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Emerging and Evolving Risks

Identifying and understanding the world’s emerging and evolving risks and their impact to society and our customers is at the center of all that we do.

Commercial water leak detection systems protect properties from a major, often-hidden risk
Oct 11, 2021

Undetected water leaks flood businesses with huge damages every year. Commercial water detection equipment can come to the rescue for property owners.

By Adam Hurley, Vice President, Property-Risk Engineering, Zurich Resilience Solutions

Drip by costly drip, undetected water leakage in buildings remains one of the leading drivers of non-catastrophic property losses from both a frequency and severity standpoint, according to Zurich Claims data. Hurricanes and floods may grab the headlines, but a broken pipe or faulty sprinkler head can lead to significant water damage to office buildings, warehouses, hotels and other commercial properties.

Consider: A one-inch broken pipe flowing at 16 gallons per minute can release almost 1,000 gallons in one hour. Imagine the cumulative damage to a building from a leak lasting from Friday evening to Monday morning.

Detecting a leak promptly is key, and water detection equipment can come to the rescue. Utilizing industrial-grade water leak detectors as part of your property risk management plan can help you quickly respond to a water event and minimize water damage.

The longer a leak persists, the greater the potential impact of water damage, which can harm a building’s structure, incur costly repairs and replacement costs, force relocation of employees and/or tenants, create business interruption, require mold mitigation expenses, and even cause reputational damage.

What are common sources of water leaks in commercial property?

Water damage can come from myriad sources: burst water pipes or sprinkler systems that have frozen or are corroded by age; drains that are clogged or accidentally covered; leaking appliances or fixtures, such as a coffeemaker, dishwasher, faucet or toilet; holes or cracks in a roof, foundation and other building envelope areas; or a window accidentally left open. Leaks can occur when repairing or upgrading a building or while working the plumbing itself. Also, leaks occurring on floors above sensitive equipment can lead to damage to critical operations. There are mitigation steps that can help minimize and prevent water damage from these and other sources.

What are the benefits of installing commercial water detection technology?

When you look at common sources of non-CAT water damage, a properly installed leak detection system makes sense, especially for properties that have high-frequency leak potential or high-loss exposures.

A water leak detection system can help you identify a leak and respond to it quickly, even when you do not have personnel onsite or the water sources are located in less conspicuous areas of the building.

What’s more, advances in technology have brought more sophisticated systems to market that are easier to install and manage, and economical enough that these systems can pay for themselves by preventing one or two major events.

How do electronic leak detectors work in commercial buildings?

Today’s commercial water leak detection systems help you identify and respond to water leaks with sensors that send alerts to targeted responders within or outside your property. Shutting off the water supply as soon as a leak is detected is imperative, regardless of whether you’ve identified its source. Again, technology can assist, specifically, with automatic shutoff valves and temperature monitors. The combination of alerts and water shutoff can substantially reduce the severity of a water leak event.

Automatic water shutoff valves

Automatic water shutoff valves turn off the flow of water to a connected pipe as soon as they are triggered. There are two main types. One is directly attached to a pipe serving a specific area and closes the pathway upon activation. A second type is a valve on the main water inlet and shuts off water to the building.

Temperature monitoring

Temperature sensors are an additional water leak safeguard. They can help identify areas where pipes could freeze and burst by sending an alert when the temperature in the monitored area drops near freezing.

Different methods of water detection systems

At their most basic, water detection systems detect moisture and then sound an alarm. Many systems can use wireless or Bluetooth technology to notify a contact.

More sophisticated systems can measure flow rates within pipes, noting any deviation from the established water flow levels that will trigger an alert. Newer models are being introduced that measure water flow using ultrasonic technology that doesn’t require monitors within pipes.

Some of today’s sensors also can “hear” a problem. Sensors are attached to points along a pipe, ready to alert property owners for the sounds that cracked pipes can produce. Even the approximate size of a crack can be identified based on the frequency of the noise with some systems.

Technology is just one part of a water damage mitigation program

Of course, technology is only as effective as your larger water damage mitigation program, which demands putting a robust water prevention and loss control program in place for your property. Engineering and administrative controls, as well as emergency procedures that can address the effects of a spill, are all important.

This can be as basic as reminding employees to report water drips or puddles. And do they know who to contact when they see a leak — during business hours as well as outside of those hours? This simple action can be a game-changer.

Most commercial operations have a hot work permit program in place for welding. Consider establishing a wet work program to prepare when repairs are made near pipes or on the plumbing itself. Create a “water crash cart” that contains the equipment to help respond to water leaks.  

Zurich encourages our customers to review and begin implementing Zurich’s ACURE program. It includes the actions a business can take to help identify water risk exposures and provides actionable insights and steps toward preventing and responding to water events.

Water damage in office and residential buildings can impact not only revenue, but also people’s jobs and quality of life. It’s not always preventable but with the help of modern technology, it’s possible to turn the tide on the severity of this risk.

Watch this short video of how technology can help strengthen your water-damage mitigation plan.

Click here to learn more about property services or reach out to Zurich Resilience Solutions-Risk Engineering at risk.engineering@zurichna.com.

 Adam Hurley is Vice President-Property, Risk Engineering, for Zurich Resilience Solutions. He leads a team of property specialists who serve customers throughout the United States and is part of the Zurich Global Property network leadership.

The information in this publication was compiled from sources believed to be reliable for informational purposes only. All sample policies and procedures herein should serve as a guideline, which you can use to create your own policies and procedures. We trust that you will customize these samples to reflect your own operations and believe that these samples may serve as a helpful platform for this endeavor. Any and all information contained herein is not intended to constitute advice (particularly not legal advice). Accordingly, persons requiring advice should consult independent advisors when developing programs and policies. We do not guarantee the accuracy of this information or any results and further assume no liability in connection with this publication and sample policies and procedures, including any information, methods or safety suggestions contained herein. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of this information, whether to reflect new information, future developments, events or circumstances or otherwise. Moreover, Zurich reminds you that this cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances. The subject matter of this publication is not tied to any specific insurance product nor will adopting these policies and procedures ensure coverage under any insurance policy.