Leak guard can prevent expensive water damage

Is a wet time bomb ticking away on your property? Hidden deep in your commercial property or block of flats, there may be hidden leaks that can cause serious damage over time. Leak guards quickly pay for themselves via savings in deductibles and by minimising the damage resulting from water damage. Yet, many people doubt their effectiveness. We asked Senior Underwriter Jan Kangasmäki what everyone should know about leak guards.

Leak guards keep an eye on water damage before the water reaches the surface of the structure where it is noticeable.

Leak guards can be programmed to send an alarm or, if necessary, cut the water supply immediately when the system detects something suspicious. This brings significant savings. The area of the leak can be easily accessed and, in the best-case scenario, structures only need to be opened in one place, because the damage is spotted early thanks to the alarm. After this, an HPAC professional will locate the source of the leak, utilising a range of technologies. Because the leak is spotted early on, the repair time will be considerably shorter. 

According to Pohjola Insurance’s Senior Underwriter Jan Kangasmäki, leak guards have become popular over the last few years. That said, there should be more leak guards installed.

In Kangasmäki’s estimate, in many cases the issue is a lack of knowledge about the benefits of modern leak guards. The thing is that you won’t discover the effectiveness of a leak guard until a leak actually occurs. Leak guards can also help to avoid expensive losses in older properties. 

The price of a leak guard: experiences

The price of a leak guard should be considered against potential savings, for instance, with regard to the costs of water consumption or water damage. 

As a rule, the cost of a leak guard roughly corresponds to the amount of excess of the insured properties, which makes for a sound investment for one case of water damage alone. Installation makes up a significant part of the price of a leak guard. As a whole, the most inexpensive and effective leak guard system depends on the characteristics of each property. Especially in the case of larger real estate units, it is a good idea to use experts to help with the selection.

Leak guard and insurance policies

Pohjola Insurance does not collect a deductible for water damage at insured properties if it can be verified that the leak guard helped avoid the spread of the leak. At many sites, it has been proven that the cost of the system including installation approximately equals the deductible for the site. This being the case, one case of water damage is enough for the system to pay for itself.

– Leak guards are still surprisingly new. Some real estate investors may think that a leak guard wouldn’t work in a larger real estate unit, because even seeping water fittings would result in an ‘unnecessary’ alarm. Although this way of thinking is understandable, even minor extra water consumption should be nipped in the bud to protect the environment and avoid major water consumption costs.

In large real estate units, several leaking water fittings may lead to significant costs by running water straight down the drain. As an example, one leaking WC float can consume up to thousands of cubic litres of water annually, resulting in significant added costs in the shape of water rates. Leaking water fittings will be fixed when the leak guard is installed in order for the system to be also able to detect minor leaks.

Kangasmäki recalls an extreme case where a water dispenser had been seeping into the structures even though, ostensibly, everything seemed to be in order. The extensive and – at approximately EUR 200,000 – very expensive damage occurred over the course of time.

– A leak guard would’ve spotted the leak much earlier, says Kangasmäki.

Seeping leaks are tricky because they can be extensive and still not be noticeable until much later.

The measurement accuracy of a leak guard system must be adequate to be able to spot minor leaks early enough.

If real estate units use other property management systems to monitor water flow, it is a good idea to check whether the system measures leaks accurately enough to detect seeping leaks. For example, a hole the size of sewing thread will drip, resulting in a leak of a couple of teaspoons in an hour. Therefore, the system’s measurement accuracy should be checked before making an investment decision.

Leak guards in large real estate units and business premises

In large real estate units, for instance, a leak guard can be installed so that one leak guard monitors one sector or wing of the unit. If a leak alarm is triggered, the leak can be located and fixed quickly, without having to shut down water in the whole building. Leak guards have been installed in very large real estate units, and the customers have been quite satisfied with the system.

IoT solutions, which are rapidly becoming popular, make it easier to detect and manage leaks. One of the features of the versatile leak guard is the option to cut off the water supply remotely using a smartphone.

– I’m surprised leak guards haven’t become common more quickly. In addition to the hassle and repairs resulting from the damage, the business premises may have to be closed, which causes loss of income. Noticing even one leak limited by the system will instantly pay back the cost of the system in savings in deductibles.

Integrating a leak guard with hot water pipes and the sewer network

In cutting-edge systems, a leak guard can be integrated with a radiator pipe monitoring system. It doesn’t matter whether the liquid used by the heating system is heated with geothermal heat, electricity, oil or district heating. The heating systems can be automatically monitored, e.g. by monitoring the water pressure. When the pressure drops, a pipe will leak somewhere and the system will sound the alarm. In addition to leaks, the functionality of the site’s heating can also be monitored. A heating system failure, e.g. due to running out of oil or a power cut, may also result in major damage.

Even though it is difficult to monitor sewer pipes inside structures, the versatile leak guard system can be integrated with separate leak guard sensors installed in various spaces, such as an engineering and utility service room, or under a sink unit. In large properties, sensors can be installed locally, for example, in pipe shafts, where the sensors will give off an alarm immediately when it detects moisture. This enables part of the sewer network to be monitored, too.

What should the leak guard keep an eye on?

  1. Domestic water pipe leaks. One of the system’s key features is that it detects minor seeping leaks. Most of the commercial leak guard solutions are installed after the water meter. This makes installation easier, because water meters are the water company’s property and, consequently, the water company must be asked for permission.
  2. Monitoring water flow-based heating systems. 
  3. Targeted sewer pipe leak guards using separate sensors. 

A leak guard should be used for each real estate unit

Leak guards are useful for every real estate unit. According to Kangasmäki, installing a leak guard is a good idea, especially in the following cases: 

  • New buildings. It is a good idea, already in connection with the HPAC design, to think about the type of leak guard that should be installed. 
  • Sites where plumbing replacements are carried out. Installation makes up a significant part of the price of a leak guard. If the plumbing of a real estate unit is being replaced, it will be cheaper to install leak guards at the same time. Compared to the cost of replacing plumbing, a couple of thousand euros spent on leak guards is a small price for future security. Kangasmäki reminds that a leak guard is not a substitute for replacing plumbing. However, it will reduce the damage until the plumbing is back in order. 
  • Business premises that are not open at night time. Building maintenance notifications to the responsible party’s systems, e.g. a smartphone, helps to minimise the damage. When the leak is detected immediately, the water supply can be cut right away, not when the first employee arrives at the scene of the accident in the morning. In the best-case scenario, the leak can be repaired before the working day starts in the morning.
  • Real estate units that operate seasonally or irregularly. If the building is empty for most of the year, the domestic water supply should be cut at the main shut valve at the end of the operating period. Basic heating should be on, though, so the leak guard keeps an eye on potential heating disruptions. 
  • Construction sites. Temporary water points necessary for the construction work are installed on construction sites. Large-scale water damage can occur in these temporary water pipe networks, especially at night time. A portable leak guard can be installed in a temporary water distribution system and then easily moved to the next site after completion of the site. 

Jan Kangasmäki points out that a leak guard is worth serious consideration if the objective is to minimise the damage caused by potential leaks, save water, and avoid potential indoor air issues arising from water damage.

There are many different kinds of solutions commercially available, but Pohjola Insurance’s experts will help with a comprehensive risk and control self-assessment and also with choosing the most cost-effective leak guard system with suitable features.

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