Detecting And Addressing Leaks 101: A Guide For FMs

Practical solutions for owners and managers on how to identify and address different leaks that can occur in facilities.

leak detection
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By Sean Comerford

Leak detection plays a crucial role in maintaining building safety and integrity. Undetected leaks from water, gas, or air can lead to extensive damage, costly repairs, and even potential health hazards. Identifying and addressing leaks promptly is essential for preventing further deterioration, minimizing financial losses, and ensuring the well-being of occupants.

This article explores different types of leaks, signs to watch out for, methods for identification and effective ways to address these issues. Individuals and facility managers can proactively protect their properties and mitigate potential risks by understanding the importance of leak detection and implementing appropriate measures.

Different Types of Leaks

Water: Water leaks are among the most prevalent and can cause significant damage if left unaddressed. These leaks can occur due to damaged pipes, faulty plumbing fixtures, or even severe weather conditions. Not only can they damage the structure, but they can also lead to mold growth and pose health risks to occupants.

Gas: Gas leaks are highly dangerous and require immediate attention. These leaks can occur in gas pipelines, valves, or appliances. They pose the risk of fire, explosion, and carbon monoxide poisoning, making them a serious threat to the safety of the building and its occupants. Timely detection and repair are crucial to prevent any accidents or hazards.

Air: Air leaks, although less visible than water or gas leaks, can have a significant impact on the energy efficiency of the building. These leaks typically occur around windows, doors, ductwork, or any other openings in the building envelope. They allow for the escape of conditioned air while allowing outside air infiltration. Apart from increasing energy consumption, air leaks can also affect indoor comfort and the performance of HVAC systems.

Signs To Watch Out For

Several indicators can suggest the presence of a leak in your building. Water-related signs include visible water accumulation in unexpected areas, an unexplained increase in water bills without apparent reason, and moisture or water stains on walls or ceilings.

When it comes to gas-related signs, a strong odor of gas is a clear indication of a potential leak. That smell has been added to the gas for safety purposes.

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Additionally, if you notice hissing or unusual sounds near gas lines or appliances, or if pilot lights frequently go out, take immediate action to address the issue. Gas leaks pose a serious safety risk and should never be ignored.

Air-related signs can also point toward a leak. Drafts near windows or doors, even when closed, may indicate air leakage. Difficulty maintaining the desired indoor temperature despite HVAC efforts is another common sign. Unexpectedly high energy bills could be a result of air leaks, as they can cause inefficient temperature regulation and increased energy consumption.

How to Identify A Leak

A visual inspection is the first step in leak identification. Examine pipes, joints, and connections to check for any signs of leakage or damage. Take note of any dampness, discoloration, or musty odors, as they could indicate hidden leaks.

Monitoring water or gas meters can also help identify leaks. Keep an eye out for unusual usage fluctuations that ordinary usage patterns cannot explain. Additionally, track energy usage and bills to identify any unexpected spikes that could be a result of water or gas leakage.

Specialized tools and equipment can be employed to assist in leak identification. Water leak detectors effectively pinpoint the source of a water issue, helping prevent water damage and mold growth. Tracer dye can be used to narrow down areas that need to be inspected for leaks. Gas leak detectors can detect even the slightest traces, ensuring the safety of occupants. Thermal imaging cameras are helpful in identifying temperature variations and locating hidden leaks within walls or ceilings. Smoke testing systems, including smoke testing candles, produce dense smoke that effectively identifies water infiltration into sanitary sewer systems and can be used with most smoke blowers.

A Temporary Fix

When faced with a leak in your building, it is crucial to take immediate action for damage control and safety. Two effective ways to address leaks temporarily are (1) shutting off the water or gas supply and (2) utilizing temporary sealants or patches.

To prevent further water damage or gas leakage, turn off the water or gas supply to the affected area. This will help contain the leak and minimize any potential hazards.
If you can’t turn off the water, a temporary blocking plug can help cap off the leak while maintaining the water supply throughout the building.

For water leaks coming from threaded connections, applying temporary sealants or patches to damaged pipes or joints can provide a quick fix until permanent repairs can be made.

For leaks coming from PVC pipe, you can use cement with a quick set and cure time.
In the case of a gas leak, opening windows and doors to ventilate the area is crucial to reducing the risk of gas exposure. Remember to evacuate the building and seek professional assistance immediately.

A Permanent Solution

Addressing leaks in a building can be done permanently with a few steps.
First, hiring a professional plumber or leak-detection service is critical in identifying the root cause of the leaks. Repairing or replacing faulty plumbing or fixtures is also an essential step in permanently handling leaks. This step can include fixing leaky pipes, replacing worn-out seals, or repairing malfunctioning fixtures.

Second, installing leak-detection systems effectively prevents potential water damage by catching leaks early on. Such systems use sensors and alarms to alert you immediately when a leak is detected. Improving insulation to prevent air leaks is also essential in addressing leaks permanently. This step involves sealing gaps and cracks around windows, doors, and other openings, preventing air and water leaks.

By taking these permanent measures to address leaks, you can prevent recurring issues and ensure the longevity and sustainability of the building for years to come.


Comerford is a Technical Applications Manager at Oatey Co. He is a third-generation tradesman with nearly 20 years of plumbing experience, including serving as the lead plumber for commercial/residential new-construction, service and fire protection jobs. He holds a State of Ohio Fire Protection License for Sprinkler and Standpipe.

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