Educating customers on leak detection and pipe failure

Aug. 1, 2014

Unexpected water system delivery problems can result in more than just monetary losses.

If you work closely with water utilities, you know that leak detection and pipe repair are currently significant topics that are being discussed by many municipal water treatment professionals across the country. In fact, addressing the overall aging water infrastructure in the U.S. and conserving this invaluable resource are topics that are being focused on by many people, including lawmakers, both inside and outside water treatment.

Furthermore, homeowners and business owners can also benefit from being educated on leak detection and rectifying, even avoiding, pipe failure and the damage this event could cause beyond monetary losses.

Protecting the home front

As with any utility service, educating customers should be at the forefront of all efforts to grow awareness in the community about leak detection and pipe failures. In fact, homeowners and business owners should know the risks associated with the failure of their own pipes and water delivery systems.

As Matt Starr, sales and marketing manager for PipeBurst Pro, reminds us, the risk of pipe or other plumbing fixture failure goes beyond just monetary value. “Water damage can ruin cherished memories, create health hazards and displace you from the life you have known,” he says.

And, for business owners, Starr continues, water damage can result in serious financial setbacks. “For a business owner this could mean damaged merchandise, days or even weeks of lost revenue while the store is being cleaned,” he explains, adding that even a small, pinhole leak provides enough moisture for mold to start growing within a wall in a matter of days.

Act fast

According to Starr’s colleague Chris Hancock, PipeBurst Pro product manager, timing is everything in leak detection. Two things he suggests when a homeowner or business owner notices a leak are: Turn the water main off, if possible, and secondly, call a plumber.

Emerging technologies are entering the market both on the residential and commercial side as well as the municipal side that provide operators and owners with advanced knowledge of leak detection. These round-the-clock leak detection systems for residential and commercial markets, adds Hancock, offer protection in two different ways.

“Some systems use a flow-based detection and some systems use point of leak detection,” notes Hancock. “The best systems combine both flow-based and point of leak-based systems to provide the ultimate in leak detection and protection.”

According to Hancock, a flow-based system allows the user to set a defined quantity of water for a specific period of time. “If the flow meter detects that the defined quantity has been exceeded for that specific period of time, the system will sound an alarm and close [an] electrically actuated valve,” he adds.

A sensor-based system, continues Hancock, uses a network of point of leak sensors placed throughout the premises at high risk locations. “When one of those high risk locations fails and starts leaking, the water will come in contact with the sensor, which then sends a signal back to the controller, which then closes the electrically actuated valve,” he says, adding that a combination of both types of systems are ideal to install because no one knows when or where a leak might actually happen.

Water loss on a larger scale

At AWWA's ACE14 show, during the event’s opening general session, former Mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani focused on the important job of water utilities in the area of leak detection and pipe failure.  

“Sometimes it’s a message they don’t want to hear because it’s a message that says you’re going to have to spend money,” said Giuliani, noting that 1.7 trillion gallons of water is lost through broken or leaking pipes each year.

Today’s smart technologies, asserts Eric Stacey, director of product management for Echologics, are helping water utilities assess risk and prioritize tasks. “Smart technology is about providing utilities with information to help them make data-driven decisions,” he says. “[These] intelligent water technology solutions monitor infrastructure on a 24/7 basis and alert utilities of possible leaks before they lead to something bigger. Utilities can use this information to prioritize repair issues.”

According to Stacey, leak detection and pipe condition assessment solutions help utilities save money, reduce water loss and mitigate catastrophic failures, increasing overall customer satisfaction. “For example, utilities that leverage an alert system can greatly improve customer service by putting processes in place to notify consumers of leaks before they call about low water pressure or street flooding,” says Stacey.

Some of the risks associated with utilities not monitoring for leaks that Stacey notes include:

  • Possible interruption of service for consumers
  • Increased cost of water infrastructure repairs passed on to consumers
  • Contamination of water supply.

Solutions for advanced detection

Leak detection technologies are available to help utilities prevent a disruption of service and potential contamination to customers’ drinking water.

Stacey notes one technology that offers a non-invasive solution. This leak detection technology works outside of the pipe so there is no disruption to service, water delivery or even a risk of contamination.

As for some short- and long-term steps utilities can take to prevent leaks, Stacey offers the following:

  • Short-term: Utilities can implement a proactive pipe condition assessment or leak detection campaign to assess the remaining pipe wall thickness or monitor for leaks, and then create a strategic approach to the repair and maintenance of the water system to ultimately prevent a disruption of service to households.
  • Long-term: Utilities can prevent leaks based on the criticality of an area or pipe. Utilities can do this through 24/7 permanent monitoring on a critical distribution system and catch leaks as they occur before ever affecting a customer.

As water supply concerns continue to mount, educating customers on water conversation steps, including leak detection, is an important practice for our environment and your customers’ finances. Continue to grow awareness on your utility’s website, literature and billing information. Dealers can also help homeowners and business owners understand the risks associated with pipe failure.

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