Challenges for Future Water Leak Sensors in Commercial Buildings
When thinking about commercial buildings, the terms ‘larger-scale’, ‘more expensive’ and ‘more...
Water damage costs to our homes and businesses are immense. Flooding, broken pipes and minor, hidden leaks are the leading cause of commercial property insurance claims. Allianz Global Corporate & Security, in an analysis of nearly half a million claims between 2013 and 2018 from over 200 countries and territories, found that water damage accounted for the third-highest number of insurance claims for global business.
It’s a serious pain point not just for commercial building owners but for the insurers that have to underwrite them, and costs will always rise.
Given this, insurers everywhere are recommending, amongst other things, leak detection monitoring technology.
This usually has several components, including sensors, alerts or alarms, monitoring and data capture platforms, and automatic shut-off valves. The main idea is to use these tools to detect water leaks as early as possible to minimize damage.
We’re going to focus below specifically on the water leak detection sensors that you can use, as there are a few of them. If you’re going to use this technology to protect your properties, you should know what they do and how they work together.
There are three main types of sensor-based water leak detection that a commercial building uses to protect from water leaks: Flood Sensors, Printed & Cable Sensors and Flow Meters.
Below, we’ll cover how each works and how they can protect your building from water.
Flood sensors, also known as spot leak sensors, are the type of water leak detector you will most likely be familiar with. They are usually made as small, palm-sized pucks or blocks, with one or more probes attached. You probably have one of these next to the hot water tank, dishwasher, or washing machine or in your home.
They have the benefits of being easy to deploy, can use straightforward designs, and can be powered with standard-size household batteries. In addition, when the probes touch water, the device has a loud alarm to alert you to a possible leak. Instead of an alarm, in commercial or industrial settings you will have these sensors connected via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or LoRaWAN to a central network that will alert facilities management directly.
The biggest downside to these is that you must place them strategically so any water leaking will reach their probes. They also are generally used in open areas and on hard surfaces, meaning they won’t detect leaks in spaces with insulation or materials that can absorb a lot of water, like drywall.
Additionally, flood sensors are usually only made with hard casings and only work on flat surfaces, making them ineffective in tight or angled spaces.
Where a flood sensor will only activate when water is already pouring into a space, printed sensors and sensor cables are designed to detect any moisture as early as possible.
Sensors like this cover a specific area where leaking might occur. This might include roofs, flooring, and in and around the pipe infrastructure of your building.
Printed Sensors have a thin, flexible form factor, often using adhesives so they can be easily installed in any size or shape. Sensor cables achieve a similar goal, albeit with less flexibility. As the name suggests, they enable you to install different sensors in hard-to-reach places by cable.
For example, LAIIER’s own Severn Sensors, a type of sensor array printed using conductive ink, can detect as little as two drops of water, alerting you of a leak using a LoRaWAN-based monitoring system.
The one major factor to take into account is sensors like this are designed to work as part of an entire smart building system, complete with a local network and a server recording data so facilities management can digitally monitor the building.
The last kind of sensor is a little different from the first two. Where flood sensors and sensor arrays directly detect the water leaks in your building, flow meter sensors track indirect signs of water leakage: flow rate and water pressure.
While this is probably one of the oldest ideas for managing plumbing infrastructure, machine learning capabilities have changed more recently, tracking usage patterns over time and alerting you of even slight deviations in flow or pressure.
Additionally, like the other sensors, these are now made to work with a local network, allowing you to monitor them remotely.
Flowmeters have the advantage of being installed within your plumbing network and alert you of changes, notably of pipes or infrastructure in walls, under floors, or in other hard-to-reach areas. Many models can also automatically shut off the water supply if a critical threshold is reached.
The one major disadvantage is that while a flowmeter can let you know something’s wrong and stop it from getting worse, it can’t tell where a leak might be (except down to the distance from one sensor to the next in the plumbing network. They also don’t help sense leaks outside the building, such as from weather or external flooding.
If you’re exploring options for protecting your buildings from water leaks and damage, we hope this has helped you understand the different types of water sensors available.
Each sensor type has its pros and cons, but you can use them together to give your facility comprehensive coverage. To learn more about how sensors can be used, check out our use cases.
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