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Many businesses struggle to protect themselves against impending water damage, either because they are unaware of their vulnerability or simply don’t know where to begin in terms of solutions. Building owners and tenants alike need to assess their unique risk, recognize the bottom-line dollar impact water damage can have on their business, and proactively secure and safeguard their property. 


For water damage prevention, this is achieved through active emergency response planning; inspection and maintenance of building systems, and using state of the art water and leak detection technology. Like any evolving technology, these systems are not perfect, but are rapidly developing to more effectively complement maintenance programs and business continuity plans aimed towards mitigating water damage loss.

The vast number of commercial water damage technology solutions on the market can make the decision a challenging one. How does a business choose between basic leak detection technology and some of the more advanced solutions aimed at prevention and not just detection? Let’s look at some of the fundamentals for the systems currently on the market:
 

Sensors

  • Water sensors – these are the basic building blocks of the simplest systems. Think of them as “smoke detectors” for water. They are usually geared towards spot type detection of water, and can be placed in areas most prone to leaks or escaped liquids, such as in bathrooms. These can also include “rope” type detectors which trigger notification if water touches any portion of the rope, which can be used in varying lengths.
  • Temperature and humidity sensors – these are spot sensors which report back temperature and relative humidity which are leading causes and indicators of water damage. For example, freezing is a leading cause of pipe burst, so low temperature alarms in the area of a pipe can be very effective. High humidity can cause high bioburden and other water related damage.
  • Flow and pressure sensors – These are more advanced sensing systems, usually installed within plumbing systems, for the purpose of sending back information relevant to possible leaks, unusual flow patterns and / or water usage information for water conservation measures.
  • Acoustic sensors – These are some of the most advanced sensors available on the market today, and use ultrasonic signals collected from the outside of the pipe to report back potential leaks, unusual flow patterns, and / or water usage information.

Risk Engineering Services
 

Associated Devices

  • Automatic Shutoff Valves – Many solutions today provide an option to take action upon notification of possible water or leak detection, such as automatically shutting off water control valves. Many offer the ability to take action directly, and quickly, from your smart phone or your laptop via apps and websites. Think of this capability as water damage prevention.

  • Gateway Devices – Most solutions today communicate information, such as water detection events by a sensor, directly to the internet or cloud. This connectivity may be one or some combination of radio frequency (RF), cellular, satellite, WiFi, Bluetooth, or Ethernet.

 

Data Processing & The Cloud

  • Data processing for these solutions usually involves the cloud, where large amounts of data is uploaded from the system of sensors. Providing useable data from these sensors is where the market is rapidly developing. Most vendors will apply their own proprietary machine learning and software algorithms to provide the customer with useable data in an effort to prevent and detect water damage from even the smallest of leaks, from both small and large diameter commercial plumbing risers.

  • Dashboards are the software user- interfaces where the end users manage the system, from notification, to automatic shut off, to water conservation efforts. Basic leak detection refers to reactive solutions that focus on detection and notifying the user of a water event, while prevention is proactive and includes an added element, usually automatic shutoff valves to stop the flow of water and prevent further damage. True water damage prevention for large commercial properties may mean the installation of multiple sensors and automatic shut off valves to afford a greater level of protection.

Summary 

Leak detection products rely on a variety of sensors and devices that signal when water is present, usually triggering notifications and alarms. These sensors are typically installed in areas where leaks occur frequently such as restrooms and kitchens; near or around objects that contain water like boilers and water tanks; as well as near critical equipment or important areas within the building or facility.

Statistics show that impactful areas for water detection technology would include bathrooms (especially toilets), near water heaters, within HVAC condensate pans, within vacant area, within boiler and machinery rooms, near water storage tanks, and near main water service feeds.

Detection is the first layer of defense. When these sensors come into contact with water, they will send an alert or notification. This event is typically logged and may trigger a sequence of events depending on the software and communication. Events may trigger a local audible alarm, send rules-based notifications via texts and phone calls, and display alerts on the user dashboard. The level of customization and the types of alerts and notifications available will vary between solution providers.

Prevention provides a secondary layer of defense that is proactive, utilizing shutoff valves installed in the water line that can automatically close to prevent water from flowing when a leak is detected. Consideration must be given when to use preventive measures as there can be negative consequences that can affect production or tenants when a water line or branch is shut off.

Installation, testing and maintenance implications for these systems is also a critical factor to consider. Anything battery powered should be routinely checked to ensure it is still operating. Follow manufacturer’s instructions on battery replacement. Many systems today also incorporate battery monitoring features to alert end users to low charge conditions.

Regular testing to ensure the devices have not been moved, disconnected, or damaged is best practice. Self-diagnostic  features can help ensure the system is fully operational. For those systems connected to the internet, they will likely need regular software updates to mitigate cybersecurity risks. Look for systems that have undergone cybersecurity assessment. Also, look for systems that meet UL Listings and Certifications.

Disclaimer - All contents of the article is intended for general information/guidance purposes only and not intended to be an offer or solicitation of insurance products or personal advice or a recommendation to any individual or business of any product or service.  This article should not be relied on for legal advice or policy coverage and cannot be viewed as a substitute to obtaining proper legal or other professional advice, or for reading the policy documents. You should read the policy documents to determine whether any of the insurance product(s) discussed are right for you or your business, noting different limits, exclusions, terms and conditions apply in each country or territory, and not all cover is available in all countries or territories.

 

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