Are Infrared Refrigerant Detectors Worth It?

Infrared refrigerant leak detectors are some of the most popular refrigerant leak detectors that are used by day to day professionals in the HVAC industry. Most green guys in the industry will buy one of the cheaper detectors on the market just to have one in their tool bag. Usually, it’s a heated diode detector that will have the sensor go out on them after working on a larger leak. Don’t even get me started on what kind a homeowner or do-it-yourselfer will purchase.

I am a huge fan of Infrared leak detectors for one reason and one reason only. Quality. These types of detectors scream quality and with quality comes long lasting and dependable tools. As I get older I’ve slowly come to realize that buying an expensive tool today is much better than replacing a shoddy tool again and again. If you’re one of those guys who buys a new set of gauges, thermometer, or whatever every year then there is something wrong. Quit banging your head against the wall and get yourself a quality tool. In this case, get yourself a Infrared detector.

The Pros

There are a wide variety of Pros to look at when browsing for an Infrared refrigerant detector. Now I know I won’t cover everything here but these are some of the top selling points of these units:

  • The sensitivity levels on Infrared sniffers are top notch. Most of these models can detect leaks as low as 0.10 ounces per year. This is as good as it gets as far as sensitivity. I have yet to see any detector on the market today that goes under that magical 0.10 ounces per year number. Now, truth be told there are corona or diode models out there that do the same but there are much more benefits to an Infrared unit then just sensitivity.
  • You will notice that when shopping for an Infrared detector that the lifespan of a sensor is much much longer than your typical leak detector. While standard detectors on the market may have their sensors last for twenty, thirty, or fifty hours of work a Infrared detection unit will see it’s sensor last up to one-thousand hours. There are some units out there that claim their sensor will last for ten years. Imagine that, not having to change the sensor on your detector for ten years. You save yourself the hassle as well as the money. (Sensor replacement for other units can be as high as forty-dollars.)
  • Some users have stated that they had to relearn how to use an infrared detector when comparing to other more traditional detection methods like Corona Suppression or Heated Diodes. With the Infrared detection units you have to keep moving the sensor instead of letting it sit in one place. The reason this is necessary is the unit will zero itself out ever few seconds. The point of this to prevent saturation to your detector. So, if you’re in a tight or small room and there are multiple leaks it may be very hard to get a solid reading from your diode or corona reader not to mention you have the risk of overwhelming and damaging your detection sensor. With the Infrared though, since it zeros out ever few seconds, it will not be overwhelmed as it adjusts to the room and air around it and will look for higher concentrations of refrigerant allowing you to easily find the source of the leak.
  • As I said above, having an infrared detection unit may even negate the use of other methods as you’ll be able to track down exactly where the leak is using just your sensor. No more finding the general area and then spraying soap and water on it looking for bubbles. No more ultraviolet dye. With the infrared you should be good to go. Now, do keep in mind that there are always are surprises when diagnosing a unit and you very well may end up needing an alternative leak detection method in some cases. The point that I am trying to make here though is that the use of these other detection methods will drastically decline with the purchase of an infrared refrigerant leak detector.

The Cons

  • I mentioned at the beginning of my post that Infrared refrigerant detectors are top quality. Well folks with top quality comes top price. These types of units are the best detectors on the market today and you need to be prepared to pay that extra cash to own one. Most Infrared units are between three-hundred to four-hundred dollars a unit. Yes, I know it is quite expensive but the thing to keep in mind is the life span of this unit. If you’re a business owner with a whole bunch of techs under you then I could see why you don’t want to absorb the cost of these units, however if you are a tech who has to buy their own tools or an independent guy then I would highly recommend getting yourself an Infrared unit today. Forget the cost and just bite the bullet.
  • Every detector comes with a warranty, as they should. The reason I am putting warranties under the Cons category here is due to the length of the warranty and what most of them will uphold if there is a warranty claim filed. If you buy a unit you will notice that the warranty term is either one or two years. That is a pretty standard warranty claim for any detectors, even the cheaper ones. My concern is that if you spend all of this money on a top quality detector and for whatever reason you get a defective one but you are outside your one year warranty then you are most likely out of luck. Sure, you can try to call the company up and negotiate but they have all the chips in their corner at this point. If I’m going to be paying this much for a detector then I would expect at least a three to four, maybe even a five year, warranty.
  • The last con I can find on these units is a small one. It is a complaint about how you have to keep sweeping your sensor back and forth with an Infrared unit. I explained why this is necessary above but some users have complained that it is very difficult to do a sweeping motion in very tight or confined spaces. I could see this being an issue and maybe this is where more traditional detection methods could come into play such as dyes or a soap and water solution.

Our Preferred Detectors

Over the past few weeks I have researched and written a number of reviews on detectors on the market today. There are two Infrared detectors that stuck out to me and that I wanted to refer you to if you are interested in purchasing. I wrote reviews on both of these products so feel free to follow the links below to read more on each.


Overall folks I would say that if you are an experienced technician or mechanic who may come across a leak problem at least once a day then I would say Infrared refrigerant leak detectors are for you. Sure it’s a hit now but on future jobs you will be thanking yourself for the consistency and accuracy of your new toy. There is nothing more frustrating then not being able to find a leak.