Lots of combustible gas sniffers on the market. Several things to consider.
First is to distinguish btw a sniffer and an analyzer that measures concentrations. A sniffer does not give a reading per se. It will have the "geiger counter" ticking that increases in rate with the concentration rise. Some also have a visual bar graph indicator as well. These are great for surveying broad areas to localize a leak. They cannot measure it. They do have several limitations. First, almost all are Not calibrated to one particular gas. Most are sensitive to 30+ various hydrocarbons. Thus, it is very common to get a "false positive' hit. Then, you have to distinguish btw a fugitive gas leak versus pipe dope, thread cutting oil, silicone caulk, greasy fingers, wet insulation, aldehydes from incomplete combustion, paint thinner, gasoline, etc. Another drawback is the calibration gas. While most will state they are calibrated to methane down to 10-50 ppm, the ubiquitous Tiff8800A is calibrated to heptane so it reads methane only to 500 ppm or more. Not very accurate. TPI I believe just came out with a nice combo gas sniffer/ CO analyzer for under $400. The last point on these units is they do not have a pump. Therefore, if you don't insert the sensor tip into the vapor cloud, it won't smell the gas. Nowhere is this more important than with LP gas as it is on the floor.
Analyzers give two readings: percent volume and percent of LEL or Lower Explosive Limit, which is also known as the flammability limits or combustibility limits--all the same term. Therefore, if the LEL of NG is 4.4% by volume, this equates to 44,000 ppm. LP, at 2.15% equates to 21,500 ppm. Most authorities recognize 20% of the LEL as the minimum level where evacuation is mandatory. So, at 8800 ppm NG or 4300 ppm propane you'd better be getting out. The gas company will record these quantitative measurements as part of their legal record. If a homeowner threatens litigation but the gas company's measurement was under 20% of the LEL, then it was not an emergency according to most authorities. It still required action but there was no immediate life threat.
The best machine I've found is my Ultra Trac. I got it on ebay factory reconditioned for $150. They list for about $2K. It has a pump with a sensor filter. It measures CO and gas simultaneously. It is calibrated to methane and propane so it can distinguish those without false positives. It has the geiger tick and a bar graph with lighted display and it reminds you to recalibrate every 3 months.
Due to the importance of this unit, I highly recommend you invest wisely. Also, get spare sensors and a calibration kit. Document calibration in writing.
I had a Tif $400, a Uei $250, both lasted less then 2yrs. I am rough with my tools. Now I use Soap test, my nose and my brain. The electronics are fun to use and point you in the right direction but are no substitue for logic, reasoning, critical thinking and experience.
Bacharach: Leakator 10 & Leakator Jr.
Bacharach have to be sent to them yearly (recommended) for recalibration
UEI I believe you can buy replacement heads for
Inficon recommends buying a replacement head every 2-3 years.
We have had good luck with all of them. I have 2 suspects under my desk that may be broken but I need to test them. Probably just need new heads. One Leakator 10, the soilders got loose on the sensitivity wheel, that was an easy fix. I don't think we have thrown any in the garbage out of all of them.
I want to get a full analyzer but its not totally necessary for us and they are quite expensive.
Believe it or not, the TIFF and Bacharach Leakator use the same sensor tip. However, the Bacharach is sensitive to 20 ppm methane while the TIFF is 500 ppm.
JTP, check with Rudy Leatherman at Bacharach. You can replace those sensor tips. Normally, calibration on these machines is simply do they buzz when you put them near a hydrocarbon. You can use a Sharpie pen. Then try it at a known slight gas leak. Most showrooms are full of leaks so there shouldn't be any problem finding one!
Side note for JTP: I'm helping Steve T. get setup for consulting and troubleshooting in the Mn/WI markets. Once he gets tooled up, he'll have the analyzer. You can call him in on big cases as he has more credibility than just about anyone in the industry including Steg.
Hearthman, your knowledge base is impressive and you seem over-qualified to be a installer or repair tech. Can you tell us (without getting too personal) your experience in the industry, how you earn the money you deserve now, and what you see in the future.
LOL natgastech! Don't believe everything you read, esp. from me...
Let's just say I was a factory rep. of sorts handling product liability, recalls, advanced diagnostics, training, safety, etc. I had access to the R&D labs, factories, etc. and know a lot of key players personally. I used to write protocols and specify service and installation tools, equipment, and SOPs.
Over the years I've worn the hats of: licensed home builder, Real Estate Broker in Charge, GRI, volunteer firefighter, paramedic shift supervisor, chimney sweep, service manager for installing hearth distributor, educator, and the above reference. I've taught somewhere over 50 NFI courses in all three fuel categories.
Right now, I'm enjoying sleeping in until the sun hits my face. I get to my first stop btw 9-10am most days but somedays even later. I hump service calls for a local stove shop 3 days per week servicing all brands of gas and pellet appliances and some installs for them. The other days, I sell, install, & service hearth appliances, reline heater flues, seal ducts and other IAQ issues, etc. and I'm a consultant for fires and product liability issues. I do some training of home inspectors and such and have been on radio about 6 times. I don't have any employees other than my wife helping in the office a little. I figure I'll make about what a dentist does this yr. but I'm just getting started at this full time gig. Maybe if I got an earlier start each morning, I'd make some big bucks but I enjoy my sleep. I'm also looking forward to getting started on building some cabinets and a mahogany mantel this spring along with replacing my coal burner oil conversion boiler with a Buderus G-115 w/ Logamatic and an indirect tank.
I'm not going to EXPO in Reno this yr. Sue Kalish didn't ask me to teach any NFI classes and there really aren't any other courses offered that set me on fire. I'll catch it next yr.
I'm one of those nerds that loves reading boring technical info. that everyone else hates. That and I have a pretty good memory for an old fart. My biggest vice is this damn computer and these internet sites.
You're a pretty smart cookie yourself as are a few others on this site. However, I have a much bigger mouth than all of you put together. Not smarter---just louder.
Please keep on posting as you make me think before I post and I love the challenge when it comes from someone intelligent like yourself but not like that gibberish from KP on that My Vernon AE thread. BTW, nobody of that name ever worked at Quad. Just someone looking to stir up trouble.
I started out as a driver for a hearth, patio and bbq shop and helped our gas tech do 2 f/p installations. We were done in 2 1/2 hrs and having beer and chicken wings at the local pub by noon. That morning the installer made $500 and I made $50. From that day on I decided to take his job. I went to college and got my license, then worked at about 5 diferent companies for experience and after 9 short yrs I replaced that original installer at my first job. My business had myself and 2 other techs and we had the contract for all the service and installs. After 2 yrs and a couple price increases the HPB shop decided to hire on staff technicians and actually stole my #1 tech from me. I paid him top dollar but they scared him with the job security issue. Now things are simple my wife answers the phones and I do the service calls. Our headaches were reduce by 95%. All we do is fireplace repair, appliance gaslines, hook ups in the winter and Bbq , pool heater gaslines and repair in the summer. We are focused in the work we do and it's all low cost high margin stuff. Now I'm looking for a way to make money from my knowledge without creating a competitor.
That's a fascinating and varied bio, Hearthman, thanks for sharing it. I too enjoy reading and learning from your posts, so I hope you don't beat your internet addiction anytime soon. You certainly have a gift for communication.
This is probably really late to answer but we use 5 Bacharach Leakator 10s and never have problems, each tester will test 40 burner systems per day and the only problem we ever have is the once a year sensor change out, we use to use UEI 100-200 and never had any luck, they actually gave use back money because of warranty issues.