I think the individual alert mentioned is particularly important. Any leak detection system should have a mobile alert methodology, be it a cell phone app or something similiar (with built in redundancy) - otherwise whatever method being used for leak notification may go undiscovered until too late...
Emily--Excellent post. One of my very first jobs after my military experience was as an engineer with a water heater manufacturer. Leakage from the containment vessel was common place and there was never a week that went by where we did not receive complaints regarding tank leakage. The most catastrophic were those leaks occurring in high-rise apartments. Even a small leak can do significant damage to all areas below the problem. Drip pans can hold only so much water and even those pans piped to a suitable drain can present a huge problem. Oddly enough, the biggest problems occurred when repair men replaced heating elements and did not sufficiently seat the element seal against the tank itself. Pin-hole leaks can also occur in weldments due to rust and dilatation of the vessel due to internal pressure. A "warning system" would have been great to monitor internal pressure so that upstream solenoids could activate and shut off the water. Even then, the contents of the tank could empty but that would not present the problem continuously running water would give.
Sprinkler system leaks can certainly cause a huge inconvenience and quite a bit of economic loss. BUt the good news is that the technology to report them is fully mature and has been available off the shelf for quite a few years. The unfortunate fact is that because that hardware does not usually show a profit, (ROI), a lot of the MBA types will refuse to spend the extra money to mitigate a disaster.
That was the case when I worked at Delphi Diesel Aftermarket. The sprinkler pipe rusted through due to inadequate maintenance, and the resulting flood drenched the computer center for three days, damaging not only the server and records systems, but destroying a new "D" sized printer.
I suggested a sprinkler monitor package to the manager, who explained to me that since the expenditure would not add to the groups profits, he would not spend any money at all to add it to the existing fire and security system. So he left that building all set up for another flood, since the only maintenance done was to patch that particular leak. It seems that short-term thinking must be a major part of some MBA programs.
Complete environment sensing is starting to appear everywhere. Attending Sensor Expo earlier this year really showed the initiative in the area. Several companies are showing off their wireless sensor and monitoring services with much gusto. They all make you feel like water, pressure, heat and the like are out to destroy all you design and love. Hopefully, tech like this can be integrated in everything in the future. Every device, a smart monitoring device.
This got me to thinking about hurricane Sandy. Maybe we should be giving more attention to hurricane and tornado prone areas when we supply or design equipment. Perhaps this should be part of the design criteria, especially with critical systems. I am not sure we can design for total submersion, but certainly we can design for damp. Power stations, police and fire communicatons
Plus, when a sprinkler system goes off, there is no reason it should automatically destroy everything.
But, there is a cost involved. And that may make it not worth it.
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