A Guide To Selecting a Natural Gas Detector
It’s estimated that 35% of American homes use natural gas for cooking, and about 50% use natural gas for either heating their homes or heating their water. It burns more cleanly than gasoline or coal and even has some advantages over electricity. But, there are also risks involved with natural gas. Hundreds of people die yearly in the United States from oxygen deprivation from a gas leak in their homes. And there are also around 280 incidents per year of explosions due to leaking gas that have destroyed homes and lives. These figures drive home the importance of a natural gas detector.
We’ll see that there are battery-powered, hand-held natural gas detectors that can help you discover any gas leak due to faulty installation of a gas heater or gas stove. There are also plug-in gas detectors that will help supervise your home against leaks of any combustible or toxic gas. Many of them will emit a noise or vibrate in accordance with the severity of the leak, making a higher-pitched sound when it’s an emergency. And many natural gas detectors are capable of detecting other dangerous gases as well. All told, a natural gas detector is a worthwhile investment to secure your home!
What is natural gas?
Natural gas can be used in a gas stove for cooking purposes or for heating your house. Natural gas can have a concentration of anywhere from 75-90% methane. It will also contain amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, water vapor, and more. Natural gas is odorless and colorless, but your natural gas provider adds the chemical methanethiol (also called “mercaptan”) is added to give it its distinctive odor. That will help you tell that there has been a gas leak.
How does a natural gas detector work?
A combustible gas such as natural gas is usually detected by a catalytic sensor or an infrared sensor. A catalytic sensor measures a change in the resistance in an electronic circuit when the detector probe detects a combustible hydrocarbon gas. An infrared sensor will note a difference in the transmission of light when a hydrocarbon gas enters the probe.
Natural gas detectors can also be wired to detect toxic gases, such as hydrogen sulfide or carbon monoxide. These employ either electrochemical sensors or metal-oxide semiconductors to detect poisonous gases.
What is the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL)?
The Lower Explosive Limit is the lowest concentration of gas that can cause an explosion if there is a spark or other source of ignition. If the concentration of natural gas in the air in the room has exceeded the LEL, a spark can set off an explosion. There are gas detectors that will sound an alarm when they detect that the air in the room has reached as little as 5% of the LEL.
Types of Natural Gas Detectors
Looking at the Best Reviews Guide list of the best natural gas detectors, we see that there are a few varieties, both in terms of their construction, as well as in the information that they disclose:
Gooseneck gas detector: These have the detector on the end of a long coil, or “gooseneck”. This allows you to insert the detector’s probe into tight spots to check if there is a gas leak. An example of such a detector is the UEi Test Instruments CD100A Combustible Gas Leak Detector.
UEi Test Instruments CD100A Combustible Gas Leak Detector
However, one drawback of the UEi CD100A detector is that it doesn’t give any indication of the size of the gas leak. There are also gas detectors that give a visual and audible indication of how serious the gas leak is. The Techamor Y201 Portable Methane/Propane/Combustible Natural Gas Leak Sniffer Detector has 6 LED lights. More LED lights will light up on the device according to the severity of the leak. Also, it will produce a louder sound as it detects a greater concentration of natural gas.
Techamor Y201 Portable Methane/Propane/Combustible Natural Gas Leak Sniffer Detector
Wall unit gas detector: There are also natural gas detectors that you plug into the wall, either directly or with an extension cord. You can install them in a basement or kitchen, where there is the greatest likelihood of a natural gas leak. An example is the Cazoner Natural Gas and Propane Detector. It gives a loud beep and a red flashing alert light when the gas concentration has reached dangerous levels. (It lights up green when the gas levels are safe.)
Cazoner Natural Gas and Propane Detector
However, the Cazoner gas detector gives you only a qualitative indication of the gas concentration. If you want a numerical display of the gas concentration, the Kidde Nighthawk Detector has that feature. It can detect propane gas, natural gas, carbon monoxide, and more. It displays the gas level in parts per million (ppm). Thus, you can also install it in your garage to monitor carbon monoxide levels.
Kidde Nighthawk Detector
What reviewers say
Here are some impressions of customers regarding their choice of natural gas detectors:
A necessity for service technicians: A professional HVAC service technician said that the UEi Test Instruments Combustible Gas Leak Detector was just what he needed. It detects a gas leak as low as 50 ppm and lets you decrease the sensitivity until you’re able to pinpoint the exact location of a gas leak. It can even detect methane if a person has flatulence!
Auto-zeroing: Some detectors are auto-zeroing, where they go back to zero when you restart them, giving the reading for a fresh-air environment. But there is actually a preference for a detector that is not auto-zeroing so that you can set the baseline amount of gas to what was measured previously.
Here are some tips and important features to look for when selecting a natural gas detector:
Detector sensitivity: You’ll see detectors that can be set for high or low sensitivity. For example, the Klein Tools ET120 Gas Leak Detector can be set at high sensitivity, detecting methane from 50 to 10,000 ppm, or low sensitivity, detecting methane from 1000 to 10,000 ppm. Adjusting the sensitivity will help you pinpoint the exact location of a gas leak.
Types of gases detected: Many of these natural gas detectors will help discover other gases as well. Besides methane, the Ridgid 36163 Model Combustible Gas Detector is capable of detecting propane, butane, ethanol, ammonia, hydrogen, and other combustible gases. The Kidde Nighthawk Detector will also pick up the presence of carbon monoxide, which is a dangerous by-product of improper combustion. It can also lead to asphyxiation by destroying the body’s ability to absorb oxygen.
We went through some of the specs of the best natural gas detectors. They can provide qualitative and quantitative measurements of the presence of natural gas, carbon monoxide, and other dangerous gasses. Whether you use one as part of your work, or just as a measure to keep your home safe from gas leaks, a natural gas detector is a small investment when compared to the damage that can result from a gas leak.