Finding and Fixing Leaks in Your Compressed Air System

I had to find and fix some leaks this week – in my yard. See, my underground storm sewer pipe, that carries my basement sump pump discharge and my house’s gutter drains to the street, was leaking.

The evidence was clear…swampy puddles were developing in my neighbor’s yard.

The location was clear…several patches of grass in MY yard were WAY more green and vibrant than the rest.

The cause was NOT clear…until I dug up those patches of the best looking grass my lawn has ever seen. Turns out, my maple tree’s (the showpiece of my front yard) root system found a way to penetrate one of the couplings in the sewer pipe, where it prospered into this:

That’s about 8ft worth of root growth that was clogging my drain pipe, and causing leaks upstream. My maple tree is not shown in the picture because my maple tree is a real jerk.

Two days worth of digging up and reinstalling pipe later, and all is well.  I mean, except for filling the trench, sowing some new grass seed, watching the birds eat it, sowing some more, etc.  Ah, the joys of home ownership…

I tell you all this, dear reader, so you know that I. Don’t. Like. Leaks…whether they be in my storm sewer pipe or in your compressed air system…which brings me to the (real) subject of my blog today.

Unlike the visual indications of my yard leak, compressed air system leaks don’t really draw much attention to themselves.  Unless they grow quite large, they’re typically invisible and very quiet…much too quiet to be heard in a typical industrial environment, anyway.  Good news is, they’re not all that hard to find.

One way is to use a soap-and-water solution.  You just need a spray bottle, some dish soap, and water.  Spray it on the piping joints, and all but the smallest, most minute, of leaks will create soap bubbles…instant indication of air leakage.  This method is inexpensive and simple, but it does tend to leave little puddles all over.  Plus, if your header runs along the ceiling, you’re going to have to get up there to do it.  And unless you can easily maneuver all the way around the pipe, you can miss a leak on the other side of the joint. If you have a small and relatively simple compressed air system, and all your piping is accessible though, this method is tried and true.

For many industrial compressed air systems, though, the limitations of the soap bubble method make it impractical.  But I’ve got more good news: those silent (to us) air leaks are making a real racket, ultrasonically speaking.  And we’ve got something for that:

EXAIR Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector discovers and pinpoints leaks, quickly and easily.

See, when a pressurized gas finds its way through the narrow (and usually torturous) path out of a slightly loosened fitting, worn packing on a valve, etc., it creates sound waves.  Some of those ARE in audible frequencies, but they’re often so low as to be drowned out by everything else that’s happening in a typical industrial environment.  Those leaks, however, also create sound waves in ultrasonic frequencies…and EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector takes advantage of that ultrasonic racket to show you where those leaks are, as well as give you a qualitative indication of their magnitude.  Here’s how it works:

Find leaks and fix them.  This is Step #2 of our Six Steps To Optimizing Your Compressed Air System.  If you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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