What is Smoke Testing?
Smoke testing uses non-toxic, odorless smoking candles to detect leaks caused by broken pipes, bad connections, open pipes or fittings. Unusual odors are usually the first indication of a faulty drain or sewer pipe. As these pipes are often installed under buildings, roads or landscaping, the problem can be difficult to locate.
Our testing technique produces a dense white smoke that is distributed through the pipes, under low pressure. It fills the pipe system and escapes from problem areas, such as cracked or broken pipes, revealing the source of the leak. Smoke testing has become a world standard detection practice as it is a fast, efficient and cost effective testing technique.
Plumes of smoke form where there are defects. This test can be performed when the plumbing is brand new, but more often it is used to find sewer gas leaks that may plague a building or an area.
Any sign of smoke escaping can be considered a possible site for sewer gas to escape. Sewer gas typically has a rotten egg smell and can contain methane gas, which is explosive, or hydrogen sulfide gas, which is deadly.
Plumbing smoke tests are also used to find places where pipes will spill fluid, and to check sanitary sewer systems for places where ground water and storm runoff can enter.
Smoke testing is particularly useful in places such as ventilated sanitary sewer systems, where completely sealing the system is not practical.
When smoke testing a sanitary sewer system it is helpful to partially block off the section of sewer to be tested. This can be done by using a sand bag on the end of a rope. The sand bag is lowered into the manhole and swung into position to partially block lines. Completely blocking the line can cause water to back up and prevent smoke from escaping through defects. Smoke testing may not be done after rain or when ground water is unusually high as this may also prevent detection of defects.
Large downdraft fans, usually powered by gasoline engines, are placed on top of open manholes at either end of the section to be tested. If possible all lines in the manholes except for the line between the manholes are partially blocked. Smoke is created using either a smoke bomb or liquid smoke. Smoke bombs are lit and placed on a grate or in a holder on top of each fan, while liquid smoke is injected into the fan via a heating chamber. The fans create a pressure differential that forces the smoke into the sewer at a pressure just above atmospheric.
With properly installed plumbing, the traps will prevent the smoke from entering the house and redirect it out the plumbing vents. Defective plumbing systems or dry traps will allow smoke to enter the inside of the house.
The area around the section being tested is searched for smoke plumes. Plumes coming from plumbing vents or the interface between the fan shroud and manhole rim are normal; however, smoke plumes outside of the manhole rim are not. Plumes are marked, usually with flags, and defects are noted using measurements from stationary landmarks like the corners of houses. The plumes or markers may also be photographed for documentation.