Finding Air Leaks with a Wizard Stick

Allison A. Bailes IIIby: Allison A. Bailes III, PhD

A great new tool for home performance diagnostic testing has come onto the market – The Wizard Stick. It’s basically a small, hand-held theatrical fog machine that uses the same non-toxic fluid as its larger, more prolific brethren.

Wizard Stick Fog GeneratorFor the home energy auditor or the home performance contractor, this device provides an effective way to find air leaks and a compelling way to demonstrate them to homeowners. With a Blower Door depressurizing the home, you can walk around with the Wizard Stick, pull the trigger, and watch to see if the smoke just hovers near where it’s released or is blown away by air being pushed into the house through a leak.

It makes a nice stream of smoke and produces it quickly when you pull the trigger. Although it doesn’t have the neutral buoyancy that chemical smoke puffers have, I haven’t noticed that it’s far enough away from neutral to be a problem for home energy auditors.  And of course, it has the big advantage of not being toxic. The common chemical smoke puffers available use titanium tetrachloride, which is very corrosive. Several years ago, I kept one of these in a metal locker, and even though it was in a plastic bottle inside a plastic bag, the inside of that locker showed significant corrosion after a short time. I’m happy to find a non-toxic smoke device that works.

Wizard Stick Fog GeneratorIn the photo at left, you see me holding the Wizard Stick near an air conditioning vent during a Blower Door test. The air rushing out of the vent (with the AC turned off!) indicates leakage in the duct system, which also counts as infiltration when the AC isn’t running.

What makes this story even more interesting to me is that the Wizard Stick has reconnected me with a company from my past. I’m a recovering academic, having taught physics at both the high school and college levels, and one of my favorite places to buy fun physics demonstration products was Educational Innovations. As it turns out, they Solar Tubesell the Wizard Stick for the best price I could find on the web. Check ’em out.  (And while you’re there, go ahead and pick up one of my favorites, the Solar Tube, a 60′ long black plastic trash bag that floats like a zeppelin when heated by the Sun and becomes a kid magnet when you take it out to a park.)

About the author:  Allison A. Bailes III, PhD taught physics at both the high school and college levels and discovered Educational Innovations while in graduate school. He is now a ‘recovering academic’ but is still a teacher. His business, Energy Vanguard, provides building science training and consulting with home energy raters, builders, trade contractors, and others.

5 Responses to Finding Air Leaks with a Wizard Stick

  1. Eileen says:

    Can the Wizard be used horizontally, at a water heater’s draft diverter?

  2. Salamanda says:

    I don’t know if you still monitor this site, but if you do- I LOVE this and I have some questions. Have you created this in any other shape/form? Can you think of a way the button could be pushed without…pushing it? I’d love to fix this inside of a top hat and have it emit a bit of smoke periodically for a Steam punk effect! I think this is genius and I love that it is safe.

    • Tami O'Connor says:

      Hi there! We certainly do monitor this site. Glad you like the post. We have not created a Wizard Stick in any other shape or form and don’t really have any ideas how how to press the button without pushing it, but if you figure out a way, we would love to know! The Wizard Stick is undergoing a little redesign this month, so it will look a little different but will effectively be the same. Keep us posted on what you do!
      ~Tami
      Educational Innovations

  3. Ron Pulliam says:

    I want a “smoke” generator I can use in a trade show display. The output I see in the pictures you show is suitable, but how long a time can this run before reloading is required? I would have to tape the trigger down to it could work unsupervised. Is this doable?

    • Tami O'Connor says:

      That’s a good question. The unsupervised part shouldn’t be a problem, but I can’t say with any certainty how long the generator will run without a rest. The fog fluid does go a long way, but since we’ve never tried this, I can’t give you an honest answer.
      ~Tami

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