Staying safe with leak detection


24 February 2022
Shaun Evers of Stonegate Instruments

Shaun Evers, managing director of Stonegate Instruments, discusses how technology can be utilised to minimise risks when working with refrigerants.  

HVAC systems are an integral part of modern buildings, and the main objective of these systems is to make occupants feel comfortable, happy, and healthy. Of course, as with any system, there are safety considerations and concerns. In the case of HVAC systems in commercial and large residential buildings, one major issue is exposure to refrigerant gases. 

The risk of leaking refrigerants 

HVAC units use coolants which, despite their high efficacy and low GWP (Global Warming Potential), can be potentially hazardous. If coolant leaks from a system, it can rapidly evaporate into a lethal gas which can cause asphyxiation. More commonly, it can cause breathing difficulties, coughing, nausea and vomiting, skin and eye irritation, and headaches. 
In addition, a refrigerant gas leak can cause irreversible compressor damage, making the system extremely inefficient and consequently forcing it work harder to compensate. This in turn will increase electricity consumption and accordingly, monthly energy bills. In fact, it has been suggested that a small continuous leak, left unrepaired for three months, could use an extra 10kW in electricity once the leak becomes critical. That’s equivalent to approximately £1,400 in energy bills!

Detecting danger

Gas leaks can occur due to equipment malfunction, improper maintenance work, mechanical damage, or accidental release during replenishment, and often an alarming volume of gas escapes before anyone notices. While it is impossible to predict when a leak may occur, technology can be used to identify an incident the moment it arises, enabling swift action. 

Self-contained single fixed gas sensors, which are particularly suited to target gases associated with HVAC units, are quickly becoming routine. The cost of installing such sensors pales in comparison to the cost of repairs to an existing faulty system 

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Sophisticated refrigerant sensor equipment with signalling alarms, LED lights that indicate the presence and status of each sensor, as well as audio/visual alarms to alert staff, is also available. 
In terms of safeguarding occupants and reducing costs, the value of employing innovative monitoring and detection solutions may be obvious. However, it can also help prevent breaches in regulatory compliance.

Focusing on regulation

In early 2020 the European Commission brought in fluorinated gas (F-gas) regulations as part of a policy to combat climate change with the aim of phasing down the CO₂ equivalent emissions from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 79% (relative to 2015) by 2030. As the UK has now left the EU, the UK government has specified that businesses will have to apply for a new GB HFC quota while they follow the same CO₂ phase down as was specified by the European Commission.

These regulations place a greater focus on carrying out regular gas leak checks on systems. Operators of stationary equipment, heat pumps and air conditioners that contain F-gases in quantities of 5 tonnes CO₂ equivalent or more, must ensure that equipment is routinely monitored. For apparatus without gas leak detectors installed, the period between mandatory gas leak checks is obviously shorter.

Considering the above, turning to technology to minimise refrigerant risks is the obvious – and only – choice. 

About Stonegate Instruments

Stonegate Instruments designs, develops and manufactures electronic equipment for the refrigeration industry. Their products are proven in cold storage facilities for reducing energy, carbon emissions and the associated costs. For more information about the latest technology available, contact Stonegate Instruments on 0113 224 4440, or email [email protected].