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Sneaky Water Leaks

Water leaks account for the largest amount of insurance claims filed by New York co-ops and condos. You have experience with sensors that can detect leaks. How do they work?

When it comes to water leaks, there are essentially two types — in-suite and in-wall. We address in-suite leaks using sensors with what’s called a leak rope, and placing them in areas of high risks — for example, underneath a sink, a washing machine or an ice machine, or behind a refrigerator. In-wall leaks involve placing detectors along risers and connection points between copper lines from the fixtures inside the apartment to the risers themselves.

Each sensor has a small plug-in that allows for a 3-foot rope that is hypersensitive to not only liquid but also humidity. If you were to wet your fingers and touch the rope even slightly, it would trigger an alert. The alert goes to the superintendent or building manager via text, email or what we call an annunciator. That’s a voice box, similar to an iPad display, that can be placed at the front desk so that everybody is made aware the moment a leak is detected.

How do the sensors and software communicate? Is it through internal internet signals in the building?  

The system is internet-based — specifically, on LoRaWAN, a networking protocol that connects battery-operated things to the internet. The sensor is the front line. It picks up anomalies like the presence of water or elevated humidity and sends that data every three seconds to a gateway, which is simply a conduit to deliver the sensor signals to what is called a ChirpStack server. And that server is the brains behind the entire operation. 

How much does it cost to install the system?

Well, there are two components. One is the hardware itself, which is a fixed cost. The other component is the ongoing monitoring maintenance fee for the sensors, because there is a lot of data that is being gathered and stored and used. A typical deployment might involve as few as five sensors per unit. So for a 100-unit building with 500 sensors, the hardware would cost somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000. Then there’s the expense for the gateways, which brings the total hardware cost to about $10,000 to $12,000. And the monitoring fee would be roughly $2 a month per sensor.

Presumably this would be an effective way to lower your insurance premiums or make sure that your deductible isn’t increased.

Well, insurability is definitely an issue many of our customers are facing. The real problem is with deductibles, which have become so high that it’s almost akin to buildings self-insuring themselves. Insurance carriers are playing a little bit of catch-up when it comes to appreciating the efforts boards are making to come up with concrete steps toward mitigating the water risk in their buildings. We’re not at a point where deploying these sensor systems will necessarily lead to reduced premiums or lower deductibles. But providing analytics that boards can share with insurance carriers is a good way to get that conversation started.

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