Where There’s Smoke… You Can Find Plumbing and Sewer Leaks

Locating leaks is easy with lightweight, easily portable smoke blowers from Superior Signal Company

Where There’s Smoke… You Can Find Plumbing and Sewer Leaks

 The 5-E smoke blower, together with Superior Smoke Candles, provides a uniquely effective and cost-efficient solution to test building plumbing and find sources of odors.

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Smoke testing is an instrumental part of many utilities’ leak detection and SSO prevention efforts, and Superior Signal Co. has been providing “The Superior Smoke Testing Technique” since 1961.

Smoke testing is a simple process that achieves fast results, meaning you can act quickly to repair any broken laterals and mainlines or leaking manholes you discover. It can also help trace uncapped or abandoned lines, find plumbing faults and locate sources of odor.

Cleaner recently spoke with Superior Signal Co. owner and President Jim Kovacs about the company’s electric smoke blower and its many applications, and why smoke testing is here to stay.

Cleaner: Tell us a little about the history of Superior Signal Co.

Kovacs: In the early 1950s, Superior Signal Co. designed and manufactured military and ship distress signals for government agencies. In 1954, the company developed a safe, nonstaining smoke containing no explosive materials that was appropriate for civilian applications. As a result of this pivot, many innovative applications for the new smoke product were developed. Superior Smoke generators were quickly adopted for fire training, as a means to realistically simulate smoke from a fire, and we continue to offer smoke products for fire training and disaster simulation today.

Most significant was the development in 1961 of “The Superior Smoke Testing Technique” for inflow and infiltration studies of underground sewerage systems. Smoke testing has been used in sewers extensively for over 60 years with great success and is recommended by the National Association of Sewer Service Contractors and the Water Environment Federation. Smoke testing of sanitary sewers remains the most cost-effective means to identify sources of surface water inflow, which is a major cause of sanitary sewer overflows. Superior Signal continues to innovate and serve this important application, which helps to protect our most sensitive ecosystems from raw sewage pollution.

Superior Smoke Generators are widely used for other applications, including leak testing building plumbing, ductwork, boilers and furnaces, tanks, piping, exhaust systems and more. Superior Smoke is highly effective for observing air flow patterns, finding sources of odors, evaluating fume/exhaust, and testing smoke control and alarm systems.  

Superior Signal Co. is family-owned and -operated for over 65 years, and we still make almost everything we sell right here in the U.S. from our facility in New Jersey, just 35 miles south of New York City.  

Cleaner: What differentiates your smoke testing equipment from the competition?

Kovacs: Smoke blowers have changed the way plumbing faults and sources of odor in residential and commercial plumbing are located. Over the past few decades, the Superior 5-E electric smoke blower has been updated and improved based on customer input to provide a lightweight and maintenance-free smoke blower that’s sized for residential and commercial use. Professionals want a product that is cost-effective, simple to use, fast to produce results, easy to maintain and that will last for many years of rugged use. That is exactly what we deliver with the 5-E smoke blower.

The 5-E blower is the only professional electric smoke blower in the market sized for residential and commercial building plumbing. Other commercially available small smoke blowers all use a liquid-based smoke system that requires a gasoline engine to heat the fluid and make the smoke. This makes these blowers expensive, large, heavy, complicated to run and use, and lots of trouble to maintain. The 5-E blower does everything the other blowers do, but it is small, lightweight, requires no maintenance, and is a fraction of the cost to buy. Indeed, most customers tell us that faults are easier to find with smoke candles than with liquid-based smoke. The 5-E smoke blower, together with Superior Smoke Candles, provides a uniquely effective and cost-efficient solution to test building plumbing and find sources of odors.

With a total weight of only 15 pounds with the hose attached, the 5-E is made to handle big or small jobs in a lightweight, easy-to-move design. The blower can be run using 120-volt AC or 12-volt DC featuring all-steel construction with a carry handle and a flexible 4-inch-diameter, 8-foot-long hose.

Cleaner: What sort of needs do your blowers address?

Kovacs: The 5-E is a great way to find many plumbing faults in building plumbing, easily find sources of odors, test laterals and septic tanks for faults, find and/or test septic leach fields, and can also be used for many other applications where a small-scale smoke test, leak test, air flow test, or air visualization test is required. Primary industries are residential and commercial plumbing; sewer maintenance; septic system pumping, maintenance and installation; leak testing; code and regulatory compliance; energy conservation/audits; and engineering.

The 5-E blower creates an appropriate flow of air for testing a building’s plumbing, and when paired with Superior Smoke Candles, a highly visible, nontoxic smoke can easily be seen and traced. While the visible flow of air can be used to find various plumbing leaks, the blower is particularly effective in finding sources of odor. Because both smoke and odor are carried by the air, a smoke test will always find the source of an odor problem so it can be properly resolved.

Cleaner: What are some recommendations for customers shopping for smoke testing equipment?

Kovacs: Contractors should buy equipment from reputable companies that can give them advice and support on how to smoke test. They should also look for companies that have developed products specifically for smoke testing, so they get maximum performance and value, and buy from a company that stands behind its products and offers service and repairs on its equipment. Finally, contractors should choose products that offer maximum versatility in smoke testing with equipment that is easy and inexpensive to maintain going forward.

Cleaner: How do you see the drain cleaning industry evolving? What role will smoke testing play?

Kovacs: As new high-tech but more expensive products and procedures evolve, smoke testing will be more important than ever to identify major problem areas quickly and inexpensively in building plumbing, laterals and sewers.

Smoke testing continues to be an important companion to slower and more expensive technologies like video camera inspections.

Cleaner: What’s new for Superior Signal in 2021? What can customers expect out of Superior Signal in the future?

Kovacs: We will be introducing new products and we will be continuing to improve our existing product line based on research and customer input.

Cleaner: What do you want your customers to think of when they hear the name Superior Signal?

Kovacs: Superior Signal is committed to quality, reliability, performance, value, ease of use and excellent customer service and support. Smoke testing may not be new, but it is still important and more relevant than ever. 


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