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Leak detection

Water damage is one of the biggest threats to British businesses, costing the UK tax payer an estimated £800m every year. The ABI (Association of British Insurers) has even reported that insurers are paying out £1.8m for escape of water damage claims every day. As a result, understanding the risk of water damage to a business, and identifying ways in which a business can protect against these threats, is vital in an age when companies have become reliant on electrical systems and data storage, writes Simon Massey, pictured, Technical Product Trainer at the fire detection product company Hochiki Europe.

Water damage is a serious threat, with one in five claims made on buildings and contents insurance caused by this issue. When it comes to structural damage, the presence of a water leak can be as catastrophic as a fire.

The costs caused by leaks can also add up devastatingly quickly. Aside from the physical damage caused to buildings, furniture and electricals, the disruption of normal day-to-day operations and the loss of data caused by the damage can cost businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds and halt production and services for weeks on end. With this in mind, businesses must identify potential risks of leaks and take the necessary precautions to protect themselves as soon as they are able to.

What causes water damage?

Nearly all buildings are at risk of water damage in some way due to the fact that most buildings are fed with a mains water supply. Mains water is distributed by interior pipework and usually supplied at a very high pressure. As a result, if the integrity of the pipework is compromised there is a high likelihood of a leak occurring.

In recent years, it has also become more much common for commercial properties to have air conditioning systems fitted. These units traditionally use a mains water supply as part of the cooling mechanism, meaning the potential for leaks, once again, depends on the reliability of pipework. The same can also be said for buildings fitted with water-cooled condensers. These heat exchangers remove heat from refrigerant vapor and transfer it to the water running through it, relying on sturdy pipes.

Since pipework for water transportation is depended upon heavily within buildings, it is crucial that best practice is adhered to during installation. However, as this is a fairly complex undertaking, this is not always the case. Poor standards of installation, untrained personnel and the use of incorrect or ill-fitting materials can all contribute to the increased likelihood of unreliable pipework which in turn increases the risk of leaks. General wear and tear over the course of years of use can also contribute to the increased likelihood of water damage.

Minimising the risks

Life safety engineers regularly conduct fire risk assessments for buildings, yet it is uncommon to evaluate the possible causes of water damage through leaks. Assessing the chance of leaks and recommending the installation of a leak detection system is the perfect way to reduce the threat of escaped water. In fact, many insurance companies are now refusing to insure commercial properties until a suitable leak detection system is in place, particularly if there is a history of previous water damage.

Some of the more advanced systems are also extremely versatile, making them ideal for protecting a variety of different environments. Remote sites like un-manned telecommunication stations where escaped water could go undetected for long periods and data centres which usually feature air conditioning units to cool hardware housing millions of pounds worth of data are both at risk. While, libraries, museums and archives which contain potentially irreplaceable content, and commercial washrooms and kitchens are all high-risk spaces which would benefit from the installation of leak detection technology.

How does the technology work?

Commonly, leak detection systems on the market feature control panels and cables meaning they can be installed similarly to their fire detection counterparts. Using either ‘probes’ to detect standing water (point detection), ‘water sensitive cables’ to provide linear detection of moisture or a combination of both, the systems are designed to protect areas where water ingress could cause serious damage, by continuously monitoring for any amount of water and producing an alarm if water is detected.

When it comes to slow leaks, these often cause damage right up until they are detected as they are much more difficult to identify. However, with a leak detection system in place, warning is given immediately – preventing major damage from occurring. Both visual and audible warnings, including a voice alarm, can also be integrated.

Systems, like Hochiki Europe’s LEAKalarm, can also be programmed to suit a range of applications, and feature a specialised control panel meaning that monitoring can take place remotely via a building management system. This ensures that personnel can locate and remedy leaks with greater efficiency and minimises any potential losses for owners. In the event of a mains power failure, LEAKalarm also continues to operate for up to 72 hours using its stand-by batteries.

Ultimately, the potential benefits of installing a leak detection system for commercial properties should not be underestimated. The systems monitor for water and can alert building managers to the first sign of leaks, reducing the likelihood of damage and saving businesses potentially thousands in repairs and day-to-day operational costs. Since insurers are now reporting high costs for daily escape of water claims, the installation of this innovative and effective technology offers the perfect solution for businesses wanting to defend against this risk.

To find out more about best practice in water leak detection, Hochiki Europe’s online seminar on the topic is available to watch on our YouTube channel:



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