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What is a Propane Gas Detector?

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  • Written By: Crystal K. Wilford
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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A propane gas detector is a device that senses and measures the presence of airborne propane and sounds an alarm if a certain level is detected in an enclosed area. The detector is an important safety feature for appliances and equipment that use propane. Natural propane is a dense gas that is harmful to living creatures when inhaled in large quantities. Propane has no color or scent, so it is difficult to detect with human senses. The propane used in homes, various recreational vehicles and other equipment is typically treated with a chemical that creates a faint odor detectable to the human sense of smell.

Uncontained propane gas, because of its high density, spreads along the ground instead of rising into the air like most common gasses. Leaks in propane lines or valves raise the risk that the gas can escape and fill an enclosed area without detection, creating a severe fire and health hazard. When warmed by an appliance such as a stove or oven, the gas can spread upward through the air before it cools enough to descend toward the ground, and the chemically produced odor would settle at an elevation too low to enter the average human range of smell. For these reasons, a propane gas detector is usually located near the floor, where gas accumulates. The device behaves similarly to a smoke alarm and broadcasts an alert only when the presence of gas is detected in close proximity.

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Occasionally, a propane gas detector can be fooled by other gases in the air. Aerosol sprays such as paint or hairspray, other fuel sources and chemicals released into the air by cleaners might trigger the alarm. The detector, or its sensors, should be placed near the floor and in the same room or area containing the propane-powered appliance.

Several propane gas detector models offer a variety of options. Devices might come with remote sensors for basement appliances, such as propane furnaces, so an alert can be heard on other floors. Alarms might have options such as sound, flashing lights or a combination of the two. Portable units can also be placed and moved as requirements change.

The average propane gas detector requires regular maintenance, just like fire alarms or other systems used to detect harmful gasses. Most detector models are battery-operated but require regularly scheduled checks to ensure continued operation. Some devices might feature an optional internal power supply that acts as a backup to the primary battery. In many places, detectors are certified by regulatory boards or agencies. Before buying a gas detector, it's generally advisable for one to research regional specifications for any standards, criteria or qualifications set out by regulating bodies.

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