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Thermodynamics/Electrical Question


Hi Kevin, Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

Recently, I had an oil leak in my basement due to a faulty component (tiger loop) attached to my oil line. It flooded my basement with oil, and needless to say, I had a lot of work and expense to clean it up. I want to prevent that from ever happening again.

I bought a water leak detector on eBay. It's just a small device with a 9-volt that has a lead wire that stretches six feet to the ground where the sensor will detect water because the water will complete the circuit and thus trigger the alarm. I tested it with water and it works great.

So I put this sensor down on the floor near the furnace where the tiger loop is, right underneath. I figured, if it started to leak, the sensor would trip and the alarm would go off so I could catch it and place a bucket there before it got out of control again. Sound reasoning, right?

Well, someone asked me if that would cause a fire and now I had to pause to think: 'Does home heating oil ignite if a electric current is passed though it? It would have to be an open flame to ignite it, right?' Hmmm. I wasn't sure, now. Also, would the oil conduct enough electricity to trip the sensor anyway? According to my research online, home heating oil is a very weak now I'm not sure if my plan will even work. I thought about going out and buying some diesel fuel to test my alarm...but didn't want to start a fire...

So my two related questions are: Is it safe to use this alarm to detect oil leaks? I know they make special equipment to detect oil, but I can't afford those items -- they are all way out of my price range. Secondly, will the alarm work as I intended it? Or is there a flaw with my plan?


Hi Brendon,

The device will not set fire to house oil.
However the oil may not trigger the device as oil is not conductive enough.

You could devise a float-switch which should work.
If you have room a bund under the area at risk can be very effective and if the area is large the height of the bund can be very low. This will work when you are out!

I hope this helps.
Best wishes.


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Thermodynamics, chemistry, chemical reactions, kinetics, chemical reaction safety, dust explosion technology, static electricity. General science.


Over 40 years experience as a practicing thermochemist in industry. Head of the fire and explosion laboratory of a major European chemical company (Ciba-Geigy). Now retired.

Institute of Chemical Engineers. Royal Society of Chemistry.

Chartered Chemist, Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (C.Chem MRSC). Msc Sheffield.

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