Steam Line Leak Detection Using Helium Tracer Gas in Norwich, CT

It is quite common in the media today to hear people talk about there being a great divide between public and private institutions, including the people who work for them, yet this project is proof that such a belief is utterly false. The late Ken White (may he rest in peace) was a state employee who was in charge of maintaining the aging infrastructure at York Correctional Institution, Niantic, CT. Since the Great Recession, the amount of funding he received for maintenance had continually dropped year after year, forcing him and his team to come up with innovative ways of maintaining and repairing infrastructure around the facility. One of the biggest problems faced by the maintenance staff was keeping the aging heating and cooling system up and running, especially during hot summers and cold winters. Despite all the innovative solutions they had come up with over the years, by 2012 there were so many leaks in this system they had no choice but to take immediate action and do some repairs.

Having utilized our utility locating services since 2010, Ken contacted us to see if we could help him find leaks in the heating and cooling system. Using acoustic ground microphone and acoustic correlating logger technology--the only two leak detection technologies we utilized at the time--we did our very best to find a leak. Unfortunately, though, these attempts were simply an exercise in futility. The lines were 10-12 feet deep and were composed of Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), so acoustic locating was not the right technology for this particular situation. Therefore, Ken hired another company to perform a leak detection survey using Helium gas detection technology.

Unfortunately for Ken, but fortunately for us, the company never showed up. As a result of being stood up by the other company, Ken was determined to either have his staff learn the Helium detection method themselves or to have us rent the equipment and give it a try ourselves. After hearing about the latter option, we jumped at the opportunity to rent the equipment and give it a go. In order to do this, however, we made a deal with Ken. We would supply the helium detector and compressor as long as he purchased the Helium gas; in addition, being that he had a whole maintenance staff at his disposal, we requested that his team help us set up the compressor to inject the Helium into the line.

After spending about 2-3 hours playing around with the Helium tank, compressor, and the gauges, we were finally able to get a steady flow of Helium into the line. Not having a damn clue what we were doing, we searched around impatiently for about an hour, thinking the entire process was merely another exercise in futility. However, just as it started to get dark, around 8:00 pm (it was a June day), the Helium detector began to produce a positive reading. We searched around excitingly for the next hour, trying to find where the maximum concentration of Helium was located. Finally, we found it, and marked its exact location on ground with pink paint. The next day, Ken and his staff dug right on top of the ground markings, and he reported back to us that the leak was right underneath the markings and they had already made the necessary repairs. He then proceeded to schedule another Helium detection survey. A new service was born!

Since this first Helium detection survey, we have been to the site numerous times to find many other leaks in the heating in cooling system. However, nothing will ever be as satisfying as this first survey was. Not only did we learn to use a new piece of technology and a new technique for locating difficult to find water leaks, but we also proved that public and private institutions are quite capable of working together for the common good. Below is a slideshow showing the setup that was used to pump Helium into the line that day, as well as the various numerical helium concentrations that were captured by the Helium detector. We apologize for the blurry photos, but this project was just too important not to post. Enjoy!

Additional Information

To learn more about our leak detection services, please visit the underground water line leak detection services page.