they’re used.

There’s no right or wrong method of leak detection, it’s simply a case of assessing the situation.

The following gives an overview of the products available and what factors need to be considered when carrying out HVAC leak detection, and what advice should be given to a customer following a repair.

Tools and Products Available for HVAC Leak Detection

Technicians in the HVAC industry will often have their own approach depending on the nature of the fault.

The tools and products you purchase need to be sourced from a reputable supplier, as this will ensure that you’re only using reliable tools that are designed with longevity in mind.

Nitrogen Leak Detection

Nitrogen leak detection can offer a lot of clarity when it comes to leak detection, but it can be more costly than other methods.

If the system is free of refrigerant, nitrogen can enter the system and locate the leak via the use of listening for hissing. This is made possible by the higher pressure.

  • Most Effective: To clarify the exact location of a leak present outside of the condensing unit.
  • Least-Effective: Larger applications and larger defects.

Bubble Leak Detection

Bubble leak detection has been one of the most common forms of detecting leaks, but depending on the product being used, it could be less effective than other methods.

Although the thinking behind bubble leak detection makes sense, those using a standard form of bubbles, such as washing-up liquid and water may find it more testing when locating a leak.

Fortunately, there have been several advancements in the HVAC industry that allow technicians to find leaks easily using bubbles, as they are available in different temperature ranges and don’t contain ethylene glycol.

  • Most Effective: The use of bubble leak detection is ideal when the engineer has a good idea of where the leak is located, but just needs to clarify this.
  • Least Effective: Bubble leak detection may not be effective if the leak is very small or is out of sight.

UV Leak Detection

As efficient as bubble leak detection can be, there can be times when it falls short.

Many engineers will have found that it’s still difficult to find a leak, despite nothing showing when testing with bubbles.

UV leak detection makes this process easier, as it takes out much of the time spent on searching for leaks.

As well as being used to locate fresh leaks, many all use UV leak detector products, so faults make themselves known sooner rather than later.

UV dye is injected into the application via the use of a UV dye-injection kit. This ensures that the dye is correctly inserted, as well as minimising the risk of spillage.

Once the dye has been injected, engineers use a UV torch to search the application.

  • Most Effective: Often used for large applications that have open access and can help notify engineers of faults as they arise.
  • Least Effective: As the UV light must be seen, it could be problematic where access is limited.

Ultrasonic Leak Detectors

Not only are ultrasonic leak detectors great at finding problematic leaks, but they’re also portable.

Ultrasonic leak detectors used the high frequency given out by small leaks using a process called heterodyning.

The use of an ultrasonic leak detector converts these sounds to lower frequencies, so they can be heard by the human ear.

The frequency will fluctuate until the engineer pinpoints the exact location of the leak.

  • Most Effective: Ultrasonic leak detectors are perfect for locating pinhole leaks.
  • Least Effective: As an ultrasonic leak detector uses sound, if the leak is large, then no sound will be picked up.

Looking After HVAC Equipment

Effective leak detection is only possible if the tools and device engineers use are in good working order. Although many of the tools will be safeguarded in most instances, it’s still important to check your equipment from time to time to ensure that all is working as it should be.

Considering the Circumstances

Any professional engineer will tell you that every leak will require its own approach, but those new to the industry may only have carried out a couple of repairs, so it can be useful to ascertain what the best approach will be as soon as possible.

The Application is Out of Refrigerant

Although it should never be assumed, if an application is out of refrigerant, or close to it, then there’s a good chance that the leak will be located outside of the condensing unit.

It can be a food idea to check the condenser for signs of oil. Some may find that they can locate the leak straight away, whereas others may fill the system with dry nitrogen and locate the leak via the hissing.

The Possibility of There Being More Than One Leak

Leaks can come in many different forms. Some of them may be due to a defect, whereas others could be due to loosened joints.

Therefore, it’s so important not to rely on one method when it comes to leak detection, as there could be instanced where more than one product is needed.

How Long Should an Engineer Allow for Leak Detection and Repair?

The time you allocated to a repair will depend on the circumstances. If the customer can clearly outline the issues, then there should be little reason as to why it can’t be repaired quickly.

However, if the customer is unsure, then it’s often best to assume the worst. This ensures that the customer isn’t being given unrealistic expectations, and the engineer isn’t overloading their schedule.

Giving Customers the Right Advice Following a Repair

Once a fault has been fixed, it’s not unusual for customers asking for advice on how to limit repairs in the future. Not only is there a cost implication, but it can be detrimental for businesses that rely on such applications daily.

The advice you give can depend on the repair you’ve carried out. It is recommended that any form of HVAC equipment is checked at least once every year, but there could be times when engineers are dealing with older equipment.

Although not always the case, older HVAC equipment can be less effective than that of its modern iterations. As such, an engineer may recommend a check-up sooner.

Similarly, some may just want to safeguard their equipment and be made aware when a leak occurs, and there are two ways of achieving this.

The first is the UV dye approach, which will work in tandem with the refrigerant. However, should problems arise, it’s should be easy to locate the leak via the use of UV torch.

This ensures an engineer can be called as soon as possible, as well as ensuring that the potential of any damage to the application is minimised.

The second approach is a product that’s relatively new to the industry when compared to other approaches but has gone on to become just as popular.

Spectroline CoolSeal

One of the most stressful aspects of being an engineer can be falling behind with productivity. Although some leaks can be spotted straight away, the more difficult could take up to several hours to locates.

Spectroline CoolSeal is a product that not only finds leaks easily but also repairs the leak. The product can also be used to safeguard against potential leaks in the future,

This ensures that even if an engineer is called out, there’s less risk of any further damage occurring.

Spectroline CoolSeal is a brilliant safeguard and offers peace-of-mind for customers worried about potential leaks.

Those that have used the product have found it perfect during the following situations:

Pinhole Leak: Even the smallest leak can become a hindrance and may take some time to make itself known. Spectroline CoolSeal can travel to the source of the leak and carry out an instant fix.

Intermittent Leaks: Leaks that don’t have a pattern can be time-consuming to locate. CoolSeal can wait for the leak to become present and rectify the issue immediately.

Hidden Leaks: In some instances, the leaks may be concealed by pipework, which could mean more cost to the customer if the leak is repaired manually.

As CoolSeal works internally, it simply needs to be injected into the system or a repair to take place.

Multiple Leaks: If there are a series of small leaks present in an application, then it can be time-consuming and costly to carry out the repair.

The use of CoolSeal offers a more cost-effective solution for both the engineer and the customer.

Of course, it’s not the answer to every problem an engineer faces, but it’s something worth exploring for those who have encountered repairs that don’t seem to have a resolution.

However, it’s of the utmost importance that customers are aware of the importance of a check-up, regardless of what products they’re using.

Regular check-ups ensure that the potential of faults is minimised, meaning that the overall cost to the customer is much less than had they just called when a fault occurred.

Determining the best approach to a repair is often as simple as a discussion with a customer, but ultimately you can only advise.

For example, although a CoolSeal repair may be the best approach from an engineer’s point of view, a customer may prefer an old-fashioned approach for their peace-of-mind.

If the customer is aware of the options available, and the pros and cons of these approaches moving forward, you should be able to come up with a schedule that ensures repairs are minimal while advising what actions can be taken in the short-term.

Signs That a Leak Could be Present

Nobody likes to discover a problem with their air-conditioning unit, but this better than not knowing a fault is present.

Not only does the customer knowing about a leak lower the cost of a repair in most instances, but it also ensures that the health of those residing or working in the property is exposed to the health risks of refrigerant leaks, which can include irregular heartbeats and migraines.

The presence of a leak is normally identified by an application not fulfilling its role. For example, an air-conditioning unit producing warm air could be a sign of a leak.

Although it may turn out to be something else, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Don’t Rule Out Other Factors

Although there could be signs that make it seem like a leak is present, the poor performance could be due to something else. This could be wear-and-tear on the parts as well as dirty filters.

If the problem does stem from this issue, then it can be advisable that the customer change their filter monthly, as reusing filters will mean that the application is not working to the best of its ability.

Those taking their first steps in the industry will find that there’s still a lot to learn in the industry, whereas more seasoned engineers will need to ensure their equipment and approaches are compliant with the modern HVAC industry.

As more regulations have been put in place, stopping the leaking of refrigerant is something that should be done by professionals using professional equipment.

Taking some time out to consider the options available in relation to leak detection allows engineers to be efficient with their time, without sacrificing the quality of their work.

If you’re considering updating your current HVAC leak detection equipment or just need some advice, why not get in contact with us to discuss your requirements in more detail.


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