How to Use a Gas Leak Detector?

gas leak is very dangerous - picture

An invisible sword that can cut both ways!

 Anyone who’s ever witnessed first-hand how the destruction an innocuous gas leak can wreak on a house, industrial site or piece of machinery via a sudden, out of the blue explosion won’t need a hard sell by gas leak detector (GLD) manufacturers to realize the importance of having this potentially life-saving gadget around. So, how to use a gas leak detector?

While most combustible natural gases that fuel our domestic appliances – methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentane, etc – only go kaboom once the lower-upper range flammability limit is reached. Well, others are veritable silent assassins totally undetectable by odor. They creep in insidiously and take a toxic toll on unsuspecting humans. 

Enough with the horror stories for one day …

However, there is no escaping the harsh reality – when insuring against a potentially devastating gas leak is one particular area where an ounce of prevention could be worth a TONNE of cure!

Now let’s take a look at a Gas Leak Detector!

The GLD Options Galore – Let’s take a look.

Today the market is glutted with all kinds of offerings varying vastly in price and functionality. The multipurpose detectors are designed for industrial use or application by field professionals – HVAC technicians, plumbers, etc. As for the less expensive units, they are perfectly serviceable for you average John Q. Citizen looking to add a touch of security to his life, for a reasonable price tag if possible.


First things first! GLDs come in two basic formats – fixed or portable. The former is “insert and forget” types mounted (plugged in) in households or industrial locations. The latter are carried around to ferret out leaks in mobile machinery, cramped spaces, etc.

The Modus Operandi

Based on their mode of operation GLDs can be split into several categories. Not to put too fine a point on it, some of the most common nowadays are catalytic bead sensor detectors. These babies have inbuilt upper/lower explosive limit (UEL, LEL) gauging capabilities. They quickly vector in on most wayward gases that enter this measurement range and alert you to the fact. They don’t cost much and have good longevity.

These trail-blazers are backstopped by electrochemical and metal-oxide-semiconductor detectors. These siblings detect threats via a chemical reaction that transpires when a run-away gas trespasses on the sensor.

Trailing in their wake is a bevy of more sophisticated ultrasonic, infrared imaging, holographic sensor outfitted detectors, which sneer at the obsolete concept of measuring gas concentration levels but are weaponized with radiation, laser, acoustic munitions to detect and eliminate potential hazards.

Bringing up the rear of this GLD parade are the very technologically backward but ever-reliable gas leak detector sprays. These sprays cost less than a Pepperoni Pizza and are the last line of defense against gas leaks. The Camco 10324 spray is the 800-pound gorilla in this niche pinning down propane threats like no one other spray around.

Talk is cheap. Actions speak!

So, without any further ado, are you ready to invest some of your hard-earned dough into a GLD?

If the answer is yes, we’ve got a few simple tips to help you along the way!

The Carbon Monoxide (CO) Factor

Don’t short-change yourself on security! Make sure you get a model that has a carbon monoxide detection option.

CO is one nasty piece of work – devoid of taste or odor, invisible and causes zero sensory discomforts. Lethal within minutes of inhaling in higher concentrations and very flammable.

It can come on the scene any time wood, oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene or gasoline is burned and, when doled out in smaller doses, its poisoning can disguise itself in children and adults as a respiratory illness such as influenza and go misdiagnosed for months.

Bottom line: It’s BAD NEWS all around and it would be highly advisable to put this wild dog on a tight leash right away.

Of course, you can purchase a single-function CO detector separately from a combustible gas sniffer. However, why not kill two birds with one stone while you are at it?


Your CO detector should come with a full complement of an easy to read display that gives out updated CO levels every 10-20 seconds. A visual alarm plus a loud enough 75 – 85 decibels audio backup to reach you anywhere in the house are a must-have.

The Combustible Gases factor

The primary function of any GLD is to ensure no potentially hazardous gases encroach on your peaceful domicile. Propane and methane are two most common culprits associated with gas-related explosions, but if the device in question can sniff out ethane, butane or pentane, etc, all the better.

The Best of Both Worlds?

The Kidde KN-COEG-3 model has been on the market for a decade and a half but it’s still the best selling Combination Gas and Carbon Monoxide Detector. It’s ultra-cheap and has a good grip on CO. Its ability to blow the whistle on explosive gas leaks is not 100 percent foolproof though. You might want to have your device pre-tested for correct methane-propane readouts prior to installing it. Portable battery-operated gas analyzers could be a big help in this regard.

If you don’t want to go through this testing rigmarole, invest a few extra bucks and get the next best model in line – Carbon Monoxide CO Meter by Forensics. You’ll get a bigger bang for your buck – a larger bag of tricks and more gas detection accountability! Of course, one can go for broke and purchase a MULTIGAS Detector by Forensics and BOSEAN. Granted, it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg in comparative terms but it’s the Real Mccoy!

The Installation Nuances

It’s common knowledge that methane and propane are highly explosive gases, but are you aware of the fact they are diametrically different in their demeanor? Methane is lighter than air and tends to rise to the ceiling, propane is the exact opposite creeping into all of your floor’s nooks and crannies before it begins to snowball.

It’s a virtual non-factor for your ultra-sensitive expensive detectors capable of discriminating between the minutest differences in analyte gas concentration, but cheaper models need to be adjusted accordingly position-wise to better address a specific gas hazard. 

Say, you are concerned about a likely propane leak. In this case, your detector will be on it like white on rice if installed correctly – at 1 – 3-feet height from the floor. The lower it is the quicker the response. And vice versa for methane with the ceiling being the logical starting measurement point.

When It Comes to Must-Haves

The availability of a few key options is recommended for smooth long term GLD operation.

Response Time

Based on their type different sensors take a different amount of time to measure incoming gas. Your laser technology sensors can lock down a readout in 10-15 seconds, whereas an infrared sensor or a semiconductor is considered “efficient” if they get a clue in 3 to 5 minutes time. 

The importance of response time for a GLD can’t be understated, alas, it’s a spec that’s at times nowhere to be found on manufacturing specs, especially in cheaper models. If that’s the case for you, a few discreet calls to the customer support service might go a long way towards dispelling this ambiguity.

The calibration

Having an auto-calibration function on your GLD would be a plus – an absolute minimum of manual configuration to ensure the smooth operation will be required in this case.

The Lifespan

A manufacturer-supplied warranty gives you just a marginal idea of how long your GLD will last. Make no mistake about it, the GLD lifespan is not predicated upon its structural integrity, although it carries some weight as well. It is built around how much the sensor on hand is susceptible to adverse outside influences – corrosion, chemical contamination, infestation by sulfur compounds or mineral acids, etc. A little bit of pre-purchase research on this aspect is a must, especially if you are getting an expensive model. 

Power source

Make sure you get a detector that is easily accommodated by any standard A/C outlet in your household. If you are dealing with renegade vertical sockets getting a device with a rotating plug at the back would be a plus to keep your readings on a horizontal plane.

Extension cord

An extension cord might really come in handy if you don’t have an appropriate socket in terms of its height or location to best address a potential gas leak hazard.

The Backup Option!

Disasters often come in pairs. If possible, get a detector equipped with a long-life high-capacity battery. This will effectively render any power outage immaterial to a potentially overlapping gas leak detection. 

The Wrap-up

Please keep in mind this brief survey is intended to cover units mostly meant for stationary household and, to a lesser degree, industrial use; provide against toxic and flammable gas hazards and ensure improved indoor air quality. When dealing with more advanced models a medley of novel features and measurement factors come into play.


How about a little bit of humor to defuse the gravity of the occasion?

Whether you are a big fan of the 1994-2004 cult American sitcom TV series Friends or hate it guts a smallish, 5-minute long snippet could lighten your spirits.

Nota Bene: 

It’s occasion-appropriate as well as it features the inimitable Ross Geller trying to flirt with the very pretty pizza delivery girl talking exclusively about  …. GAS …

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