Is there a difference between “gas sniffers” and “combustible gas leak detectors”? Short answer: No. When a technician asks for a “gas sniffer,” they might typically be looking for a basic, low-cost unit, and aren’t too concerned about having many features. They may not often work with or around a lot of gas fired appliances or equipment. Ultimately, “gas sniffer” is just a slang term for “combustible gas leak detector.” Whichever you want to call it, both help discover leaks of multiple combustible gases, most notably: natural gas, methane, propane (LPG), gasoline, diesel, and kerosene.

Is a combustible gas leak detector really necessary to find leaks? Short answer: Yes. Natural gas or propane is used almost daily in homes and businesses in all areas of the country. Even if only used occasionally, these gases are highly combustible and can leak from pipe connections, valves, gauges, etc. If the leak occurs near a spark or flame, an explosion can happen. How about the old soap bubble method of finding leaks? This “old-fashioned” method involves spraying a water and soap solution in the areas of potential leaks; leaking air (gas) will create a bubble at the exit point. This method is ok if you want to carry around a liquid solution all the time and are confident that the leak will always be in an easy-to-reach location. It is not recommended to use this method alone. Be safe, not sorry.

What is “LEL” and why is it important? The lower explosive limit (LEL) is the minimal amount of concentration needed of a particular chemical to cause an explosion. Some leak detectors have displays which show you ppm and percent LEL numbers, which can give you an indication of the potential for an explosion. Having the information shown on the display can help in determining how to handle or resolve a situation.

What other things to consider when choosing a combustible gas leak detector?

  • Many instruments feature “adjustable tic rates” which can be both visual and audible. As you get closer to a leak, the ticking or flashing will get faster. As you get farther away, the ticking and flashing will slow down. Adjusting the tic rate allows you to nullify background gas concentrations to pinpoint a leak more easily.
  • Some units have built-in visual and audible alarms which can be set by the user.
  • Gooseneck probes allow users to access hard-to-reach areas.
  • As mentioned earlier, units with displays provide a more definitive assessment of the situation.
  • For a truly multi-purpose leak detector and more bang for your buck, look for a combination unit which detects combustible gas leaks and also measures ambient Carbon Monoxide (CO) – the odorless, colorless and deadly byproduct of burning fuel.

For more information on combustible gas leak detector (gas sniffer) options, offers an extensive and trusted range, from basic to combination units like the TPI 775, or units for LEL like the TPI 721.

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