A leak is a hole or other opening, usually unintended and therefore undesired, in a container or
fluid-containing system, such as a tank or a ship's hull, through which the contents of the container can escape or outside matter can enter the container. The word "leak" is also used as a verb; matter going through the opening is said to leak. The entry, exit, or exchange of matter through the leak is called leakage, the subject of another disambiguation article. The matter leaking in or out can be gas, liquid, a highly viscous paste, or even a solidsuch as a powdered or granular solid or other solid particles. A leak can be between two (or more) fluid-containing systems, allowing transfer of matter from either system to the other, or even an exchange of matter between them. Leakage of matter into a container or other system could be called inleakage. Leakage of matter out of a container or other system could be called outleakage. The presence of a leak does not necessarily mean there is always leakage of matter; it just implies there could be leakage through the opening. If the container or system is empty in an empty environment, there is no leakage at that time. Sometimes the word "leak" is used to refer to leakage in a certain situation, for example the passing or making public of secret information.
Leak types and possible causes
Types of leak openings include a puncture, gash,
rustor other corrosionhole, very tiny "pinhole leak" (possibly in imperfect welds), crackor microcrack, or inadequate sealing between components or parts joined together. When there is a puncture, the size and shape of the leak can often be seen, but in many other cases, the size and shape of the leak opening may not be so obvious. In many cases, the location of a leak can be determined by seeing material drip out at a certain place, although the leak opening itself is not obvious. In some cases, it may known or suspected there is a leak, but even the location of the leak is not known. Since leak openings are often so irregular, leaks are sometimes sized by the leakage rate, as in volume of fluid leaked per time, rather than the size of the opening.
Common types of leaks for many people include leaks in
vehicle tires, causing air to leak out resulting in flat tires, and leaks in containers, spilling the contents. Leaks can occur or develop in many different kinds of household, building, vehicle, marine, aircraft, or industrial fluid systems, whether the fluid is a gas or liquid. Leaks in vehicle hydraulicsystems such as brakeor power steeringlines could cause outleakage of brake or power steering fluid resulting in failure of the brakes, power steering, or other hydraulic system. Also possible are leaks of engine coolant - particularly in the radiatorand at the water pumpseal, transmission fluid, motor oil, and refrigerantin the air conditioningsystem. Some of these vehicle fluids have different colors to help identify the type of leaking fluid.
watersupply system or a wastewatersystem in a house or other building may have a leak in any of numerous locations, causing dripping out or spillage of the water. Gas leaks, e.g. in natural gaslines allow flammableand potentially explosivegas to leak out, resulting in a hazardous situation. Leaks of refrigerant may occur in refrigerators or air conditioning systems, large and small. Some industrial plants, especially chemical and power plants, have numerous fluid systems containing many types of liquid or gas chemicals, sometimes at high temperatureand/or pressure. An example of a possible industrial location of a leak between two fluid systems includes a leak between the shell and tube sides in a heat exchanger, potentially contaminating either or both fluid systems with the other fluid. A system holding a full or partial vacuummay have a leak causing inleakage of air from the outside. Hazmat procedures and/or teams may become involved when leakage or spillage of hazardous materials occurs. Leaks while transporting hazardous materials could result in danger; for example, when accidents occur. However, even leakage of steamcan be dangerous because of the high temperature and energy of the steam.
Leakage of air or other gas out of
hot air balloons, dirigibles, or cabins of airplanes could present dangerous situations. A leak could even be inside a body, such as a hole in the septumbetween heartventricles causing an exchange of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood, or a fistulabetween bodily cavities such as between vaginaand rectum.
There can be numerous causes of leaks. Leaks can occur from the outset even during
constructionor initial manufacture/assembly of fluid systems. Pipes, tubing, valves, fittings, or other components may be improperly joined or welded together. Components with treads may be improperly screwed together. Leaks can be caused by damage; for example, punctures or fracture. Often leaks are the result of deterioration of materials from wear or aging, such as rusting or other corrosion or decomposition of elastomers or similar polymermaterials used as gaskets or other seals. For example, wearing out of faucet washers causes water to leak at the faucets. Cracks may result from either outright damage, or wearing out by stress such as fatigue failure or corrosion such as stress corrosion cracking. Wearing out of a surface between a disk and its seat in a valve could cause a leak ports (valve inlets or outlets). Wearing out of packing around a turning valve stem or rotating centrifugal pump shaft could develop into fluid outleakage into the environment. For some frequently operating centrifugal pumps, such leakage is so expected that provisions are made for carrying away the leakage. Similarly, wearing out of seals or packing around piston-driven pumps could also develop into outleakage to the environment.
The pressure difference between both sides of the leak can affect the movement of material through the leak. Fluids will commonly move from the higher pressure side to the lower pressure side. The larger the pressure difference, the more leakage there will typically be. The fluid pressures on both sides include the
hydrostatic pressure, which is pressure due to the weightfrom the height of fluid level above the leak. When the pressures are about equal, there can be an exchange of fluids between both sides, or little to no net movement of fluid across the leak.
Containers, vessels, enclosures, or other fluid system are sometimes tested for leaks - to see if there is any leakage and to find where the leaks are so corrective action can be taken. There are several methods for leak testing, depending on the situation. Sometimes leakage of fluid may make a
soundwhich can be detected. Tires, engine radiators, and maybe some other smaller vessels may be tested by pressurizing them with air and submerging them in water to see where air bubbles come out to indicate a leak. If submerging in water is not possible, then pressurization with air followed by covering the area to be tested with a soapsolution is done to see if soap bubbles form, which indicate a leak. Other types of testing for gas leaks may involve testing for the outleaking gases with sensors which can detect that gas, for example - special sensing instruments for detecting natural gas. U.S. federal safety law now requires natural gas companies to conduct testing for gas leaks upstream of their customer's gas meters. Where liquids are used, special color dyes may be added to help see the leakage. Other detectable substances in one of the liquids may be tested, such as saline to find a leak in a sea water system, or detectable substances may even be deliberately added to test for leakage.
Newly constructed, fabricated, or repaired systems or other vessels are sometimes tested to verify satisfactory production or repair.
Plumbers often test for leaks after working on a water or other fluid system. A vessel or system is sometimes pressure tested by filling with air and the pressure monitored to see if it drops, indicating a leak. A very commonly used test after new construction or repair is a hydrostatic test, sometimes called a pressure test. In a hydrostatic test, a system is pressurized with water to look for a drop in pressure or to see where it leaks out. Heliumtesting may be done to detect for any very small leakage such as when testing certain diaphragm or bellows valves, which are made to be practically leak-proof. Heliumand Hydrogenhave very small molecules which can go through very small leaks.
Leak testing is part of the non-destructive test NDT portfolio that can be applied to an art to verify its conformity; depending on material, pressure, leak tightness specifications, different methods can be applied. International standards has been defined to assist in these choices. For example BS EN 1779:1999; it applies to assessment of leak tightness by indication or measurement of gas leakage, but excludes hydrostatic, ultrasonic or electromagnetic methods.Other standards also apply:
* BS EN 13184:2001 Non-destructive testing. Leak testing. Pressure change method
* BS EN 13185:2001 Non-destructive testing. Leak testing. Tracer gas method
* BS EN 13192:2002 Non-destructive testing. Leak testing. Calibration of reference leaks for gases
Corrective action for leaks
In complex plants with multiple fluid systems, many interconnecting units holding fluids have isolation valves between them. If there is a leak in a unit, its isolation valves can be shut to "isolate" the unit from the rest of the plant.
Leaks are often repaired by plugging the leaking holes or using a patch to cover them. Leaking tires are often fixed this way. Leaking gaskets, seals, washers, or packing can be replaced. Use of welding, soldering, sealing, or gluing may be other ways to fix leaks. Sometimes, the most practical solution is to replace the leaking unit. Leaking
water heaters are often replaced by home or building owners.
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