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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Ultimate Scan: Robotic Machines Seek — and Find — Leaks

Water and air leaks are some of the most common problems buildings face. To find these leaks, we use a system of two robotic machines in tandem, which basically scan roofs and building exteriors using thermal imaging as well as ultrasound and radar. It simultaneously shows where water is lingering or getting in, and cool spots where there are insulation leaks so we can pinpoint where repairs need to be made.


Easy in, easy out. The equipment weighs in at under 50 pounds, so it requires only lightweight rigging that takes less than 20 minutes to set up. Because the rigging is so temporary, it also takes less than one day to get the permits that are required by the city. For roofs we use a stationary platform and scan the entire area for multiple days or even weeks, which allows us to remotely collect mountains of data at the fraction of the cost compared with the traditional roof inspection. Specialized computers comb through all the information, which results in identifying problem areas with a high degree of accuracy. We are able to identify water as it enters the building nearly 90% of the time, and by rewinding our data and running it through some algorithms, we can actually trace it back to the source, even if it is behind other materials.


Inside job. Sometimes there are problems that require indoor scanning. We recently worked at a high-end building where there was water leakage in the lobby. A lot of expense had gone into designing the interior, so the building wasn’t in a position to just rip out the walls or have a study performed that might cause any kind of destruction. We deployed monitors to scan the entire lobby. Because they are small and do not make any noise, they are non-intrusive. No one noticed them, even though they were there for a month. And over the course of that month, the equipment was able to visualize the trace of water as it entered the lobby. While the job was complex and required scanning from the outside as well, the repair turned out to be fairly simple — it was just a specific seam that needed to be caulked because the contractor had forgotten to do it. The bill ended up being just a few hundred dollars. 


Comparing costs. For the most typical jobs where we’re deploying units for a couple weeks, the price range is around $5,000 to $10,000. For extremely complicated leaks involving multiple pipes and multiple points of ingress, the bill can be as high as $50,000. Even so, the costs are typically 40% to 55% less compared with studies done by human operators. As far as how detailed our reports are, people just like to keep things simple, so we pretty much tell them, “This is where the leak is, and this is how you fix it.” And that’s what most people want.

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