Refrigerants leak detection can be done using simple methods such as listening to using more advanced tools such as electronic leak detectors. Leakage of refrigerant in a HVAC system is inevitable as there are many imperfect joints fitting or welding points. Some of the leaks are as low as 1 oz every decade and are not critical to the operation of the system.
Others may leak more due to the harsh temperature, environment and vibration that cause these joints to leak. If not rectified, these defects will cause a drop in efficiency to the heating or the cooling system.
The methods that are used depends on the types of refrigerant in the system. Proper safety precaution such as wearing goggles and gloves must be taken while dealing with refrigerants. If the refrigerant is corrosive such as ammonia, make sure you handle it carefully by using proper tool to test and handle the leak.
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 is able to 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 a bright sunlight is not as effective. When methyl chloride is detected, the flame will turn to green and blue if higher concentrations of the gas is sampled.
Take note that this refrigerants leak detection method is not suitable to be used near gasoline or other flammables due to the open flame being utilized. With better modern tools such as the electronic leak detectors being invented, this method of detection is not favorable these days due to the many limitation and safety factors. The combustion of the flame and refrigerant also emit harmful chemicals.
Electronic Leak Detector
This refrigerants leak detection is the most favorable used device these days due to its accuracy and ease of use. Higher end models use infrared sensor to accurately detect a leak of less than 0.1 oz per year. HFCs, CFCs, HCFCs and HCFC-based refrigerant blends can be detected easily by using this advanced technology state of the art tool. This detector has a filter that prevent contaminants and water from entering it. It is also able to work in an environment contaminated by refrigerants by using the re-calibration feature.
Ultraviolet Fluorescent Dye Leak Detector
This refrigerants leak detection method is more messy and was developed to find leaks in the automatic transmissions of the automobile industry. Here, a special fluorescent dye is charged into the system that is suspected to be leaking. This dye will mix with the oil and the mixture is circulated by the refrigerant in the system. Once it escapes through the leak, you will see glows under the ultraviolet lamp.
Ultrasonic Leak Detector
The system must be highly pressurized for this detector to work. This refrigerants leak detector uses an electronic amplification system that is able to detect the high frequency sound of the leak. A microphone and earphones are used as input and output of the system.
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.
Detecting Carbon Dioxide
In system that uses carbon dioxide as its refrigerant, detection can be done easily by using a soap solution added with bromothymol blue. The solution will turn to yellow when this gas is detected.
See the refrigerant color codes, their colors, applications and names listed in tabular form. A good quick reference guide for HVAC applications.
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