Industry

The movement towards air pressure testing

From large commercial buildings in Holland to modular bathrooms in Denmark, contractors and pipeline installers around Europe are making the switch from water pressure to air pressure testing. Find out what’s behind this movement and if it will continue to spread.

For decades, all across Europe, water pressure has been the prevailing method for leak testing pipelines. Common wisdom in the building industry has been that air pressure testing is simply too dangerous, as testing with too-high pressure can lead to accidents and property damage.

Despite this wisdom, some contractors are relying more and more on air-pressure testing. Don Elworthy, Senior Contracts Manager at Panks Engineers Ltd in the UK, is one of them. He specifies air-pressure testing during construction of all of their commercial new builds.

“Up until a few years ago, there was not a lot of guidance on air pressure testing and people were using up to 12 bar,” says Don. “That is just too dangerous, and that is why there were accidents. The truth is, with trained personnel who follow the guidelines specified in the method statement, air pressure testing can be done safely and accurately.”

Quality control in production

Modulbad, a pre-fabricated bathroom company in Denmark, has been using air pressure testing for the last 30 years as part of their quality control process. Each cabin they produce is systematically checked for leaks. 

“Exposure to water during production can damage the paint, the tiles and the pipes,” says Sales Manager Finn Bjorn-Hansen. “Air pressure testing ensures the cabins are completely clean and dry when we ship them. And, as we store the cabins outside prior to shipping, we can avoid the risk of frozen pipes during storage. Air pressure testing helps us deliver the superior quality our pre-fabricated bathrooms are known for.”

Modulbad strives for the best quality in the Danish market. That’s why Finn also recommends that installers of Modulbad units test with air pressure as well. 

“We see it as a more secure method, also from their side, once the units are installed,” he explains. “If installers can reduce the risk of leaks and water damage at the installation site, that’s also good for our brand.”  

Quicker and easier in large buildings

In the Netherlands, the use of air pressure testing has increased for about 20 years, when air pressure testing was introduced and the size of new buildings began to grow substantially. Eric van der Blom, Sanitary Specialist at Techniek Nederland, the Dutch business association of technical service providers and installers, explains:

“As new buildings got bigger, it became too difficult to flush water through the pipelines each week of construction. You can do air pressure testing in one section of the building at a time, and you don’t need to go through the steps of removing air bubbles from the water. Air pressure testing saves time overall and that’s why it began to take over. Today it’s so prevalent that we decided to write new practical guidelines for air pressure testing.”

The previous guidelines specified only one pressure level per test: 10 bar for water and 8 bar for air. The new guidelines for air testing require installers to test at two pressure levels: first at 0.15 bar, then, once they are sure the couplings are leaktight, again at 3 bar for pressure resistance. 

“Air pressure testing was because of the 8 bar test, not always considered safe, but it has become much safer under the current guidelines,” says Eric. “It’s safer now and more hygienic not to have water into the installation. Beside this it saves time and money for weekly flushing. All of these benefits add up and that’s why Dutch installers prefer air pressure testing.”

Eric says the new Dutch guidelines are quite similar to German guidelines, and he expects other EU countries to follow.