This article appeared in the April 2020 issue of PHC News magazine.
By Kathleen Anthony & Janice Despotakis
A few years ago, indoor plumbing leak detection was a niche product offering with limited options at your local supply shop. Today, it’s gone mainstream – ads are all over your trade magazines and promos arrive with coupon collections in homeowners’ mailboxes. Leak detection even made a recent appearance on The Tonight Show, with the team from Ask This Old House showing Jimmy Fallon how easy it is to protect yourself against leaks when you install a smart automatic shutoff system.
It’s impossible to deny the benefits of leak detection, so why is it so hard to convince your clients that it’s in their best interest? And, with so many options now available in the marketplace, how do you cut through the clutter and choose the best solution for the job? The last thing you need is a headache during installation, a system that is frustrating for the client to deal with, or a water sensor or shutoff valve that doesn’t deliver on its promises when they need it most.
Plumbing leaks can quickly cause thousands of dollars in water damage requiring substantial clean-up and repair, waste hundreds of gallons of water, aggravate tenants, and lead to increased insurance premiums. Water damage is the No. 1 source of property losses for owners of offices, apartments and other real estate facilities1, and chances are your big commercial clients are aware that there are solutions available to prevent these types of headaches. So why haven’t more of them installed leak detection? You’ve probably heard reasons like…
My building/plumbing is new – leaks won’t happen.
If there is a leak, it will be easy to fix.
It’s not worth the expense.
That’s what insurance is for.
The fact of the matter is that leaks are simply inevitable. They are not a reflection of system design, quality or workmanship. Plumbing fixtures, joints and water-fed appliances are simply prone to failure over time. Users inadvertently break things, block up the system, or otherwise cause overflows. And when minor leaks go undetected for hours, days, or even weeks, the resulting property damage can turn catastrophic – especially in common-risk commercial, residential or office buildings.
Water heater failures are a common headache for homeowners and managers of apartment and condo buildings. Affordable, dependable leak detection solutions are available to shut off the water supply to the tank, keeping damage to a minimum. Some manufacturers even supply kits with everything you need to install in a plenum space or satisfy code requirements for gas or electricity flow interruption. Check out some tips for choosing a reliable water heater leak detection system.
Making the Case for Leak Detection
Here’s the thing – dealing with the leak itself is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the aftermath where things can get really uncomfortable for property owners. For example: a boiler gasket fails and floods a building’s upper-floor mechanical room, also affecting the units below. The plumbing contractor is notified, the gasket is replaced, and the water is removed. In the meantime, some tenants are displaced while repairs are made to their units. Others don’t have heat or hot water while the boiler is being repaired. They start complaining on Facebook and Twitter.
A couple months later, another gasket fails and the room floods again. The insurance company increases rates and threatens to drop coverage altogether. And the property owner’s focus shifts from routine building maintenance to constantly fixing tenant units.
But you’re not just protecting against sudden catastrophic events like this. A plenum water heater can leak for days, and no one will know until the ceiling collapses. Dishwasher and beverage dispenser supply leaks in breakrooms can go undetected for weeks, causing mold issues in addition to water damage. In a medical office building that is unattended over the weekend, a feed line failure can mean multiple units are shut down with soggy carpets and damaged equipment come Monday morning. Undetected slow leaks can lead to skyrocketing utility bills. The list goes on and on.
And homeowners are obviously not immune to damage from indoor plumbing leaks. One in 50 homes files a property damage claim due to water damage or freezing each year, with an average claim of more than $10,0002. Water heater failures cost homeowners an average of more than $4,000 per incident after the deductible3. A burst washing machine hose can release 650 gallons of water in a single hour. Imagine the damage that can do as the water spreads from an upper-floor laundry room.
There are effective leak detection options available to fit all spaces and budgets, and these systems should be looked at as an investment in damage mitigation and not a sunk expense. As water damage has emerged as a leading source of claims, insurance companies are increasingly offering discounts for properties that employ plumbing leak detection, or even mandating that systems be installed if a claim has been paid out in the past or a property employs high-end finishes. Most leak detection systems literally pay for themselves the first time they’re called into action.
If that isn’t enough of an incentive to recommend leak detection, consider this: according to a 2013 EPA update, 40 of 50 state water managers expected shortages in some portion of their states under average conditions in the next decade4. Population and economic growth coupled with climate change are expected to further complicate that situation.
Why does this matter? Because an 1/8” pipe crack can leak 250 gallons of water in one day. A faucet leaking at the rate of one drip per second can result in 7 gallons per day of wasted water. Although the EPA encourages daily water conservation measures, it does not address how to prevent catastrophic water loss – where a single leak can quickly undermine any water conservation efforts.
These are real challenges that your clients face every day, and you are in a unique position to recommend affordable, proactive measures that can protect them.
To monitor for leaks in commercial facilities and mechanical rooms, you may need to search out a leak detection system with oversized shutoff valve options, such as our FloodMaster® RS-080.
Choose a Dependable Solution
You’ll find that some manufacturers specialize in leak detection and offer a wide variety of accessories to customize solutions for specific applications and code concerns. For others, leak detection is more a “me-too” product line extension with limited options and flexibility. A solution that delivers on its promises over time will be built on reliable, commercial-grade components. Failure of the actuator to close the water supply valve or downtime due to a “stuck valve” that can’t be reset can turn a minor leak into a major disaster – and get you into hot water with your client.
Most systems are now built from corrosion- and lead-free materials that meet U.S. EPA Safe Drinking Water Standards, but here’s an example of something to look for: a gear-driven shutoff valve actuator may prove to be more reliable than a spring-driven actuator, which is susceptible to failure from mineral buildup over time. You may also want to look out for water sensors that sit directly on the floor and may be more susceptible to false alarms due to humidity. Sensors that are raised just a 1/16” allow for air circulation to help alleviate that issue while still promptly detecting accumulating water.
If you work with commercial clients, seek out manufacturers who can support the unique requirements of their buildings, including:
- Oversized shutoff valves to support supply pipes up to 2” in diameter
- Kits with plenum-rated components that make it easier for you to work within those challenging hidden spaces
- Dry contacts to tie into building security and automation systems
A Revenue Win-Win for Contractors
There’s a reason that leak detection is growing in popularity with top contractors. It provides a nice additional revenue stream for equipment installation. And when the system detects a leak? You’ll be the client’s first call for necessary repairs. It provides a unique opportunity to build trust and cement long-term relationships with your clients by establishing that you’re advocating for their best interests and helping them look out for their bottom line.
RDT is here to help with comprehensive, commercial-grade solutions for indoor plumbing leak detection and water damage mitigation. Contact us to see how easy it can be to protect your clients, build trust and improve your bottom line!
- According to Zurich Insurance Data
- According to the Insurance Information Institute
- According to a previous study by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety
- Highlights of GAO-14-430, a report to congressional requesters
Kathleen Anthony is the Product Manager for Reliance Detection Technologies (RDT), an industry leader in indoor commercial and residential plumbing leak detection and automatic water shutoff solutions, including the popular, American-made FloodMaster® line. Janice Despotakis is the Marketing Manager for Madison Company, RDT’s parent company.