While it depends on the building type and other factors to know how often it will have leaks, we can examine water use by building use and industry...
Why Facilities Managers Should Adopt IoT Water Leak Detection Systems
In this article, we explore how IoT water leak detection sensors can help facilities managers take decisions faster, and prevent damages and costs.
Behind the guise of a thriving, well-functioning office is an excellent facilities management team. As a facilities manager, your responsibilities may encompass all corners of a building such as monitoring plumbing, electrical and roofing systems.
According to the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), repair and maintenance costs constitute the second largest expenditure of a facilities manager’s budget, owing first to taxes and insurance so catching issues as early as possible must be prioritized.
One of the most unpredictable and common threats to a building comes from water leaks, which for commercial buildings can accrue average losses of US$1.4M, compared to domestic buildings at just US$4K. With the high stakes of real estate and a business’s operation, chances can no longer be risked by solely carrying out manual inspections for water leaks.
The question therefore turns to: Is water leak sensing technology worth investing in? LAIIER has considered the priorities of facilities managers and developed the Severn WLD as an easy-to-install, cost-effective solution to catch the first signs of a leak.
The main challenges facilities managers face
Facilities managers have many overarching priorities, such as complying with legislation and minimizing repair costs. The consequences of water leaks have the potential to negatively impact many of these priorities across a building’s operation.
Staying on top of maintenance and repairs
Firstly, for commercial buildings, the increased number of appliances, scale of infrastructure and higher levels of activity make inspection a lot more resource intensive. Annual repair and maintenance costs have been reported to span up to US$2.8 per sqft, which when applied to the average Walmart Supercenter, can total up to US$500K per year.
These statistics are estimates but can easily be larger with more complex building structures. Water-intensive appliances such as HVAC systems, supply pipes and hot water boilers are all prone to corrosion so need regular maintenance.
If maintenance does not prevent leaks, the repair costs can be costly, which is typically seen in roofing. At LAIIER, we have also spoken to facilities managers in buildings of cultural heritage and these present a greater risk to mitigate as damage cannot be restored to its original value.
Increasing energy efficiency
Keeping a building as energy efficient as possible is a great incentive for lower operating costs. Similar to wasting power by leaving appliances on, the same can be seen with water use.
Water-efficient appliances such as eco-flush toilets can theoretically reduce water consumption; however, these efforts can be decimated by unnoticed water leaks. The EPA reports that water leaks can account for 10% of water usage in commercial buildings. Small cracks of an ⅛ inch can leak up to 250 gallons per day. Further analysis into low-level leaks shows that a single leaking toilet can lose up to 750 liters of water per day and a dripping tap with 70 liters per day.
It also must not be forgotten that power use can be directly linked to water use as water needs to be heated and cooled for certain applications.
Meeting regulations and achieving compliance
As a facilities manager, being compliant with the latest legislation is an ongoing effort that can increase with complexity depending on whether you oversee a hospital or a retail store. In terms of preventing water leaks and ingress, these requirements can fall under many regulations and codes.
First, the International Plumbing Code (IPC) details the proper installation and maintenance of water supply and distribution systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) further provides regulations on water quality, wastewater management and conservation.
Water leaks can also create health and safety hazards such as slipping hazards, damaged structures and mold. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations cover the standards to prevent these harmful conditions that may cause injury to employees.
Minimizing business interruption
Dealing with repair costs, water waste and legal fines are just one side to the consequences of water leaks. Sometimes the more concerning impacts lie in the disruption of business operations and reputation.
A research study of 250 facilities management professionals showed that, on average, warehouses and facilities have over a month of working days lost every year due to maintenance work. For data centers, this is critical, as downtimes can cost around US$350K per hour.
Furthermore, the damaging nature of water leaks could mean equipment damage so also losing sensitive data. One incident from a burst pipe in a newly renovated lab saw a year of business interruption and $3M in downtime costs.
Alongside downtime, the more incalculable yet significant costs lie in brand reputation. Losing customer information can break valuable business relationships. Additionally, notable buildings can have their brand tarnished by negative publicity due to damaging incidents. For example, when a major fire broke out in one of Ocado’s robot-operated warehouses.
Trends that facilities managers need to stay on top of
In addition to the challenges faced by facilities management whilst dealing with water leaks, there are many current trends that make Internet of Things (IoT) technology valuable for commercial buildings.
The continued rise of predictive maintenance technology
Facilities managers may have already implemented smart systems such as building management systems (BMS) to streamline different types of monitoring and actuation over a whole building. Sensing devices are also popular amongst facilities managers v- for example, occupancy sensing to know how many spaces in a car park are free, or air quality monitoring that links to HVAC systems are all well-known examples of sensors.
Regardless of how advanced the sensing device is, it is becoming more apparent that there is only value when clear insights and actions can be taken by facilities managers. This has been achieved through a new wave of technology called predictive maintenance that provides data-backed insights so issues are detected and resolved earlier on. The value of this technology is shown by its rapid market growth from US$5,943.2M in 2022 to US$60,363.8M by 2031.
Changing sustainability regulations
With the repercussions of climate change taking a toll across the globe, it is no surprise that there are new and stricter regulations to achieve sustainability goals. These have included commercial buildings specifically such as carbon caps on buildings more than 25,000 sqft in New York City or a set goal for all commercial buildings to achieve an EPC rating of ‘B’ by 2030 in the UK.
When looking at water use, it is predicted that at least 40 states will have water shortages by 2024; therefore, the need to conserve water is critical. This urgency had been reflected in several US bills such as the Water Efficiency, Conservation and Sustainability Act 2022 which includes the identification and repairing of leaks.
The change to more sustainable operations is also fueled by public attitudes, as a study conducted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found that 40% of surveyed real-estate professionals saw increasing demand for sustainability among tenants. Being able to monitor water use and leaks is a fundamental aspect of knowing a building's progress to sustainability.
Building occupation is less predictable
Commercial real estate such as offices have seen a dramatic change in space usage over the past years, as a Mercer study revealed that in 2021, 70% of companies were planning a hybrid model of working. Flexible working meant that more dynamic spaces were created that could cater to low and high occupancy.
This unpredictability in routine, however, can cause a fluctuation of pressure onto facilities and appliances, leading to a greater probability of incidents such as pipe corrosion and leaks. More adaptable facilities management is therefore required to deal with varying uses of buildings.
The features of more modern infrastructure are also increasing the costs and complexity of repair if water leaks were to happen. Environment-controlled buildings are becoming more standard and use an intricate network of systems to connect heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting.
Sustainable buildings may further have solar panels or rainwater harvesting systems on the exterior. In the event of leaks and ingress, these systems require expert knowledge and skills to repair them which can be expensive.
More costly repairs can also be seen in buildings with specialized materials such as glass curtain walls, high-performance insulation and composite materials. Furthermore, modular and custom-fit units mean damaged furnishings need custom repairs.
As facilities management costs are forecast to grow by 22% from 2021 to 2027 from rising labor and material costs, this only drives for more efficient operations.
LAIIER’s Solution: Severn WLD
It is clear that there are a lot of incentives to mitigate the chances of building damage, especially regarding water leaks. Predictive maintenance is the way forward and at LAIIER we have developed the Severn WLD which is a thin, flexible printed sensor that can be applied like tape on a range of surfaces to detect the first signs of a leak.
Easy to install
The Severn WLD is an easy-to-install device as it only requires removing the adhesive backing and sticking it onto any surface. This means that whole buildings can be protected within a few hours, minimizing costs associated with installation technicians and downtime.
The Severn WLD’s unique, thin form factor also allows it to be installed onto a range of surfaces whether across the edge of a room, wrapped around pipes or between tight spaces. This device can therefore be adaptable to a range of use cases unlike the more common flood sensors that only exist in a rigid puck shape so may not fit in all spaces
Catches leaks early to minimize damage
The key to successful predictive maintenance technologies starts with being able to detect damage early. This is important in large buildings as leaks can travel through many floors if left unrepaired. The Severn WLD has an excellent sensitivity as it can detect less than 0.1ml of water. This high sensitivity is combined with a wider coverage area so the sensor does not have to wait for the leak to spread to it.
Also, as the sensor is installed flush to the surface, this means that it can come into close contact with appliances that have a characteristic leaking behavior that starts with small beads of water such as hot water tanks.
With high performance usually comes high cost but as the Severn WLD leverages off from printed electronics, the sensor is very cost-effective and scalable. In our previously conducted study that compared water leak sensors, we found that the Severn WLD was four times less than the cost of the average cable sensing solution.
Delivers data-driven insights
Lastly, the most valuable aspect of the sensor is the data that leads to clear and actionable insights for the facilities management team. The Severn WLD notifies the facilities management team through the LAIIER Cloud dashboard if there is a leak. The sensor print design is also segmented into 12 separate electrodes, which means that the sensor can tell how much is leaking and at what rate the leak is spreading for more-informed insights.
Depending on the use case, each sensor can be calibrated to appropriate thresholds depending on how many electrodes are triggered. This can greatly improve reliability as false positives from small splashes of water around a sink can be negated meaning less time is wasted for facilities managers.
From this article, there are many drivers as to why predictive maintenance technology is needed to manage the complex operations of a building today. Water leaks in particular need constant monitoring, due to the severity of their damage in repair and business costs. Although there are many water leak devices on the market, the most appropriate solution must perform accurately and relay proactive insights to facilities managers.
The Severn WLD presents an easy-to-install, accurate and cost-effective sensor that can adapt to a wide variety of commercial building types. This solution is ready to purchase and to find out more on how this solution can add value to your building, book a demo today.