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Preventing a Leak Repeat

As Christmas approached last year, many of the 11 shareholders in a small Upper East Side co-op were out of town visiting family, friends or warmer shores. So when a pipe in a ninth-floor apartment started leaking, it wasn’t until a housekeeper entered a vacated apartment on the sixth floor and discovered the disaster that it became clear that water had traveled all the way down to the second floor of the 14-story building.

The leak was fixed and repairs made. With an eye to the future, the board began to plan how to prevent a repeat of the same situation. Three steps were taken: first, shareholders agreed that staff could regularly inspect vacant apartments. Second, all apartment renovations would be double-checked by a board-hired plumber and electrician. Finally, and probably most important, everyone agreed to having water sensors installed in the apartments so that leaks could be caught early on and damage kept to a minimum.

The co-op’s property manager, Jennifer Santaniello of FirstService Residential, was tasked with finding a water-sensor solution. She reached out to Aware Buildings, a vendor she had worked with previously.

This job was unique, says Jerry Kestenbaum, the founder of Aware Buildings and the software platform BuildingLink. Normally, sensors are placed inside apartments, and a device called a gateway, or hub, is installed in the common areas on every other floor. The gateways are then connected to the internet by wiring in the common areas (such as electric closets), and they relay warnings from the sensors to Aware Buildings’s central database, which in turn alerts the client if there is a problem. But in the Upper East Side co-op, each apartment covers at least one entire floor. Installing a gateway in every apartment would obviate additional wiring, thus simplifying and speeding up the job. But such a shortcut would require the approval of all 11 shareholders.

“Residents were happy to cooperate,” Kestenbaum says. “Residents on every other floor were willing to share their internet access, so we didn’t need any wiring in common areas. We delivered the equipment at noon one day, and two hours later they had deployed 79 sensors, attached six gateways to residents’ internet connections, and their warning system was up and running.”

The job was not only unique, but uniquely quick. “It was extremely smooth,” says Brittney Gates, the director of operations at Aware Buildings who quarterbacked the installation. “I was prepared to give the staff a tutorial on how to run the installation, but they didn’t need it. Everyone had given permission to access all the apartments.”

The total cost of the hardware and installation was $14,000 — a fraction of the cost of repairing water damage to apartments on eight floors. In the event of a leak, the doorman, building staff and property manager all receive emails, text messages and phone calls. A box in the lobby also broadcasts an announcement that there’s a leak.

“Maybe we’re being overly cautious,” the board president says, “but I don’t want this to happen again.”

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