Leaks and Why They Matter

Leaks can be discussed quite frequently around industrial environments. These can be refrigerant leaks, water leaks, gas leaks, even information leaks. All of these leaks have one thing in common, they all cost the company money in the end. I often think about several classic cartoons when I hear about leaks being fixed as they are found. They can become a little overwhelming like the “Squirrel” from the movie Ice Age 2.

1 – Ice Age 2 – Scrat – Mission Impossible

When it comes down to it, not many leaks create good results, that is why I want to take a second and educate on the costs your facility may be seeing from compressed air leaks. The leaks within an industrial environment can often account for up to 30% of the total compressed air generated.

So let’s take a look at that, the cost of compressed air is derived from the kWh cost the facility pays to the utility company. Here in the Midwest the average cost is around $0.08 / kWh. The equation to convert this to cost per cubic foot of compressed air is shown below. This formula assumes that the compressor generates four standard cubic feet of compressed air per horsepower of compressor. Again this is an industry acceptable assumption.

The size of a leak will determine how much compressed air is wasted, most of these leaks are not even to the audible range for the human ear which leads them to be undetected for long periods of time. A leak that is equivalent to a 1/16″ diameter orifice can result in an annual loss of more than $836.50 USD. While the scale of this number when compared to the annual revenue of a company may be small, the fact remains that this single leak would more than likely not be the only one. This isn’t the only way leaks will cost money though.

Leaks can also generate false demand which can result in pressure drops on a system. When the pressure on a production line drops this could result in unscheduled shutdowns. Often, when a pressure drop is observed the quick answer is to increase the header pressure which causes even more energy to be utilized and even more compressed air will be pushed out of these leaks. That increase in system pressure comes at a price as well. When increasing a system pressure by 2 psi the compressor will consume an additional percent of total input power. This again will hit the bottom line and result in lower efficiency of operation for the facility.

If you hear that distinct hiss of compressed air leaks when you are walking through your facility, or even if you don’t hear the his and you know that a leak detection action plan is not being practiced and want to find out the best ways to get one in place, contact us. We are always willing to help you determine how to lower the leaks in your facility as well as reduce the system pressure required to keep your lines up and running by implementing engineered solutions at the point of use.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer

1 – Ice Age 2 – Mission Impossible Scrat – retrieve from YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-HniegbnFs


Estimating the Cost of Compressed Air Systems Leaks

Leaks in a compressed air system can waste thousands of dollars of electricity per year. In fact, in many plants, the leakage can account for up to 30% of the total operational cost of the compressor. Some of the most common areas where you might find a leak would be at connection joints like valves, unions, couplings, fittings, etc. This not only wastes energy but it can also cause the compressed air system to lose pressure which reduces the end use product’s performance, like an air operated actuator being unable to close a valve, for instance.

One way to estimate how much leakage a system has is to turn off all of the point-of-use devices / pneumatic tools, then start the compressor and record the average time it takes for the compressor to cycle on and off. The total percentage of leakage can be calculated as follows:

Percentage = [(T x 100) / (T + t)]

T = on time in minutes
t = off time in minutes

The percentage of compressor capacity that is lost should be under 10% for a system that is properly maintained.

Another method to calculate the amount of leakage in a system is by using a downstream pressure gauge from a receiver tank. You would need to know the total volume in the system at this point though to accurately estimate the leakage. As the compressor starts to cycle on,  you want to allow the system to reach the nominal operating pressure for the process and record the length of time it takes for the pressure to drop to a lower level. As stated above, any leakage more than 10% shows that improvements could be made in the system.


(V x (P1 – P2) / T x 14.7) x 1.25

V= Volumetric Flow (CFM)
P1 = Operating Pressure (PSIG)
P2 =  Lower Pressure (PSIG)
T = Time (minutes)
14.7 = Atmospheric Pressure
1.25 = correction factor to figure the amount of leakage as the pressure drops in the system

Now that we’ve covered how to estimate the amount of leakage there might be in a system, we can now look at the cost of a leak. For this example, we will consider a leak point to be the equivalent to a 1/16″ diameter hole.

A 1/16″ diameter hole is going to flow close to 3.8 SCFM @ 80 PSIG supply pressure. An industrial sized air compressor uses about 1 horsepower of energy to make roughly 4 SCFM of compressed air. Many plants know their actual energy costs but if not, a reasonable average to use is $0.25/1,000 SCF generated.

Calculation :

3.8 SCFM (consumed) x 60 minutes x $ 0.25 divided by 1,000 SCF

= $ 0.06 per hour
= $ 0.48 per 8 hour work shift
= $ 2.40 per 5-day work week
= $ 124.80 per year (based on 52 weeks)

As you can see, that’s a lot of money and energy being lost to just one small leak. More than likely, this wouldn’t be the only leak in the system so it wouldn’t take long for the cost to quickly add up for several leaks of this size.

If you’d like to discuss how EXAIR products can help identify and locate costly leaks in your compressed air system, please contact one of our application engineers at 800-903-9247.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer