Facility manager reviewing recent refrigerant leak events on a computer.

Five Refrigerant Leaks Everyone Needs to Identify

In Articles by Matthew CollinsLeave a Comment

Over the past two decades, Bacharach’s Parasense refrigerant management platform has analyzed nearly three billion refrigerant samples to identify five of the most common refrigerant leak events. So, in an effort to help drive down refrigerant emissions, lower refrigerant costs and increase the profitability of food retailers nationwide, here are five refrigerant leak events for you to watch out for.

Data-driven Leak Reduction for Food Retailers

The importance of swiftly detecting, notifying and fixing refrigerant leaks is a real objective for any industry where cooling and refrigeration is critical. The benefits of reducing refrigerant leaks are considerable, including ensuring product quality; employee and customer safety; reducing operating costs; and improving equipment performance.

So, before you learn about the five refrigerant leak events, let’s cover some basics about why refrigerant leaks occur, how they can be detected as early as possible and how a connected data-driven system can streamline and empower your refrigerant management program.

Learn About the Most Common Refrigerant Leak Events

Why Do Refrigerant Leaks Occur?

Refrigerant leaks are prevalent where piping and refrigeration equipment are exposed to changes in temperature / pressure and vibration. In a supermarket, the primary areas for refrigerant leaks are typically the refrigeration racks, walk-in coolers / freezers and display cases on the sales floor. In a lesser capacity, leaks appear elsewhere in the system, such as in service runs where there is vibrational changes or, in some rare instances, unintentional leaks.

This makes finding leaks a tedious activity. Leaks do come and go, and spending the time to find them is time-consuming, especially for your team of service engineers.

Why Should Supermarkets Detect Leaks Early?

It’s often said that leaks only get bigger if they’re ignored, so the sooner you know there’s a leak, the sooner you can fix it. After all, a leak that’s ignored—even a pinhole sized leak—will eventually manifest itself until the unthinkable happens and there’s a catastrophic leak event and product loss.

With this in mind, the earlier you can detect a leak, the better, which means your leak detection equipment needs to reliably detect the smallest of leaks. Industry-leading fixed leak detection equipment (so it’s constantly monitoring), such as Bacharach’s Multi-Zone refrigerant monitor, can detect leaks as low as 1 ppm. This means a leak can be spotted early and therefore can be fixed before it causes bigger problems.

How Can IoT Connected Devices Enable Faster Leak Detection?

So, you’ve got a refrigerant leak and the facility’s leak detection equipment has triggered an alert. How do you know this is happening in a far-off room or to a remote appliance? What if the leak comes and goes or the airflow regularly dilutes the refrigerant to create changing conditions?

A connected system can notify you of any leaks immediately, so that you can take decisive action as soon as possible—either through email, SMS or even a phone call if the system is fully managed. In addition, by having a data-driven system that timestamps and records each time a leak is detected, a history can be built up and reviewed over a longer period of time. This will help you identify problem appliances that need further maintenance.

Connected systems also help refrigeration contractors locate the leak itself—whether it’s a specific room or specific appliance—which you’ll see when it comes to the five leak events.

How Should Refrigerant Leak Levels Be Categorized?

Before we now dive into the five refrigerant leak events, consider the fact that our analysis of nearly three billion refrigerant leak events is across all refrigerant classifications—HFCs, Ammonia (NH3), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and hydrocarbons (HCs). Regardless of refrigerant classification, they all demonstrate the same types of leak events and patterns.

As part of the response to leak events, we categorize the levels into Alert, Alarm, and Critical, depending on the response.

Alert Level

The Alert level is the early warning indication of a pending refrigerant leak. With HFCs, we are looking in the 10 to 40 ppm. At this level, leaks are going to be more difficult to find but identification and rectification will mitigate any refrigerant loss or negative impact on system performance.

Perseverance by maintenance engineers is critical. Coupled with a proactive approach to refrigerant leaks, this can help supermarkets reap rewards when hunting for refrigerant leas under the 50 ppm threshold.

Alarm Level

The Alarm level is usually the call for an engineer to attend site. With HFCs, we are looking in the range of 80 to 100 ppm. At this level, the leak again is still small but should be easier for the engineer to find, identify and fix.

They should keep refrigerant usage and loss to a minimum without any negative impact on system performance.

Critical Level

The top level of alarm is critical. This is usually set for compliance or safety purposes. If this level is breached, it indicates a sizable leak on-site. Even more, it may operate local beacon sounders to alert personnel to a high refrigerant emission and engage exhaust fans.

Most importantly, it’s an immediate action required for attendance by service engineers.

Top Five Commercial Refrigeration Refrigerant Leaks to Identify

Now without any further ado, here are the five most common refrigerant leak events you need to know now:

The Over-nighter Refrigerant Leak Pattern

The Over-nighter event is characterized by a very small leak that is difficult to detect during the daytime due to increased air movement and diffusion.

The Over-nighter leak pattern shows the development of the refrigerant building up from the evening onward and then drop when the refrigerant dissipates in the morning and the store is opened or goods are moved in and out. Areas where this type of leak pattern is prevalent include a store’s walk-in coolers / freezers where during the night (when the supermarket is closed and the walk-in is unused and shut) the leak slowly builds-up until it breaches the alarm threshold. When the walk-in is opened, the refrigerant dissipates and the measured concentration is less significant.

The graph also shows how the leak has increased over time and if the leak had been fixed early, there would have been less refrigerant loss.

Graph showing refrigerant concentrations associated with an "Over-nighter" leak event.

The Volcano Refrigerant Leak Pattern

The Volcano is more akin to a classical leak event pattern which builds up over time and if not fixed, can cause a major eruption in refrigerant.

Refrigeration racks, walk-in coolers / freezers and display cases can each potentially demonstrate this type of leak pattern. As such, the installation of a leak detection system across all critical assets is key.

In this case, the opportunity to fix this leak was extremely short before the major leak took place. Had the leak been responded to as soon as measured refrigerant concentration breached the alter or alarm threshold, the catastrophic leak may have been avoided and the system downtime significantly reduced.

Graph showing refrigerant concentrations associated with an "Volcano" leak event.

The Defroster Refrigerant Leak Pattern

The Defroster leak pattern can be spotted when the coil is on defrost, found mainly inside a coldstore / walk-in box or display cabinet.

In a food retail application, most assets have a defrost schedule built-in to avoid any build-up of ice on the coil. The defrost cycle is typically set for a six to eight hour cycle where there’s a rapid change in temperature and pressure especially on the evaporator coil which can contribute to leaks. When the evaporator coil is in refrigeration mode (and cold), the leak is sealed; but when the coil is heated during the defrost cycle, the leak is exposed. This is due to expansion in the pipework and thus it will seem to appear and disappear in sync with the defrost cycle. Without the insight that comes from identifying a leak pattern, an engineer may not correctly diagnose the issue (as there would be no refrigerant present when the equipment is in refrigeration mode). It is important to ensure that all maintenance assets are being effectively utilized to reduce the need for repeat visits.

Graph showing refrigerant concentrations associated with an "Defroster" leak event.

The Under-cover Refrigerant Leak Pattern

Difficult to find using standard detection methods and requires considerable effort and patience. Perseverance by the refrigeration engineer and utilizing the data aids identifying the leak and location.

The illustration here shows a small leak of just over 30 ppm that although doesn’t generate an alarm as such and would not have affected the equipment performance or temperature alarms from the fixture, a considerable amount of refrigerant had been lost.

Using the data, one’s maintenance team can triangulate the location of leak which are (slightly) outside of area covered by the refrigerant leak detection system.

Graph showing refrigerant concentrations associated with an "Under-cover" leak event.

The Repeater Refrigerant Leak Pattern

The Repeater leak event pattern is characterized by a leak event that has been initially rectified, but a smaller leak is then detected later on.

In this case, having the onsite leak detection equipment permanently monitoring the asset helps prevent further refrigerant loss from the system. Again, it is critically important that food retailers target resolution of refrigerant leaks on the first visit by a maintenance contractor. Doing so will not only eliminate the need for repeat visits, but will contain refrigerant and maintain the performance of critical equipment.

Graph showing refrigerant concentrations associated with an "Repeater" leak event.

Respond to These Leaks Properly With Comprehensive Refrigerant Management

So that’s our top five leak event patterns from our extensive refrigerant leak analysis from over 2.8 billion samples. Ultimately, being able find refrigerant leaks easily, quickly and effectively is of utmost importance. That’s why you need to consider having an onsite detection system covering all critical areas (refrigeration racks, walk-in coolers / freezers and display cases) connected to a smart IoT monitoring system.

That’s where Bacharach is here to help. We have a range of software and hardware solutions to help you with your needs.

In fact, Bacharach can help you with your refrigerant management strategy in two ways: 1) We have industry-leading fixed and portable detection devices as well as 2) comprehensive refrigerant management software, helping you reduce your operating costs, track your compliance needs, and provide all around enterprise management.

Ultimately, reduction in refrigerant usage is key, and, by knowing these five most common leak event patterns, you are well on your way to improving your refrigerant management program.

Create a Refrigerant Management Strategy

Are you ready to reduce your refrigerant leak rate? Download our free guide to help you create a strategy for your organization.

Download the Refrigerant Management Strategy Guide

What role does data play in your organization’s approach to mitigating the risks of refrigerant leaks? Continue the conversation with Bacharach’s experts by leaving a comment below.

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