How LoRaWAN water leak detectors can unburden facilities management
A tiny sensor could save many large buildings enormous amounts of money and make the difficult work...
Hotels are an indispensable part of today’s travel industry. Even after the impacts of the pandemic, there are more than 700,000 hotels and resorts worldwide [ref] that have a current global market worth $800 billion [ref].COVID-19 has evidently hampered travel activity, but Mckinsey predict that there is an imminent “travel boom” and calls for the industry to invest in digital innovation to capture this post-pandemic growth [ref]. One costly area ready for optimization is hotel maintenance, which can take up to 60% of a hotel's operating costs [ref]. Within maintenance, there is a major growing expense: hotel water leaks.
The cost of water damage paid out by US insurance companies is staggering at $2.5 billion per year [ref]. As hotels have more bathrooms, commercial kitchens and other plumbed-in appliances, this is a prime case for potential water leaks. The key to reducing these damages is early detection which points to the use of IoT monitoring devices.
Although hotels are already adopting IoT solutions such as for luggage management or employee dashboards [ref], hotel staff still mostly depend on manual inspection, or worse through a complaint by a guest. This delay can allow for leaks to spread further damaging a customer’s experience. A few upcoming sensor technologies have proved how worthwhile IoT devices are for commercial water leaks, as damage is detected earlier for proactive measures. However, there are still gaps that need to address scalability and discreteness which is where our LoRaWAN water leak detectors stand out for the hotel environment.
Major insurance firms report how escape of water (EOW) is the number one source of property claims for hotel owners (overtaking fire and burglary) [ref]. Particularly in a hotel where it is estimated that around 150 gallons of freshwater is used per guest room a day [ref], this only emphasizes the scale at which hotels use water. With more water utilities that expand from guest bathrooms, large commercial kitchens, swimming pools and heating, this creates a complex network of pipes, at a range of temperatures and pressures, that increase the likelihood of a leak.
Hotel architecture also unfortunately favors more leaks. Some multi-story hotels stack bathrooms in the same location floor on floor creating an impending domino effect if there is a leak on the top floor. Additionally, water sources are pressurized more in order to reach higher floors which can cause more wear and tear on the water network [ref]. New construction methods such as using modular kitchen, bathroom units or underfloor heating also mean that initial signs of leaks can be hidden and only appear when there is serious damage. With some hotels starting back up again into full occupancy after the standstill of the pandemic, the downtime can cause pipes to corrode so when recommissioned, unexpected leaks can arise.
The direct costs of wasting water can build up over time. For example a leaking tap can increase water consumption by 5% [ref] and an eighth-inch pipe crack can cause 250 gallons of water waste per day [ref]. The statistics go on, but for hotels, the costs do not stop with the water.
This is shown in a major leak at a five-star resort in Las Vegas where water was pouring from a collapsed ceiling [ref]. This delayed a conference being held on the lower-floor convention center as well as disrupting the electric supply for the other customers staying in the 3,211 room hotel. Sure, there was damage to the ceiling which can be fixed; however, those rooms could no longer be booked, losing the hotel key business. Furthermore, for all the disturbed occupants, the leak can delay their time and potentially damage their belongings. All these factors can ruin a guest's visit and a hotel’s reputation.
Many insurance providers deal with EOW as one of the most common claims in the residential sector as “financial cost is contained” and “under control” [ref]. Conversely in the commercial sector, insurance providers are not prepared for EOW claims due to the waterfall of secondary impacts that can cost over $1.3 million [ref]. Consequently, insurance firms are more likely to offer specific EOW policies that cover only ‘trace and access’ for example [ref]. So while the costs for detecting and repairing the source of the damage is covered, replacing damaged drywall or treating mold is not.
At the very least, regular inspections of leaks are necessary so defects can be resolved. For water leaks, critical areas should be checked at least twice a month [ref]. Manual inspection alone may not be sufficient for water leaks as water can travel a long distance before being detected. Recent IoT solutions have thus been developed to allow for automatic monitoring and notifications in hard-to-access areas.
There are three main categories of water leak sensors in the commercial setting: flood/spot sensors, flowmeter hubs and cable sensors. Flood sensors [ref] are palm-sized pucks placed on flat surfaces near areas likely to leak. For this reason, they are the least popular as hotels have many potential critical areas of leaking and pucks cannot be conveniently placed everywhere. Sensing cables have the ability to cover large, flat areas like flat roofs or be wrapped around pipes to detect water, but these come at a higher price [ref]. Finally, flowmeter hubs measure changes in flow rate and pressure in a pipe's network to deduce whether there is a leak [ref]. A stand-out feature for high-end flowmeters are their artificial intelligence capabilities which allow them to learn what the standard water flow is, so abnormalities are flagged early [ref].
As hotels get larger, it is clear that there are more opportunities for water leaks, highlighting the need for scalability. What we are seeing in the current water leak sensing market is that sensors are only being placed near critical areas which may create leak detection blind spots. The next generation of solutions should thus look at targeted sensing- being able to pinpoint exactly where a leak is, whilst also being able to scale to larger and more complex buildings. LAIIER has addressed these needs by developing water leak sensors with a thin, flexible form factor that can convert a range of areas into smart surfaces. The adaptability of this sensor means that it can be wrapped around pipes like cable sensors or trimmed to fit under tight plumbed in appliances. Another important factor for hotels is presentation, so thin stickers are much more favorable and can be hidden compared to pucks or cables.
Early detection is also very important, which is why LAIIER’s water leak sensors can be tuned to very high precisions. For example, our water leak sensor can detect the first drops of water characteristic to hidden water leaks. Having this rich data set communicating the severity and locations of leaks is also so important for insurance companies who, at the moment, cannot offer policies due to the lack of data on risks [ref].
Additionally, it is vital that there is not just the sensing device itself but also the surrounding system to process data and communicate with hotel management. LAIIER recognizes this through developing a Surface to Cloud™ platform that allows seamless remote connectivity via LoRaWAN, communicating sensor measurements and statuses. These LoRaWAN leak detectors are also an important link so maintenance can be synced with existing operations on a hotel’s property management system. Once hotels are less dependent on manual inspections, this will only decrease damage, downtime and mean better experiences for customers.
We have explored multiple sources that emphasize how hotels need to keep one-step-ahead of water leaks in order to prevent regretful costs. Therefore, as the travel industry starts to open up, it is vital that hotels catch onto smart monitoring systems, just as other commercial properties have already done so. Flood, cable and flowmeter sensors have been evaluated here proving the drive for proactive detection. What is not seen is how these can possibly be scaled without compromising accuracy and cost.
LAIIER addresses these concerns with a discrete, scalable and accurate LoRaWAN water leak detector. The supporting Surface to Cloud™ platform then combines this sensing network so hotel operations can easily interpret valuable insights to resolve issues early. Digitizing common maintenance issues is key to the movement for smart hotels which leverage “better guest experience, personalized services and automation” [ref].
This article has shown the versatility of LAIIER’s LoRaWAN leak detectors in hotels which has also proved worthwhile in other industries too. To receive more information on the latest news on LAIIER's partnerships and integrated smart interfaces, subscribe to our emailing list. Or contact us at email@example.com