BehrTech Blog

3 Water Leak Detector Types Smart Buildings Can’t Live Without

Today, state-of-the-art water leak detectors powered by IoT technologies help facility managers pinpoint the most invisible leaks and floods from afar and in a matter of seconds after an incident starts.

We often think of water is one of the most valuable and critical commodities on earth. What we don’t often think about is how it can be unpredictable and destructive at the same time. Water damage is one of property owners’ and facility managers’ worst nightmares. Each incident threatens to ravage building structure, furniture and electronic equipment, followed by substantial restoration and cleanup costs. The longer it takes to detect the leak, the more catastrophic the damage.

Mold growth can start in as little as 24 to 48 hours and continues even after the water has dried out. Without timely and effective handling, it can severely ruin wall and floor materials while posing significant health risks to occupants. Not to mention, the staggering loss of water resources; a mere 1/8 inch or 3.2 mm pipe crack can cause 250 gallons of water leak a day.

Leading Causes of Water Damage

Besides extreme weather events like storms and floods, plumbing system failures and burst pipes are among the most common culprits of water damage. Bursts are often a result of corrosion or undue water pressure. Particularly in regions experiencing harsh winter, water inside pipelines can easily freeze into ice, making it expand in volume and exert excessive pressure on the pipe. As such, it comes as no surprise that January and February were reported to have peak numbers of water damage claims in the US. Malfunctions of toiletry, sprinkler systems or HVAC equipment follow as other common causes. Commercial buildings with high levels of occupancy and foot traffic often see faster wear-and-tear of water-related amenities.

It’s worth noting that, while sudden, unforeseeable water damage like the type induced by frozen pipes might be fully covered in your insurance package (if you have a thorough one!), gradual leaks attributed to negligence and poor maintenance most likely won’t be. And, given the growing number of claims and an immense 2.5 billion USD cost insurance companies have to shoulder, premiums and deductibles are getting more and more expensive.

How Smart Water Leak Detectors Are Changing the Game

In multi-story buildings and large-scale industrial facilities, early-stage water leakage can be very difficult to detect, especially if it occurs in cabinets or hidden spaces. An incident often goes unnoticed for days or even months, until severe damage is visible. At this point, it’s very costly and difficult to restore the spoiled structure. Fortunately, IoT and smart building technologies are giving facility managers peace-of-mind with an automated, remote water management approach.

Powered by advanced sensor technologies and next-gen wireless connectivity, smart water leak detectors can catch water damage that you can’t see or hear. By installing them in high-risk areas throughout the property, building operators can receive alerts upon the very first sign of a leak allowing them to take remedial action. Taken a step further, hooking this data into a building management system enables automated responses like shutting off the supply valve or HVAC equipment to prevent widespread damage before a technician arrives.

Most smart water leak detectors are battery-powered and can operate independent of permanent power outlets, offering great flexibility as to where you deploy the sensors. Plus, they automatically notify you when the battery is running low. Paired with innovative connectivity like Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN), sensors can possess a battery life that span years to minimize maintenance overhead. This is particularly important when it comes to a campus-style smart building deployment where there are a vast number of distributed sensors.

Major Water Leak Detector Types for Smart Buildings

Water leak detectors come in many shapes and forms depending on the underlying sensing technology. Below are the three main types that commercial and industrial users should know.

1. Flood Sensors

Flood sensors are probably the most common type of commercial leak detectors out there, as they are highly affordable and can be installed in a matter of seconds. Placed in areas prone to flooding due to faulty water-based appliances and pipes, a flood sensor triggers an alarm when it comes in contact with water on the floor. Certain sensors allow users to adjust the sensitivity of water detection to avoid false alarms caused by high humidity. Others also provide built-in temperature sensing ability to send notification if the room temperature is reaching the freezing point conducive to burst pipes. Facility managers can thus take counteractive measures to prevent failures beforehand.

2. Flow Meters

IoT water flow meters are strategically mounted at different points on the pipe or plumbing system to measure flow rates inside the pipeline. In the event of a leak, abnormal deviations in flow velocity, pressure and vibration readings that indicate the escape of water are immediately captured. An analytics platform then analyzes pressure and flow differentials to locate crack and helps you quickly maneuver maintenance activities. Next-gen flow meters leverage electromagnetic and ultrasonic technology for highly precise flow sensing without intrusive pipe-cutting installation. They can also easily clamp onto legacy water meters to monitor real-time consumption rate and trigger alerts when unusual usage behavior is detected.

3. Acoustic Sensors

Deployed along the water distribution lines, acoustic sensors listen for distinctive noise generated when water seeps through a fracture. The size of a leak can be defined based on its sound characteristics. Typically, high-frequency sounds indicate smaller leaks and vice versa. The most advanced acoustic sensors can detect even the faintest leak sound, and data from multiple sensors can be synthesized to establish a noise profile to locate the leak. While flood sensors and flow meters are geared towards commercial uses, acoustic sensors are more intended for industrial environments with intricate water pipeline networks.

Wrapping Up

Introducing severe property damage, soaring utility bills and significant insurance cost, water damage is the enemy of properties of all sizes and ages. Today, state-of-the-art water leak detectors powered by IoT technologies help facility managers pinpoint the most invisible leaks and floods from afar and in a matter of seconds after an incident starts. A fully integrated solution further enables immediate shut-off of the water supply or accountable equipment to minimize loss and damage. Regardless of the sensor type, robust, scalable and ultra-low-power IoT connectivity is key to a versatile leak detection system for industrial and commercial smart buildings.

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