High-tech inventions sniff out trouble

New devices help homeowners detect sources of leaks, odors

June 25, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Gust Kalapodis knew he had a problem, but he didn't know where.

Last fall Kalapodis noticed the water level was dropping in the swimming pool behind his home in Franklin Township, Ohio. "It started dropping in September," he said, and fell more than two feet by the end of swimming season.

The pool was installed in 1974 and was showing signs of age. The concrete walk around the edge was drooping and needed to be replaced. Kalapodis knew the leak could be in the skimmer, the lines from the pool to the pump and back, or in the main drain at the bottom.

Back when the pool was installed, it would have been difficult to pinpoint the location of the leak. The surest method was also the most unpleasant - rent a backhoe and dig until you find the problem. Kalapodis, however, was able to find the leak without disturbing a shovelful of dirt.

He hired a contractor who uses some of the new high-tech inventions developed to help homeowners avoid the nightmare of trying to find the source of leaking water, sewage or odors. The contractor had good news: The leak was a few feet under a patch of grass that could be dug up with a minimum of trouble.

Jack Wilson and his son, Doug, operate the northern Ohio franchise of American Leak Detection, one of the companies that use the new leak-finding technology.

The way they found the pool leak was unusual. They began by pumping water into one end of the pipe running from the pool to the filter pump, then forced compressed air into the other end. At the point of the leak, the compressed air bubbled through the water to create turbulence, which makes a distinctive sound.

Then they walked slowly around the pool and listened to the ground with an ultrasensitive microphone equipped with electronic filters to highlight the sound of the leak. Jack Wilson donned headphones connected to the microphone, which led him to the leak in about 30 minutes.

A few seconds with another microphone - this one on a probe - indicated the leak was less than two feet below the surface.

Wilson, who retired in 1995, wanted a post-retirement career, so he scanned franchise magazines until he found an article about American Leak Detection, which has 303 franchises, including one in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

He persuaded his son to quit his job as a pastry chef so he could help run the business.

The collection of gadgets they use is impressive.

The super-sensitive microphone is most useful finding leaks in waterlines that run beneath building slabs. "If you don't know exactly where to look, you might end up digging up your whole floor before you find it," Jack Wilson said.

Leaks in hot-water home-heating systems can be found with an infrared detector that can locate hot spots, even if they are in pipes inside walls or under floors.

Leaks in sewer lines can be spotted with a special TV camera mounted on the end of a long, stiff cable that can be snaked through the system. Sometimes the source of sewer odors can be found by pumping smoke into the sewer, then watching for where the smoke emerges.

Metallic pipes can be traced underground or behind walls by sending a low-voltage signal through the pipe and detecting the signal with a receiver.

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