Why Commercial Buildings Use a Plumbing Smoke Test

Why Commercial Buildings Use a Plumbing Smoke Test

plumbing smoke test

The Purpose of a Plumbing Smoke Test

When a commercial facility experiences plumbing drain problems, one of the first symptoms to surface noticeably can be unpleasant odors. Because most commercial plumbing systems are expansive, manual inspection of the entire system to locate the leak is impractical. In order to help reduce time and costs in locating these leaks, plumbers utilize the help of an unexpected ally- smoke. Plumbing smoke test programs are initiated for other purposes, but most are used to pinpoint sources of odors in a facility from open sanitary sewer piping. By using smoke, leaks can be pinpointed quickly and accurately, helping to expedite the repair and reducing costs.

General Procedures

Smoke testing is performed by introducing smoke into a sewer with a mechanical type device such as a blower. The blower is normally placed directly over an open clean out, pipe or manhole. After the blower is started and the sewer system is ventilated, the smoke is forced into the entry point access hole in the blower housing. The length of the sewer main being tested is then inspected where observations are recorded.

Special Practices

On smaller facilities, blower devices are not necessary. Typically the natural pressures of the sanitary system will drive the smoke through the piping. However, in facilities that have continued issues after conventional testing, the additional force of a blower can generate additional pressure in the system and better facilitate a result. This process can also limit the amount of downtime at the facility during testing, equating to a more efficient process for all involved. Savings for the company and customer; a real win-win.

Public Notice is Recommended

When people see the large volumes of smoke, they often think “FIRE!”. This is why it is required to notify the local public safety departments about plumbing smoke tests. Contacting the local Fire department is required, however contacting both the local police and fire departments is a good idea just to be safe. Once the tests have begun, daily contact with the fire department dispatcher is recommended if the process will continue over multiple days. Each morning before starting smoke testing, the dispatcher should be given the street address, smoke times, on-site contact information, and the work schedule so they can field any concerned calls or confirm testing location information that may occur as a result of the ongoing test.

Who to Contact

Besides notifying the proper public safety officials, door to door leaflet distribution is a good idea to raise awareness in the immediate area of testing. Normally, leaflets are most effective when distributed one or two days before the smoke testing is conducted. The leaflet should contain contact information like a point of contact and a phone number to someone who can answer caller’s questions and concerns, like a dispatcher.

Lastly, personal contact is recommended in some instances. The following are good places to make personal contact to allay any concerns before testing begins:

  • nursing homes
  • schools or vocational campuses
  • hospitals
  • condominiums or apartment complexes
  • large industrial complexes

All should be contacted immediately before testing in their areas to avoid alarm and reduce concern for residents.


  • Interior floor drains, HVAC Condensation drains look at connections both at the unit and where it connects to the sanitary. Connections to the sanitary should be upstream of an accessible P-trap only.
  • Disconnected or unused plumbing fixtures: Toilet connection, Sink, tubs, Washer connection, water coolers
  • Cleanouts – exterior or interior (Sometimes these are located inside of a plumbing chase or wet wall)
  • Vents – located in the ceiling or attics

Need your commercial plumbing system checked for a mysterious odor? Fox Commercial Services can help! Contact us today at (512)326-4822 or www.foxcommercialservices.com.

Headquarters: 1106 Smith Road, Ste. 100, Austin, TX 78721
License Numbers: TACLA00024308C, TACLA00029893C, M-14726, TECL35740

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