Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on April 26, 2023
It was a perfect storm. A polar vortex had sent frigid air swirling into New York City as Christmas approached last year. Meanwhile, many of the 11 shareholders in a small Upper East Side co-op had left town for warmer shores or to visit family and friends for the holidays.
Then a pipe in a vacated — and renovated — ninth floor apartment started leaking, possibly assisted by the cold weather and the fact that water was not moving in the unused pipe. Water traveled all the way down to the second floor of the 14-story building before a housekeeper entered a vacated apartment on the sixth floor and discovered the disaster. Word went out. The leak was fixed, and the arduous repairs began.
With an eye to the future, the board acted to prevent a leak repeat. It was agreed by all shareholders that staff could regularly inspect vacant apartments and that all apartment renovations would be double-checked by a board-hired plumber and electrician. And most importantly, everyone agreed to having water sensors installed in their apartments.
“If the leak had been caught early enough, the damage would have been minimal,” says the co-op board president, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I advocated for installing sensors.”
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, 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.
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“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.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — PROPERTY MANAGER: FirstService Residential. SENSOR PROVIDER AND INSTALLER: Aware Buildings.
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