Early Leak Detection : An Ounce of Prevention

Better than a pound of cure

The problem with small leaks isn’t that the drip-drip-drip gets monotonous.

The problem with small leaks is that they rapidly become very large leaks indeed. And very large leaks can cause more damage than anyone might expect.

So the trick to avoiding huge repairs and recovery isn’t to guard against very large leaks. It’s to catch them while they’re still very small.

Early detection of liquid leaks is the frontline defense against massive amounts of property damage and all the other inconveniences that go with it.

Life cycle of a leak

There are two ways a little leak becomes a big problem.

The first occurs when a small leak is overlooked, giving water time to accumulate into a mighty flood that eventually breaks its dam and overflows.

leaking pipe

It happens like this: a small leak goes unnoticed until it saturates the wall or ceiling or floor that hosts it. With the strength of the surface so compromised, the wall (or ceiling or floor) buckles and gives way entirely.

Or like this: a consistent leak over time weakens the pipe it’s affecting until it loses integrity and splits, letting loose the many gallons that it’s meant to carry safely away.

This is a problem in any building, but is particularly devastating in a business context, where a facility goes largely uninhabited two days a week.

A small leak that occurs during a business downtime easily becomes a collapsed ceiling over the weekend. It goes undiscovered and unstopped until untold damage has been done.

More than the flood

The second type of problem is more subtle. Because, of course, it’s not just massive property damage that you need to worry about. Small leaks in crucial places can wreak more havoc yet.

The most obvious example is when that little leak happens to be perilously close to water-sensitive equipment.

But that’s not the worst of it. There are types of equipment that rely on the steady flow of water to keep them functioning correctly. For example, left undetected or untreated, boiler relief valve leaks can lead to boiler combustion. Which can lead to a myriad of bad situations, all around.

Whether it’s a water build-up or water inconveniently located or even unnoticed water as a symptom of larger equipment issues, the problem starts the same way: with water in places you don’t want water to be.

A creeping, seeping problem

The worst part about the rapid expansion of a small leak of the first type is that it can be nearly impossible to foresee how wide the damage will spread.

Recently there was a large federal data center that had a leak under a raised floor go undetected. Over the weekend, a central discharge pipe blew.

But it wasn’t just the data center that was affected. Before anyone even realized there was a problem, the water had drained down to the floor below. And that floor housed national records and documents susceptible to water damage.

It was a very, very big mess.

Counting the cost

Because of the unpredictability of the affected areas, it’s hard to estimate in advance just how much damage a small leak can cause and how much recovery will take. Repair costs can be anywhere from minimal to millions.

And as in the case of a flooded library or an art gallery leak, even just the material damage can extend beyond the facility itself to the property it houses. The records damaged by the federal data center leak dated back to the Civil War, which makes them irreplaceable.

And of course, those are just the easily calculated damages.

Intangible losses

In addition to straight-up property damage, letting a small leak get out of control can lead to a loss of time, of productivity, and, consequently, of reputation.

Extensive property repairs require some businesses to shut down altogether. Even if you can keep the facility open, equipment damage can lead to lost data and server downtime.

Flooded Office

Those things, in their turn, can lead to dissatisfied customers and considerable setbacks in meeting deadlines and keeping promises.

The damages to non-material assets - reputation, productivity, reliability - can be incalculable.

Catch it early

By far the simplest way to avoid all of these problems is to make sure that you catch the small leaks before they have the chance to become a deluge.

It’s not as simple as installing a leak detection system. The federal data center had one that may have been able to prevent damage to the data center itself, but didn’t take into account the secondary problems.

It’s all about selecting the correct leak detection system.

A case in point

The data center in question utilized a series of spot detectors that were set a quarter inch above the ground. Which meant that they wouldn’t set off any alarms at all until the water had pooled to at least a quarter inch deep.

That may have been enough to keep the data center from being affected by the flood, but it certainly didn’t help out the floor below.

But even if the water had reached the spot detectors before it flooded the national records, it wouldn’t have been enough to stop the damage. Setting off a passive alert in an empty building does nothing to solve the problem. And the system in place had no way of sending an electronic message to anyone off-site.

A better world

This exact scenario is why RLE developed its SeaHawk product line. Our patented fluid sensing cable is designed to catch small leaks early (wherever they happen to be) and our monitoring units let you know there’s a problem immediately (wherever you happen to be).

And when you know that you have a trickle right away and you can pinpoint pretty exactly where it is, you can pretty much handle the clean-up with a paper towel or two.

Want to see how easy it is for our cable to catch a small leak? Check it out:

With a system like this, you can prevent a $100,000+ repair bill for the cost of the hardware and a roll of paper towels.

There's a reason it's a proverb

Sages have long claimed that an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. Leak detection is no exception to the rule. Early detection means easy correction and simple clean-up.

Or, as we like to say, it’s easier to stop a leak than get the sharks off the escalators.

sharks on the escalators

What do you think?

Have you encountered other preventable leak disasters? How do you combat them?

4 Responses to “Early Leak Detection : An Ounce of Prevention”

  1. Sharon Hood

    When you have a shower up against an external wall, it’s not just a matter of fixing the leak, but what damage has it caused to the timber framing in the wall in the meantime? What about saturated insulation holding moisture in the wall (will take months, if not years, to dry)?

    Reply
    • Jenny Peterson

      Absolutely! Any time you have a leak, you need to be sure to fix the leak, and then repair any damage caused to framing, insulation, drywall, flooring, subfloors, etc. In the case of saturated insulation, it would be far easier and safer to remove and replace that insulation than it would be to try to dry it out.

      This only underscores the importance of early leak detection. Use a reliable system to detect those leaks when they’re drips, instead of waiting for a deluge to burst from your walls.

      Reply
  2. Billy Johnston

    We were asked to test the leak detection cable at a customer’s site and record the results. We tested 39 different locations over 1,000 feet of cable. Not once did we have to use more water than what we used in this video:
    https://vine.co/v/MXuVaj90TP5

    Reply
    • Jenny Peterson

      Thanks for the demo and video, Billy! It’s so powerful to see a little puddle of water trip that alarm. We believe leaks should be cleaned up with paper towels, not industrial dryers!

      Reply

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