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Pipe Detectors – Best Methods

Pipe Locator Devices

How do you Detect Water Pipes?

There are many ways to detect water pipes in a property and many different pipe detectors, each of which is used for a different task. Some of them detect them directly others do it indirectly. What do we mean by that?

Well you can either detect the physical pipe or, for example, what is in the pipe (water in our case) and the noise it makes through acoustic leak detection – water running through a pipe makes a very small noise and the professional devices we use can pick that up. Clearly you can also pick up heat or cold from pipes with thermal imaging leak detection too.

We have a page on dedicated to the full range of leak detection equipment. However, let’s look in some more detail on direct pipe detectors (or pipe locators as they are often known).

Pipe Detectors - Cat and Genny
Pipe Detectors – CAT & Genny

CAT and Genny

A ‘CAT and Genny’ is actually a pair of devices used together, in some cases, as pipe detectors and are used in water leak detection. CAT and Genny is actually an abbreviated term;

  • A ‘CAT’ is a Cable Avoidance Tool – the part on the right in the image above
  • A ‘Genny’ is a Generator – the part on the left
  • The CAT is the detection part of the equipment which receives the signal from the Genny
  • The Genny is normally connected to metal (conductive) pipe, including copper.
  • It does not work directly on plastic piping (however, more on that later!)
  • It sends a signal along the line of the pipework which the CAT cat pick up
  • So, if you have a hidden pipe, you can scan the CAT across the area you suspect
  • You can then follow the direction of the beeping to trace the direction of a pipe
  • The CAT also will tell you not only the location of the pipe but also the depth
  • So effectively it is an underground water pipe detector, with extra functionality
  • It is important to note that the CAT and Genny does NOT directly find leaks.
  • However, it is extremely useful in water leak detection as it can trace the pipes in a house
  • If you suspect there is a leak in the concrete slab for example you can find where pipes go
  • These are sometimes then marked out with a marker pen or tape
  • Then, when looking for the leak, you especially concentrate on the areas where the pipes are, especially with things like acoustic leak detection and thermal, plus other pipe detectors.

Pipe detectors can he useful when trying to locate frozen pipes or seeing what is causing an F1 boiler fault or even an E119 boiler fault on your central heating system, possibly from a combi boiler system leaking.

Burst Pipe - Water Leak, causes.
Burst Pipe – Water Leak

How do you Detect Plastic Pipes?

We said above that a CAT and Genny is a great pipe detector, specifically for detecting copper pipes around a house. Well what about detecting plastic pipes and plastic water pipe leaks?

Plastic pipes are not as simple to find as copper. However, there are ways to detect plastic pipes, with some methods indirect. As we said above, acoustic listening and thermal imaging leak detection can be used as pipe detectors for plastic pipes. Often you can use borescope inspection cameras to help find the path of plastic pipes, assuming they’re accessible.

Another way is actually to use a CAT and Genny (with a twist) as pipe detectors for plastic. This can sometimes be for when you have a leak between house and meter.

Pipe Detectors
Pipe Detectors – Tips


If there is a way of accessing the pipework, it is possible to thread flexible metal wire, or even something like an electricians ‘snake’ / wire fish reel / taps – provided it is conductive (and so the Genny / Generator can be attached to it to transmit a signal). Clearly that is not as simple or effective as on copper pipework but it can be used in some instances, not commonly though as other options are simpler. There are few situations where this is the only or best solution.

Again, this is why advanced leak detection specialist engineers carry multiple types of leak detection equipment and utilise different leak detection methods to (a) use them when they are the best option and (b) to give multiple sources of information to both trace and access water leaks. This will likely include…

Water Leak Detection Service
Water Leak Detection Service

Pipe and Stud Detectors

These are a common tool that there are even domestic versions of, available from DIY stores or online. They are designed for home use, often when people are doing things like drilling into walls so that they can check they are not going to drill into studs, electric wires or water pipes causing a burst pipe leak etc (they often have different settings for each). Although a leak detection engineer would carry one of these (for various purposes), it would not be their main tool for pipe detectors.

There is an interesting video by the ‘Project Farm’ YouTube channel about these devices.

Our leak detection technicians have access to all the equipment needed to help maximise the chances of finding a leak in your property, wherever possible using non destructive tools such as pipe detectors, and other similar detectors like pinless damp meters, which can help find pipes from a combi boiler system for example.

On the subject of detectors, you will find our article about water leak sensors interesting.

What is a multi use detector?

This is generally a name given to a device used to detect things in your walls, floors and ceilings such as studs, framing, wires (including electrics), pipes and metalwork. They will likely work on a number of surfaces and materials in properties. They are generally fairly compact and versatile devices that can be found from a number of suppliers and retailers.

How do I find out where my water pipes are running?

The devices shown above can be used to trace water pipes around your property or around your garden for example, these are used in conjunction with other tools to find water leaks, each has its own purpose. If someone has a damp patch on ceilings or a water leak from an upstairs flat, we will check for pipes nearby.

How do you trace a leaking pipe?

There are a number of ways to trace a leaking pipe and, in fact, the best way to do it is to use a variety of methods in conjunction with each other and depending on the location and type of pipe you are looking to trace. Things like pipe detectors, CAT & Genny devices, acoustic and thermal detectors all compliment each other well aided by moisture mapping meters.