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Guarding the Flow: Innovative Solutions for Leak Detection

Fitzemeyer & Tocci has been working on a project at a local mall to address concerns with water leaks happening throughout the building from the plumbing systems. Leaks are occurring in back of house spaces and customer facing locations. This ongoing issue has been such a concern with some tenants that they are at the point of breaking leases. Tenants have had to relocate stock in restricted spaces and shut down sections of the store while areas where leaks occur are cleaned. The major concerns due to leaks are safety hazards for both staff and shoppers for slip accidents, mold growth and air quality. 

Leak Detection

Currently F&T is investigating options to minimize and notify the mall owner if leaks are occurring in the plumbing system. As Murphys Law tells us, leaks will occur during the night when facilities staff are not around to be notified or repair a leak.  The leak detection system we will discuss will provide the mall with a system that will ensure the safety, functionality, and longevity of the property. 

Although an extensive leak detection system can be expensive, it can also prevent significant damage and financial loss, making it an essential investment for mall operators. Multiple severe leaks could cost substantial damage to malls, not only to the building itself but the added cost to the owner in shutdowns and insurance claims could come at a significant cost. 

There are various methods of leak detection used, but in this blog, we will stick with the solutions that will make sense in a mall setting. Items such as acoustic leak detection and thermal imaging are methods that would be far too expensive for a mall application. 

Leak Detection

There are many challenges that not only a mall will face but any building when it comes to leaking water. With the shear size and layout of malls, it is difficult to determine exactly where a leak is happening. Is it a leak from the roof, a leak from a plumbing, or HVAC system? Is it domestic water, sanitary piping, or HVAC condensate? 

Sometimes leaks are small intermittent leaks that over time do not get noticed until the leak causes major damage. Sometimes the leak could be a catastrophic event where a water main or chilled water main suddenly bursts. Each has its own difficulties. Is the piping in an inaccessible space behind other mechanical systems or above the ceiling in a space several stories high? 

On a plumbing system, the best option for leak detection is a water puck or often called a water bug. A water leak detection puck is a compact and highly sensitive device designed to identify water leaks or flooding in precise locations. The puck uses a set of metal probes located on the underside of the puck to detect when water is present. When the probes come in contact with water, they complete an electrical circuit, which triggers an alarm at the control panel.   

 The other option for leak detection is leak detection cables or sometimes called rope. The best option for cable is when a large area needs to be detected. They are commonly used along water piping or in a building’s wall. When water contacts any part of the cable, it establishes a conductive path, causing a change in electrical resistance and an alarm will sound at the control panel. 

There are two types of cable to detect leaks, 2-core and 4-core. 

  1. The 2-core leak detection ropes include a 5m lead wire, however this wire can be extended. The total length of lead wire and sensing cable may not exceed 500 feet. If the length does exceed 500 feet multiple controllers will be required.  

  1. The 2-Core sensing cable is a much more affordable option. Available lengths are 6 feet, 12 feet, 24 feet, 48 feet, and 100 feet. The 4-core cable is much more expensive than the 2-core but comes with more options. The 4-core comes with fault detection, plugs that allow you to link multiple sensing cable together and many adaptable set ups to fit custom applications. 

The ultimate purpose of leak detection is not only to sound an alarm to notify people that there is a leak, but also to try and stop it at the source. These systems do have the ability to shut the water off to a space when water is detected at the puck or cable. When the leak detector reports back to the panel, a motorized ball valve serving that area will close. The valves are slow closing so a water hammer arrestor is not needed. The type of valve, normally open or normally closed, must also be evaluated. 24V and 120V solenoid valves are available.  

The brain of the leak detection system, the controller, is designed to be a stand-alone unit. It is designed to receive signals from the leak sensing attachments including pucks and sensing ropes. The relays on the controller can be adapted for unique applications but serve standard functions like audible and visual strobe output. There is BMS connectivity alarm signals. A key feature that is available that will work well for malls is the ability to shut the water off during non-working hours and then reopen during operating hours.  

Leak Detection

Leak detection is a vital component of shopping mall management. By utilizing a combination of methods and embracing new technologies, mall operators can protect their property, ensure the safety of patrons and staff, and maintain operational efficiency. As technology advances, leak detection systems will become even more sophisticated. 

With the right approach, malls can continue to thrive as safe, welcoming spaces for shopping and entertainment. 


Written By:

Richard Barbera

Richard Barbera

Senior Associate | Plumbing & FP Department Manager


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