Water damage in commercial buildings is a common and costly issue. From water pipe leaks to appliance failures, leaks in roofs and building membranes, and flooding, the different types of water damage impact your property and business in different ways.
The growing sophistication of the Internet of Things (IoT) means that building owners and facilities managers can protect their properties against leaks and other events.
It’s also an area that insurance professionals now need to be familiar with. The use of IoT sensors and networks has the potential to significantly reduce the damage and overall risk that water presents to insurance customers.
We’re taking a closer look at the different types of water damage and how they affect various types of commercial properties, especially industrial facilities, offices, and multi-residential buildings. We’ll also cover different ways IoT tools can protect your property from this kind of damage.
A common source of water damage from HVAC systems is air conditioning units, which can develop leaks due to clogged drains, frozen evaporator coils, or malfunctioning condensate pumps.
These problems can often be attributed to a constant need to clean the dirt and debris from these units.
On the heating side, depending on where you live in the world, water continues to be how many commercial buildings circulate heat using boilers and radiators. Underfloor heating is also booming in popularity, particularly in response to increasing environmental and energy efficiency standards for new builds.
And while they can be very efficient systems because they tend to concentrate a lot of water in one area, the results can be catastrophic when they do fail.
Chubb reports an incident where a coupling on an HVAC unit in a manufacturing plant failed, leaking over 12,000 gallons of water over 15,000 sq. feet of the building, costing the business $4 million in lost revenue, clean-up costs, and the need for extensive regulatory approval.
The good news is that IoT systems are well-positioned to protect from these incidents. For example, leak detection sensors deployed around HVAC units, boiler rooms, and on critical joints and couplings throughout the building can warn you early about a leak.
Temperature sensors can also monitor key parts of heating and cooling, warning you if coils are freezing or ducts and pipes are becoming too hot because they need cleaning.
Additionally, some companies produce gas sensors that can detect refrigerant gases used in most air conditioning systems, which is especially important given how dangerous they are to people and the environment.
The pipes, toilets, baths and sinks of a building’s water supply and drainage systems are always wearing out, bending, and bursting. And they don’t even need much to cause damage – a small crack in a ⅛” pipe can leak 250 gallons a day; a ½” pipe can leak 10,000 gallons in mere hours.
This is a constant issue for multi-residential buildings with stacked plumbing, as well as hotels and other hospitality accommodations. Toilets are the most common, accounting for nearly 1 in 6 events of interior water damage.
Plumbing leaks in these types of buildings have a compounding effect. A leak in one unit can damage the walls and ceilings in all the units around it, leading to exponential costs as you are forced to rehouse or relocate residents while repairs are made.
The IoT water detection sensors we make at Laiier were designed with this scenario in mind. We developed a sensor you can apply like tape around pipes, joints, seals and valves, allowing you to know the moment even a couple of drops of water are detected.
Additionally, water flow sensors are a great complement to this kind of water detection. Flow sensors can be used to watch for things like clogs or pressure problems throughout your building’s plumbing.
Water leaks involving appliances – chiefly washing machines, dishwashers and water heaters, are most commonly caused by aging parts and occasionally by clogs or improper installation.
What makes these leaks most difficult is, because these appliances are actively pumping water, leaks from these most often occur when the machine is running, rapidly flooding entire rooms in minutes. For example, we cover dishwashers’ water leak risks, highlighting some key ways appliances fail.
For most appliances, the reality is that regular maintenance and replacement of parts is the best way to ensure you never suffer a leak – most machines have a set lifespan. As a result, parts will somewhat reliably start to fail after a few years.
Water leak detection sensors help if something like a pump or a valve has a small leak that you can catch before a kitchen, restaurant or tank room gets flooded.
Roof and Wall Leaks
Roof leaks are perhaps the most common type of water leak in commercial buildings. Rain, snow, wind, or poor maintenance all contribute to leaks. Commercial roofs also tend to be loaded with HVAC equipment, vents, and skylights, which increase the number of points where water can enter.
The flat roofs of most commercial buildings also compound the issue – they tend to become spaces where pools of water can build up, and materials need to be regularly replaced to keep the roof waterproof.
Walls can be just as vulnerable – much like roofs, exterior walls are home to just as points where water can leak in. Lights, HVAC, window and door frames, and all it needs is a crack to appear in brickwork or the flashing around a window to wear out for water to get in.
Sensors can be a valuable tool in preventing water damage from leaks in the roofs and walls:
Water detection sensors can be used in layers of roofing material or around the frames of windows and doors to monitor any leaks.
You can mount sensors in drains for gutter and other drainage spaces, alerting you if a likely blockage needs to be removed.
Structural health monitoring sensors, used for checking the levelness of walls, roofs, and their structural integrity, can also be used to watch for evidence of sloping or caving that might be caused by water.
Flooding, Groundwater & Sewage
Water damage from flooding and sewage backups may be the messiest and most complex. Excessive rain and rising river or sea levels are extremely difficult to predict and happen so quickly that it’s usually impossible to do much about them until they’re over.
There are ideas for how to use the Internet of Things to help protect buildings and people from flooding, which are very early in their development. Ultimately, some of the best applications for this technology involve networked sensors, but near areas where the water is, rather than in or on a building.
Potential sewage blockages, on the other hand, can be guarded against with a few different tools:
Flow sensors can monitor drains and sewage stacks in tall multi-residential and office buildings and warn you if and where a blockage has occurred.
This can also be accomplished with water level sensors, which can alert you if levels in a pipe or tank are too high
Smart Valves can be used to shut off drain flows to prevent backflow or put more water into a clogged pipe
And, finally, much like with plumbing, you can use sensors around vulnerable joints, valves, and connectors, monitoring for any water or early signs a leak may be about to happen.
Contact Laiier to get started better protecting your buildings
If you’re looking for a way to protect your commercial properties from water damage, our Severn Water Leak Detection system could be a powerful tool to help. Severn WLD sensors can detect leaks early on and minimize the amount of damage caused.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit the Severn WLD page, or contact us today.