Dan Sterling, CEO and Founder of Water Hero, a leak detection and automatic water shut off system for homes and businesses, discusses commercial leak detection and automatic water shut off for new construction and high rises. 

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Dan Sterling, CEO and founder of Water Hero, a leak detection and automatic water shut off system for homes and businesses. Today we’re talking about commercial leak detection and automatic water shut off for new construction and high rises. Welcome, Dan.

Dan Sterling: John, great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Leak Detection and Automatic Water Shut Off for New Construction and Highrises

John: Sure. So Dan, the Water Hero unit that you install all over the place for homes and businesses can do a number of different things, leak detection, automatic water shut off if there’s a burst pipe or things like that. What are some of the issues that come when you’re talking about in new construction and especially large buildings and high rises?

Dan: Sure. Yeah. Water damage is probably the number one concern for a lot of construction projects. For P and C companies in general, it’s their number one claim. It’s over 30% of claims and it doesn’t matter whether it’s construction or post-construction, it’s a major, major issue and we’re seeing all sorts of situations with high rise construction projects. There really have been no good leak detection solutions for these folks. And so we’re really excited that we’ve been talking to C teams at construction companies all over North America and we’ve developed a real complete water risk mitigation strategy that really helps these construction companies avoid these catastrophic burst pipe incidents and also helps them work with their insurance companies to get premium discounts. In a lot of cases they self-insure too. The bigger construction companies self-insure, so it’s a way that they can take 30% or more of that risk on the project that they insure themselves right off the table utilizing smart internet of things, smart technology for water risk mitigation and leak detection.

Occurrences of Burst Pipes On New Construction Sites

John: Right. What are some of the typical ways on a new construction site that you might have burst pipes happen?

Dan: Yeah, you see it in all sorts of different areas and it’s amazing as you talk to more and more construction companies, project managers, for some reason, a lot of it happens on the weekend when no one’s there.

John: Of course. Yeah.

Dan: But we have multiple layers of protection now for high rise projects. So it starts with the domestic cold water main coming into the project. On some projects, for example, we’re working with construction companies that are building three 40 story towers and each tower will have its own six inch water main. So we actually have a Water Hero unit, which is a utility grade water meter built to American Waterworks Association specs. These are very, very accurate meters. They’re rugged, robust, high quality water meters, right in line with an industrial strength motorized ball valve. So we have these available in sizes three inch, four inch, six inch, eight inch, all the way up to 12 inches.

So typically we’re seeing a lot of six inch units. So these are basically smart water meters where we take these high quality utility grade meters, but we put our electronics on those. And what that does, it allows us to read the water flow 200 times a second. We also have a temperature sensor on there so we can give freeze alerts that can be very, very beneficial. And we’re also getting real time water flow information. Right in line with that is a motorized ball valve shut off. Those devices are connected to our main controller board, which typically can be within 10 feet of the device. But it could be much longer too and we can configure that to the construction site. But our main control unit then has a very powerful microprocessor that provides processing information and it’s all a matter of triggers that can be programmed by the construction manager, by the entire team in the trailer so that it could be, there’s two modes.

There’s an occupied mode and an unoccupied mode. So during the week while the crews are there, user configure folks in the trailer on the site, configure hey, if water runs for more than X number of minutes, just give us a heads up and if it runs for Y minutes, give us a heads up, text message, email alert, but also automatically shut the water off. On the weekends, so let’s say when the crew goes home at 4:30 on Friday afternoon, then you can put it into an away mode where instead of the trigger being 20 minutes of water usage while people are onsite, it could be if water runs for more than one minute, send us a text alert and send email alert as well. It can do text and email. It can go to groups of people as well. And it could be that if water runs for more than two minutes, send another alert and automatically shut the water off to the site.

We’ve had situations where it could be Friday afternoon and someone doing drywall accidentally puts a nail into a pipe on the 39th floor and water ends up running all weekend. The crew comes back in on Monday morning to a catastrophic water damage situation.

John: Right because the water’s going to go from floor to floor to floor and just ruin 10, 12, 20 floors down depending on how much water is running. That can just do a terrible amount of damage.

Dan: Yeah, absolutely. So some of these projects will have millions of dollars of damage. And just picture it, John, you’re building a project. It takes three years, let’s say, and you’re three weeks away from delivery and you get this burst pipe situation. So not only is it extremely expensive to clean up all that damage, but it’s going to cause delays and you may have penalties for not delivering the project on time. It can be very hard to get the trades back in too. You’ve got to get a whole new crew.

John: Right. You’re dealing with plumbers, you’re dealing with the drywall people, you’re dealing with mason people, all of that.

Dan: Painters. Carpenters. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s a complete nightmare and it’s all too common. So we are seeing great interest by construction companies that want to deploy this technology so they don’t get this water damage on the site. So the first level of protection is on the domestic cold water mains coming into the project. Again, we see it anywhere from three inch mains up to we can do 12 inch mains. But the sweet spot seems to be the six inch water main. So we’ve got basically a smart leak detection device that’s internet connected. It can also be connected cellular and it gives people not only burst pipe protection with user set triggers.

So again, on a project when no one’s there, it’ll shut that water off and it can detect a very low level leak too so it could be just a pilot hose on the 39th floor that goes. We’re going to pick that up and we’ll shut that water off within a minute and send a text message to, it could go to an entire group of people that are on the project. And so that’s the first layer, the domestic cold main coming into the project. Now we have some on some sites. We also have people using these big six inch, eight inch units to put in front of the fire suppression system during-

John: Okay so your fire suppression system is a whole other set of water usage in a building like that.

Dan: It’s a completely different system. Yeah, so that’s something too. If one of those pipes goes, same situation. It could cause millions of dollars worth of damage, so this exact same Water Hero unit could be deployed in front of a fire suppression system during construction. Now once there’s occupancy, that device has to be removed because we don’t want to have any device plumbed in that could potentially be in front of a fire suppression system when there is a true fire and that needs to be off.

John: You don’t want to be shutting off the water to the fire sprinklers. Yeah. Yeah.

Dan: Exactly. But what we have is we have another solution for occupancy that uses ultrasonic strap-on noninvasive devices. It can go on strategic risers within the fire suppression system that provide a great value of water risk mitigation as well because typically the fire suppression system alarms do not run into waters at over 15 gallons a minute type flow. So you could have one sprinkler head. Again, it could be on a high floor in the project or in a finished occupied building that breaks and water could be running for a long time, even at 10 gallons a minute can do a significant amount of damage.

So this is a separate product we have for post-construction occupancies stage using ultrasonic non-invasive devices. It’s strap onto the side of existing fire suppression risers to protect you from that zero to 15 gallons a minute when you’d get no alarms. So that’s another great product we have. In some condo projects, people are looking to install individual Water Hero units for each individual condo unit. So we just had a project in Nashville, Tennessee, 170 units and they opted to install Water Hero in every single unit. So you get that level of protection. And we also have a Water Hero solution for hydronic heating and cooling systems that’s very innovative. No one’s ever done this, but some of the projects we work on, they might have 60 different closed loop systems that might heat and or cool 15 to 20 office units or condo units. And in Canada for example, one out of four of those systems are failing and I’ve seen damage up to $8 million with them.

John: And what’s causing those failures?

Dan: Yeah, so the failure, it can be a variety of different things, but in Canada for example, it could be that someone opens up a window during the middle of winter in the morning. They go off to work and that fan coil unit freezes and typically the systems in those buildings will run 20 stories maybe. And they’re supplying units, 15 to 20 units in that entire loop. And when that pipe breaks, the big problem is that you have makeup water coming in and water is continuously flowing. Let’s say it’s a two inch riser system at 50 gallons a minute. And the problem is even identifying in these big construction projects where the leak is.

So John, picture you’re the weekend doorman or the security person at one of these projects. It’s 2:00 AM Sunday morning and someone comes to you, “John, there’s water on the 59th floor.” So you have to figure out, is that domestic cold water going into a unit? Is it domestic hot water going into the unit? Is it the fire suppression system on that floor or is it one of these 60 riser systems and if so, which one of the 60 is it? It could take you hours where water’s filling out at 50 gallons a minute.

John: Wow.

Dan: To even determine where that damage… The plumbing on these construction projects is very, very complex. And so with the Water Hero system for hydronic closed loop, we actually have two of our smart meters with automatic shut off and the building management can dial in the differentials. When a system’s healthy, the water flow on the 20th floor is going to be 50 gallons a minute and that’s going to match up and be synchronized with the water flow on the first floor. And so we can dial in. If you’re a couple percent off, we’ll give you a heads up and you could dial it in. If it’s maybe 2%, you get a 2% differential, you get a heads up.

It could be 3% but if it gets to four or 5%, we’ll automatic, we’ll give you a text alert and email alerts, but also automatically shut it off so that the damage is isolated, the problem was mitigated. And we can do that in just a matter of minutes verse taking just to find out that there is even a leak and identify which systems need to be shut down. So that’s yet another product we have. And the last one is there’s a great interest in using our technology for storm water systems where you might have a drainage collection area on the 60th floor on the rooftop of one of these huge towers and that water goes down a 12 inch sanitary storm drain into cisterns that are typically in a subterranean level. It could be the fourth level below ground parking garage.

When those devices get clogged, you can have several levels of the parking garage flood. And so again, it can do millions of dollars worth of damage. So these are all problems that no one’s had a solution. And now Water Hero’s internet connected technology, it can be internet connected, it can be cellular connected, that will help immediately identify and automatically shut off the damage. So it’s a huge, huge problem. Like I said, it’s typically 30% of claims on projects, high rise projects is water damage. In Canada, it’s up to 45% of the claims.

John: Wow. Yeah and like you said, it can be installed during the construction process to make sure that there’s no issues to the building while you’re doing construction. But then you can leave these systems going even after construction is over to continually just make sure that your building is safe and secure.

Dan: Right, right. There’s all sorts of optionality on it. So in some cases a construction company will buy our six inch devices. They’ll have several for each project and when that project’s done, they can uninstall it and take it to another project. They own it. In some cases, the building management will want to buy that from the developer. So it’s a nice added feature for the building management to have that leak detection at the domestic cold water main in place. So there’s optionality there [inaudible] these devices. Again, they can make sense both during construction as well as post-construction. So we see all sorts of different approaches in some cases with a hydronic system. Those add great value during construction because those systems go during construction as well. But they’re especially valuable to the building management company after construction. And we’re actually starting to get specked into some jobs by the developers themselves that they’re specifying they want the Water Hero hydronic system in the project. They want the Water Hero fire suppression and they want the protection at the domestic mains too.

John: All right, that’s really great information. Dan, thanks again for speaking with me today.

Dan: Thank you, John.

John: And for more information, visit the Water Hero website at waterheroinc.com or call (877) 662-4496.