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Advancements in Water Leak Detection

Posted on 10/1/2015 9:52 AM by Laurie C. Conner

Surprisingly, natural disasters are not the highest risk to buildings, it is water leaks which cause the most damage, drip by drip.

Water damage is the leading cause of insurance claims in the United States, even exceeding fire and theft claims combined, but the latest advancements in water leak sensing and shut-off technology can uncover risk for building owners and managers, and headaches for engineers.

Potential for high losses in high-rises

Water is labeled “the enemy” by some insurance claims managers. Occasionally pipes make a splash – bursting with an impressive show. Others dribble, unnoticed, for extended periods in cabinets or hidden spaces.

Multi-story buildings, especially structures of 20+ years and those with numerous tenants, carry high risk related to water damage. Normal infrastructure wear and tear as well as human error increases chances for leaks. For example, water trickled down nine floors of an office building after a leak on a hot water tank relief valve went undetected for a weekend. Losses totaled $600,000.

On top of costs to rebuild, estimates and headaches grow when tenants and owners experience loss of use. Also, mold and mildew can increase a claim tenfold and require strict environmental compliance.

The ‘smoke detector’ for water

Smoke alarms moved from rare to ubiquitous as innovators refined technology and improved affordability. Leak sensing systems are the ‘smoke alarm’ for water and poised to follow a similar growth path. While fire prevention deserves priority as a life-saving measure, drips and small floods harm property and assets and interrupt business, residence and quality of life.

Water leak sensing innovation

High-rise building owners, managers and engineers thirsty for a solution will discover advancements in water leak sensing are making the systems easier to install and manage. Some products work well for single dwellings and specific uses, but they prove difficult to scale for multi-level residential or commercial applications. The latest devices mitigate high risk for large structures and protect property and assets by leveraging modern technology:

Wireless – No one wants to fish wires through crawl spaces, not to mention suffer the expense and disruption wired installation involves. Wireless water leak sensing ensures any building, new or existing – even historical – can be retrofitted with sensors. When a leak occurs, the unit responds with a local alarm and delivers notifications by phone, text and email to managers. It also tracks the time of response.

Cloud-based – Sensors are placed at sites of potential leaks – sinks, air conditioners, toilets, plumbing chases and more. For buildings with hundreds of units, individual systems would ring multiple cell phones. Instead, cloud technology supports combination of data from all units into a single portal monitored by building operators. Additionally, cloud-based management will not be interrupted by power outages.

Automated – In some cases, automatically shutting off a water valve when a leak is detected is worth any inconvenience to users; for instance, the building may lack 24/7 monitoring or the water source itself is near mission-critical equipment. In other situations, immediate notification supports adequate protection. Useful leak sensing systems offer both options.

Building engineers and property managers can identify problem areas where wireless leak detection can be of most benefit. A typical system has a payback of less than 1 year by avoiding just one leak. No one will miss the drip.

Tips on choosing a system

A building assessment must be done to determine your building’s needs. Identity the common areas where water leaks occur and other critical areas you would like to protect. Determine if you would like to protect common areas, tenant suites, or both and decide whether you would like the extra protection by using automatic water shut off valves.

Once you determine your needs there are options you can pursue. For property managers who want to reduce costs, standalone systems that are specific to individual tenants may be a viable option. The drawback here is that the responsibility is on the tenant and building engineers will not know if there is a leak unless reported by the tenant.

Water leak detection systems that utilize current technology and integrate with BMS systems may also be a way to go. The caution here is that BMS systems are not always reliable and subject to failure during power outages. For property managers and building engineers that want comprehensive water leak detection, look for systems that offer the advancements in wireless and monitoring technology as well as capabilities that work well within the specific building portfolio being considered.

Laurie C. Conner is President and CEO of The Detection Group. Reach her at: lconner@thedetectiongroup.com.

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Stop Food Waste to Build a Smarter Building Portfolio

Posted on 9/29/2015 9:12 AM by Frank E. Celli

Creating a smart and connected workspace takes careful consideration. Building owners understand that the environment in an office can either vastly promote efficiency or inhibit productivity among employees. Thus, they dedicate much of their focus to maintaining a well-designed office space in hopes of attracting and maintaining tenants.

However, creating such an environment is not necessarily limited to aesthetic design. Elements such as energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor environmental quality and waste management can contribute towards that environment while making a building significantly more marketable. Magali Delmas, an environmental economist at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, studied the rate of productivity at over 5,000 companies and noted that employees working for environmentally responsible companies are around 16% more productive than their non-sustainable counterparts. With this in mind, building owners are searching for means of making their space as environmentally friendly and as “smart” as possible.

To improve the profile and performance of facilities, FMs go out in search of recycling programs, solar panels, energy-efficient equipment, and more, in hopes of covering all of the bases. Typically, large corporations focus on their energy and water output, in hopes of reducing their impact on the environment. However, many owners and FMs often overlook perhaps one of the most important and easiest steps in hosting a “smart” building: taking care of food waste.

Depending on the tenants and programs in place, food waste can range from the occasional banana peel in the garbage can to a full-fledged cafeteria dumping over a ton of leftovers each week. Businesses usually lean toward the latter, but have no real means of keeping that waste in check. Often times, they simply have to collect the large volume of food waste, drag it down to the compacter, and hope for the best as they send it off to a landfill. However, this solution is by no means the most cost-effective, efficient, nor environmentally conscious choice.

Why not? According to the EPA, more than 30 million tons of food waste is transported to landfills each year, resulting in tons of CO2 being released into the air, while also quickly evaporating landfill space. As a result, states and municipalities are beginning to take initiative when it comes to food waste. Massachusetts is leading the campaign by becoming the first state to institute a full-fledged food waste ban. As a result, any MA corporate building that produces more than 1 ton of food waste per week has to find some sort of solution other than simply throwing it into the trash. Other states and municipalities are beginning to follow suit, looking to institute their own versions of this legislation.

As a result hundreds of companies are forced to search for solutions. But, what exactly are the options? In terms of technology, there are only a few good choices on the market, and while the immediate thought is to begin composting, there are other alternatives to consider.

One of the most profitable solutions includes aerobic digestion. Aerobic digesters can eliminate food waste at the source, but there are also solutions where customers receive quick implementation, immediate savings, and easily accessible data with a simple on-site installation.

Aerobic digesters use organic microorganisms to accelerate food’s natural decomposition process and convert the food waste into nutrient-neutral water. This “grey water” is then sent down the drain and transported safely through standard sewer lines to wastewater treatment facilities. Many models can fit in kitchens, greatly reducing the amount of labor involved in transporting tenant waste from their storefronts to the back of the building’s compacter, significantly cutting waste hauling costs while also eliminating the need for janitorial support to keep compacter areas clean.

What is perhaps the most important aspect of some of the digesters on the market may not actually be the digestion of food waste, but instead, its inclusion of smart cloud-based technology. By combining the elimination of food waste at its point of generation with access to monitor the technology remotely, tenants have the ability to actually see how much they are throwing out. This data can be accessed either in-house, or from anywhere with any smart device. Users can view their food waste output over any span of time while also receiving access to the ‘big picture’ of their waste profile, regardless of the amount of machines or geographic locations involved. By providing in-depth information regarding the company’s sustainability and carbon footprint, the cloud provides property owners the ability to make better decisions that immediately impact labor, safety, and efficiency within their building.

Having access to waste data represents the future of sustainability. By accurately measuring every morsel of waste, building owners have the ability to make changes to not only reduce food waste output – but perhaps even eliminate it altogether. Though taking care of food waste is only one step towards making a “smart” building, it represents an important change in the way that companies view their environmental responsibility. They can now use the integration of technology, data, and analytics to drive smarter decisions across their entire building portfolios. Now, isn’t that smart?

Frank E. Celli is CEO of BioHitech America.

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