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How LoRaWAN water leak detectors can unburden facilities management

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A tiny sensor could save many large buildings enormous amounts of money and make the difficult work of facilities management substantially more straightforward.

When it comes to managing water infrastructure, there are few substitutes for a facilities manager going out in person. They must check a building from top to bottom, looking for any leaks or water damage signs.

LoRaWAN® water leak detector technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) could help change that: saving facilities management hours and building owners money.

What is LoRaWAN®?

LoRaWAN® is a Low-Power, Wide-Area (LPWA) software architecture and communication protocol connecting sensors and other "things" to digital networks. Its main benefits are that it uses relatively little energy and can be used to send and receive encrypted data wirelessly over long distances. And because it is an international specification, it is interoperable with all kinds of networks and software.

It is still relatively new, first created in 2015 and now maintained by the non-profit LoRa Alliance.


How LoRaWAN® water leak detection helps facilities management

The most common way water leaks in large facilities or commercial buildings are found is when the damage becomes visible, or there is an unexplained increase on the water meter.

This makes managing a building's water systems crisis-driven and inefficient. Especially as the most costly leaks are usually small but with long runtime. Leaks like this will go unnoticed until significant long-term damage is done or there is a sudden flood.

It also means there is usually a high, immediate cost when a leak is found: if, for example, water damage is spotted in the ceiling below an upper-floor bathroom, it is likely a fitting and the waterproofing membrane both failed, and there is already significant structural damage. The result is numerous people having to do loud, messy work over multiple floors – incredibly disruptive to the people who might work or live in the building.

However, with the addition of LoRaWAN® liquid detection sensors, almost all of these costs can be reduced or eliminated:

Sensors can be deployed throughout facilities where a leak is likely to happen, such as fittings, valves, fixtures, and meters, both on exposed pipes and walls and ceilings.

Sensors can be configured to detect minor leaks, wirelessly sending an alert to a utility's digital network when it detects a critical threshold of water with pinpoint accuracy.

Data from the sensors can be captured in real-time, minimizing the time management needed to check the facility manually.

Use Case Example: Office Building

As an example of how this technology can be used in practice, we will use a small office building. An ideal configuration of sensors would be:

  • Around the pipes for both supply and waste for:
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens/Cooking spaces
  • Clean facilities
  • At strategic points throughout the building's water infrastructure, for both supply and waste, where there are most likely to be leaks over time (fittings, valves, potential points of stress in the distribution network).
  • Connection points with public infrastructure or outside the building (where there might be additional chances of blockages or pipes freezing)

For buildings with rainwater collection, these sensors could be applied for monitoring water collected from a green roof and, with a suitable configuration, could also monitor when a collector is reaching saturation.

With LoRaWAN®-type sensors, these could be connected to either a network within the building or even one off-site, capable of alerting facilities management immediately and precisely where a leak has occurred. Ultimately, using sensors in this way:

  • Protects the building over its lifespan
  • Reduces repair costs
  • Reduce time spent by facilities management having to check the building's status in person

Additionally, it could also aid buildings in meeting sustainability objectives and corresponding certification from relevant programs (ex., Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method in the U.K., German Sustainable Building Council in Germany, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design in the U.S.A.) by reducing building's overall water usage.


The right kind of sensor could make facilities management work much easier

Facilities management is already complex, challenging work: Constant monitoring, significant heavy labor, managing technicians and contractors, and keeping owners or administration informed. It is also often very manual work – finding a water leak invariably involves going out into the field to determine the status of the network and the best course of action. 

It is also obviously difficult to know what's wrong with a water pipe when you can't see inside it. However, this reality is changing now. Sensors like LAIIER's Severn Sensors can be applied like tape. They will fit around all shapes and sizes of pipe joints, valves, and fittings, where larger sensors in hardware housing can't work.

They can immediately detect leaks of any size, alerting you no matter how far away you might be. This gives technicians and facilities management a natural extension to their current methods for maintaining infrastructure using IoT technology.


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