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By Curtis Wondra
From the February 2024 Issue


Every commercial building will experience a water leak at some time. It is possible, however, to minimize the damage caused and associated costs by installing the proper leak detection system. Given that the average gross loss for water damage to commercial buildings in the U.S. is $100,000—more than fire and theft combined—proper planning and installing an intelligent leak detection system can save building owners considerable costs associated with repair and restoration, mold remediation, higher insurance premiums, and disrupted operations.

With many wired and wireless options available, selecting the proper system requires understanding capabilities and requirements. Given that leaks can occur 24/7/365 and often are during off-hours or in a remote location, the system needs to provide real-time updates. Another key feature is automatic water shut-off capabilities that can provide considerable financial savings.

Water Leak Detection
(Photo: Adobe Stock/ romaset)

Fast Construction Creates Risk

Leak detection is necessary for existing buildings, as plumbing systems wear over time. Leak detection is also beneficial for new construction given market trends. Today’s business environment has shorter timelines and an emphasis on cost, which may impact materials of construction. Such dynamics can lend themselves to potential leaks in newly opened buildings.

To offset this new approach, modern wireless leak detection systems can be easily integrated during construction. Because implementing the system is simple, building owners can ensure that their projects stay on schedule and that buildings can be open for business on time.

The user-friendly design of modern leak detection systems requires less training time and reduces risk of error, for greater efficiency. For these reasons, building executives and owners should view the cost of the wireless detection system as an investment in the building’s well-being, not an expense. While their scalable nature means the price tag will change depending on the size and risk factors of the building, they will likely pay for themselves after detecting one leak, as losses that involve water damage cost three times as much on average as claims that do not.

Selecting A Proper Leak Detection System

There are various leak detection systems, ranging from hard-wired to wireless, which are either radio frequency (RF) or Wi-Fi. Wired systems are not practical in retrofit projects, as they require additional construction costs to break existing walls to run the wires. In new construction, wired systems have a lower purchase price. There is a greater chance of error, however, as it requires very precise wiring and connections, as well as the potential for wire crimping and fraying.

Wireless systems eliminate the concerns associated with wired options. RF leak detection systems, such as the one in Figure 1 (below), are more robust than Wi-Fi options because the signals are much stronger and reliable. Wi-Fi is more susceptible to signals being dropped momentarily. If a signal is lost as a leak occurs those few minutes equate to dollars.

Water Leak Detection
Figure 1: RF leak detection systems are more robust than Wi-Fi options because the signals are much stronger. (Contributed by The Detection Group)


Advanced leak detection technologies can provide much more valuable data. In addition to identifying where a leak occurs, intelligent RF systems can also provide information on which personnel were on location at the time of the leak, who was notified, who took action to resolve the issue, specific action taken and the time each action took place. Creating such an audit trail makes it easier to verify the proper actions were taken.

Automatic shut-off functions are incredibly valuable, as well. As soon as a leak is identified, the system can shut off water, allowing maintenance personnel to resolve any issues before leaks can cause serious damage, avoiding catastrophic incidents before they even occur.

Leak Detection Keeps Insurance Companies Happy

Regardless of a building’s size or the type of business, an expansive insurance policy is an absolutely necessary safety net. More specifically, one that protects the building from all possible damage resulting from leaks, as water damage claims make up more than half of all insurance claims in commercial real estate. And with the average cost of commercial water damage claim ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, making sure property is protected against such incidents is crucial for maintaining a healthy bottom line.

The policy itself is only one important aspect. Even if a certain incident is covered, continued water damage claims for undetected leaks can create issues with an insurance company, including but not limited to increased premiums. Modern leak detection solutions, however, can help building owners’ relationships with their insurance providers. Certain systems provide more than just simple status updates in the event of a leak, as noted above, which is a benefit when contacting insurance companies.

All Facilities Require Leak Detection

Water damage can be costly to every building type. Hotels, resorts, and other hospitality facilities face significant indirect financial implications. Leaks can cause room closures that lead to vacancies and/or relocation of guests to other properties. The same applies to apartment buildings, condominiums, and similar residential facilities.

Because mold remediation fees can be costly, a proactive prevention strategy is often the best approach.   

Mold is an especially important factor when it comes to tenant and guest satisfaction. Even if leaks don’t cause serious structural damage, they increase the risk of mold on the premises. Certain black mold can germinate in as little as 24 hours, further increasing the health risks posed by water damage. If this mold can be visually identified, it’s likely indicative of a serious hazard. Along with upsetting guests and tenants, this can open building and facility owners to legal liabilities. Because mold remediation fees can be costly, a proactive prevention strategy is often the best approach.   

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Hard costs associated with water damage to servers and other IT equipment also can be limited by leak detection. This is particularly true of data centers, as the average data center outage costs $300,000 to $750,000. Lost clients may also be a repercussion of a leak.

Healthcare facilities, law firms, financial institutions, and other businesses required to maintain meticulous records benefit from leak detection, as well. Water damage to files may lead to fines, lawsuits, and other costly actions.

Investing In The Right Strategy

Though leaks in professional buildings and commercial facilities can’t be completely avoided, implementing a strategy to minimize their impact can result in significant cost savings. Investing in the right technology can lead to long-run savings for building owners. Proper leak detection systems can quickly recognize problems, so they can be rectified in a timely fashion to limit damage.

Water Leak DetectionWondra has managed sales teams and customer relationships for over 16 years while designing various water and steam systems for HVAC and industrial processes. He manages the direct sales efforts for The Detection Group. Prior, he worked for two manufacturer’s representatives, managing a sales portfolio of 40+ manufacturers and suppliers. Before his HVAC and industrial experience, Wondra was a design engineer for Cessna. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Wichita State University.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

Facility Executive Magazine