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How IoT is powering smart water management in real estate

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The need for cost-saving solutions in the home is becoming more and more apparent as inflation, the aftermath of the pandemic and a war cause utility bills to rise. Because of this, we’re witnessing greater reliance on IoT technology designed to find efficiencies, such as water or energy consumption, in the household.

In the realm of large multifamily developments, the use of IoT has become a widespread solution. In recent years, proptech has revolutionized how these buildings operate, becoming an essential tool for environmental measures, business sustainability and growth. The popularity of IoT technology in this accommodation sector is largely due to its ability to address major operational pain points, such as operating costs, guest satisfaction, and retention.

Commonly, multifamily properties can be subject to maintenance inefficiencies, specifically water leaks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, up to 10% of US properties have ongoing and unnoticed water leaks, which each waste over 90 gallons a day. On a larger scale, such as in a multifamily operation, these issues can lead to significant losses and a considerable waste of water resources. Every day in the US alone, 14,000 homes are being damaged by water. Not to mention, that the average cost of water-related insurance claims have risen from $6,965 in 2013 to $9,700 in 2020 — that’s a 33% increase.

Luckily, smart home technology has been designed to address these pain points, and reduce the risk of costly bills and damages.

What is a water management solution?

Many property managers have begun to rely on smart water management systems. The technology uses a range of WiFi-connected IoT devices, including leak sensors, shut-off valves, and water monitoring software, that provide feedback to a single management platform, accessible remotely via a mobile app. These devices work collaboratively to prevent leaks from escalating into costly issues, with either the system itself being able to act by shutting off the water supply using smart water valves or by sending alerts to the property manager and maintenance team so the problem can be addressed before it’s too late.

Receiving instant notifications when problems, like small leaks, are flagged by the intelligent IoT system allows property managers to switch their maintenance approach from reactive to proactive, as they’re able to send maintenance personnel to assess leaks as soon as they arise — minimizing water wastage and damage.

A connected maintenance system, such as this, provides property managers with greater control over their properties. They gain complete oversight of water consumption, preventative maintenance issues and insight into cost-saving opportunities.

The benefits of a smart water management solution

A study by Flo in 2020 found a direct correlation between the installation of smart water solutions and fewer low-severity insurance claims, with a 96% decline in water leak claims paid to households with smart water management technology installed. Considering that the national average claim for non-weather-related water damage is $9,700, installing smart tech can lead to huge cost savings.

Despite potential hesitations in the current economic climate, property managers should prioritize installing smart water management systems, even if they currently lack any water management devices. The cost of implementing these solutions is relatively low in comparison to the average cost of a single episode of water damage (nearly $10,000), making it a highly cost-effective investment with a rapid return on investment (ROI). The implementation of smart water technology can lead to substantial savings in costs associated with early leak detection and damage limitation.

As water management solutions minimize property damage through proactive maintenance, this also offers residents a better living experience as they’re less likely to be inconvenienced by long-term maintenance work and damage to their belongings. This in itself can boost property revenue as happy residents are more likely to renew their leases.

Another major benefit of water management solutions is that they reduce water waste. At a time when business owners will be looking closely at their bottom line, a solution such as this can make a considerable difference. What’s more, having a sustainable approach to water management will appeal to residents, with a 2022 study finding that, for 43% of residents, sustainable features were a factor in their choice of multifamily apartments.

How do IoT water devices work?

Currently, many water sensors on the market are being upgraded so that they are more cost-effective. IoT solutions (wireless technologies) now play a central role, meaning these systems no longer need to rely on ‘sensor ropes’ or ‘probes’ to detect regular leaks, though these tools are still required for detecting water leaks in hard-to-reach areas and to gain wider coverage.

Modern contact sensors are equipped with Z-Wave Plus — low-power radio waves that travel through walls, floors and furniture, which communicate with a smart control module that can be installed more quickly and in a wider variety of locations.

Water sensors are designed to work in tandem with smart water valves and meters. These devices identify low and high-volume water leaks throughout a building and monitor overall water use, helping operators and owners reduce the risk of losses from water emergencies, while also improving water conservation efforts at the property and resident level. This means that property managers (and residents) don’t have to worry about coming back to a water-damaged home, with the system taking full control and being able to automatically shut off the water supply at the main water valve. The system can be configured to shut off water supply in a variety of scenarios – in case of small, medium or large water leaks.” A study from PointCentral found that a multifamily operator could save $2,000 each year in insurance fees by fitting smart water management technology to a main serving 30 units.

The system is most efficient when all devices work collaboratively. The IoT meters and valves that are part of this tech family are designed to work in harmony and are intelligent enough to detect anomalies such as extended water flow or when unusually large volumes of water begin flowing through the pipes — all prompting immediate reports on mobile devices. The meters can recognize excessive water usage, dangerous temperature drops that may freeze pipes, dripping faucets and toilets that are running continually.

Yet it’s the smart water sensor that continues to be more popular than the valves and meters. A possible reason for this is that property managers view sensors as a necessity and smart valves and meters as a luxury. While cost considerations are understandable, investing only in sensors can have drawbacks. When issues are detected, the system does not automatically resolve them. Property managers are, instead, at the mercy of maintenance engineers, their availability and response times, which may lead to prolonged downtime and additional costs. Smart water management has already provided a solution to this problem that pays for itself making it a worthwhile investment for any property manager.

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