Safe Smoke Testing for Leaks in Sewer, Plumbing and Storage Tanks

Make A Smoke Pump for Leak Testing Converting A Shop Vacuum Cleaner

I get this question many times per week. Can we drop the smoke emitter in the plumbing line and locate leaks. The long and short answer is, “No”. Many sewer lines have methane in them which is extremely flammable and explosive.

IMPORTANT: Do not put a lit device into or even near, an open drain line that is connected to the sewer line or septic system. Methane is a result of or a by-product of, the waste disposal process. Yes, it is the same methane used to heat homes, cook meals etc, otherwise called Natural Gas. It is very explosive and stays low to the ground where you are working since it is heavier than air. Just a spark could ignite the leaked gas and have catastrophic results. For better and safer results use a Smoke Pump. With this method, one would burn the smoke emitter in a contained area and then pump the smoke into the duct, tank, pipe or any enclosed space to find leaks. The smoke itself is not flammable or dangerous to deliver via this method.

To make your own smoke pump most shop vacs will work, however a metal one would be my recommendation for added safety. If you want to control the pressure via the fan speed you will want to use a rheostat on the line so you can control the speed of the motor.

There are many models of smoke pumps available on the market, however they are all rather expensive and decent ones start in the thousands. For a tool that you may only use once in a while, it just may not be the right investment for you at this time. Good news is that with a little ingenuity and imagination you can build your own. I believe that if you are a person that will smoke test a plumbing stack than you must be a person that would have the ability to put something like this together, with a bit of thought. Here a few ideas to help stimulate your own plan. Build your own smoke pump from what you may have around the house or shop.

This concept works around a shop vacuum cleaner or otherwise called a shop-vac and a few other items. Basic steps to prepare the vacuum to be used as a smoke pump.

  1. Empty the debris and remove any potentially flammable dust or fragments left behind.
  2. Drill or punch many 1/8″ holes around the circumference of the can and lid. This will allow the smoke to go through the can without the ash residue.
  3. Remove the filter from the shop vac since it would filter out the smoke we are trying to deliver.
  4. Place the perforated can into the shop vac.
  5. Following the instructions; light a smoke emitter, place it into the metal can and replace the lid back on the can.
  6. Close the shop vac lid.
  7. Move the hose from the suction side onto the exhaust side.

You now have an air pump. With a few additional items and steps we can turn this into a smoke pump.

Supplies needed:

  • A clean or new metal can with lid (just like a paint can). Be careful some of the newer cans have plastic bottoms, select a 100% metal can. I prefer a 128 ounce (gallon) can, which typically measures about 10″ tall x 9″ diameter. However this size may not fit in your vacuum. In that instance and really only for the S103 and S102 size smoke bombs, one could use a 64 ounce (half gallon) can, which typically measures about 6″ tall by 5.5″ in diameter.
  • 2″ gaffers tape (or duct tape if you do not mind the tacky residue it leaves behind)
  • A Fernco (rubber coupling) to attach the hose to your plumbing stack


  • Rheostat on the line so you can control the speed of the motor (when testing a drain line with a sink in it is important to monitor the motor speed because too much pressure will compromise the fluid in the traps allowing the smoke to escape and result in a failed test).

Use white or FP smoke to avoid residue .


What Should I Do If My House has Radon?

You have just had a house you own, or are thinking of buying, tested for radon and the level is near or exceeds 4.0 PicoCuries/Liter (pCi/L). Now what? What do you do? Is it safe for you and your family to be in the house?

Radon Gas can effect the entire family. Test and correct if necessary.

The first step is don’t panic. Radon levels can be reduced. Your next step should be to gather information. If you know more about radon, its causes and remedies, you will understand how to formulate a strategy to reduce the radon level. Let’s begin the education process by answering some basic questions:

When should I be concerned? The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you take action to reduce your home’s indoor radon levels if your radon test result is 4 pCi/L or higher. It is better to correct a radon problem before placing your home on the market because you will have more time to address the issue.

How does radon enter my house? The radon in your home’s indoor air can come from two sources, the soil or your water supply. Compared to radon entering your home through water, radon entering your home through soil is a much larger risk. If you’ve tested for radon in air and have elevated radon levels and your water comes from a private well, have your water tested. The devices and procedures for testing your home’s water supply are different from those used for measuring radon in air.

The radon in your home’s indoor air can come from two sources, the soil or your water supply. Compared to radon entering your home through water, radon entering your home through soil is a much larger risk. If you’ve tested for radon in air and have elevated radon levels and your water comes from a private well, have your water tested. The devices and procedures for testing your home’s water supply are different from those used for measuring radon in air.

Radon gas in water is as serious of a problem as in the air.

Radon in the water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it. Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household uses.

A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g., a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. Some public water systems treat their water to reduce radon levels before it is delivered to your home. When your water supply comes from surface water then radon is usually a not problem. If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.

Don’t worry if you’ve tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be fixed. Your home’s water supply can be treated in one of two ways. Point-of-entry treatment can effectively remove radon from the water before it enters your home. Point-of-entry treatment usually employs either granular activated carbon (GAC) filters or aeration devices. While GAC filters usually cost less than aeration devices, filters can collect radioactivity and may require a special method of disposal. Point-of-use treatment devices remove radon from your water at the tap, but only treat a small portion of the water you use, e.g., the water you drink. Point-of-use devices are not effective in reducing the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the home.

Can high radon levels be reduced? The short answer is yes, radon levels can be reduced in a home by installing a radon mitigation system or by making some repairs to your house.

What do I need to do? Your first step should be to retest your house using a long-term radon test kit. Long term tests usually last from three to 12 months. (Long-term radon test kits can be purchased here.) Since radon levels can fluctuate, long-term tests provide an average level of radon in your house over a greater period of time. Therefore, long-term tests are more accurate than the short-term tests. If the long-term test results show the radon level is still over 4pCi/L than you should consider repair and remediation to your house.
A variety of methods can be used to reduce radon in homes. Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction. The EPA does not recommend the use of sealing alone to limit radon entry. Sealing alone has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly or consistently.

In most cases, a system with a vent pipe(s) and fan(s) is used to reduce radon. These “sub-slab depressurization” systems do not require major changes to your home. Similar systems can also be installed in homes with a crawl space. These systems prevent radon gas from entering the home from below the concrete floor and from outside the foundation. Radon mitigation contractors may use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.

Techniques for reducing radon are discussed in the EPA’s “Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction.” As with any other household appliance, there are costs associated with the operation of the radon mitigation system. Also, please keep in mind that any mitigation measures taken or system installed in your home must conform to your state’s regulations. In states without regulations covering mitigation, the system should conform to the EPA’s Radon Mitigation Standards.

Picking a ronon mitigation contractor can be difficult unless you know what to look for

How do I find a radon mitigation contractor? Select a qualified radon mitigation contractor to reduce the radon levels in your home just as you would for any other home repair. You may want to get more than one estimate, ask for and check their references. Make sure the person you hire is qualified to install a mitigation system. Some states regulate or certify radon mitigation services providers. Be aware that a potential conflict of interest exists if the same person or firm performs the testing and installs the mitigation system. Some states may require the homeowner to sign a waiver in such cases. When the same person or firm performs the testing and mitigation, make sure the testing is done in accordance with the EPA’s Radon Testing Checklist. Contact your state radon office for more information. Your Inspect USA customer service representative may be able to provide you with a list of independent, certified, insured and experienced radon mitigation service firms. Note: It is recommend you always obtain quotes from multiple vendors who are licensed and insured whenever service is required.

What will a qualified radon mitigation contractor do for me? A qualified radon mitigation contractor should be able to:

  • Review the radon test results before beginning any mitigation work to determine if additional measurements are needed.
  • Evaluate the radon problem and provide you with a detailed, written proposal on how radon levels may be lowered.
  • Design a radon-reduction system.
  • Install the system according to EPA standards and/or state or local codes.
  • Make sure the finished system effectively reduces radon levels to acceptable levels.
Radon gas detector is perfect for mitigated homes to alert when its time to do some repairs or adjustments.

What do I do after the radon mitigation system is installed? After a mitigation system is installed, re-test the property to verify that the radon gas levels have been reduced. If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should retest your home on that level. In addition, it is a good idea to retest your home sometime in the future to be sure radon levels remain low. We recommend you consider buying a continuous radon monitor that can be used to verify the proper functioning of your mitigation system. A monitor will measure the radon levels 24 hours a day and sound an alarm if the radon level goes above 4 pCi/L. Inspect USA offers the Pro Series 3 continuous radon monitor for $149.95 + shipping and sales tax where applicable.

Will the seller pay for remediation? If elevated levels are found during the real estate transaction, the buyer and seller should discuss the timing and costs of the radon reduction. The cost of making repairs to reduce radon levels depends on how your home was built and other factors. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs, like painting or having a new hot water heater installed. The average cost for a contractor to lower radon levels in a home can range from $800 to about $2,500.

What else do I need to know? If you are planning any major renovations, such as converting an unfinished basement area into living space, it is especially important to test the area for radon before you begin. If your test results indicate an elevated radon level, radon-resistant techniques can be inexpensively included as part of the renovation. Major renovations, earthquakes, and excavation can change the level of radon in any home. Test again after any work or events have occurred.