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  /  Exterior   /  Invisible to the Naked Eye. How Electronic Leak Detection Identifies Water Leaks Before They Become a Problem

Invisible to the Naked Eye. How Electronic Leak Detection Identifies Water Leaks Before They Become a Problem

All structures are capable of unlimited physical service life, but not an endless economic life. For example, the roof may not be the sexiest part of the building construction, but it is one of the most critical aspects. Consider that the roof makes up 2% of construction costs, yet more than 70% of construction litigation stems from water intrusion, where roof failures are often the culprit. Roofs may fail due to either technical or economic reasons.

Though leaks are common within a roofing system, water intrusion can occur on many other surface areas of the building envelope. Depending on the level of knowledge of the decision-makers, leak issues, no matter where they are located, may start before materials are even purchased or installed. Some of these decisions may even be economically driven.

Regardless of the decisions made regarding materials, thermal cycling, heat, wind, age, impact, moisture, and pollutants can all shorten the lifespan of a structure and must be addressed appropriately. So, how do you determine where the problem begins and what steps must be taken to remedy the issue? Let’s take a closer look:

Uncontrolled Water Movement Is the Enemy

Water intrusion is the uncontrolled movement of water, water vapor, or moisture to areas of a building that is undesirable or unwanted. It can happen at any point along the building’s lifecycle, from construction to post-construction. It can come from numerous sources, including roof leaks, broken pipes, standing water, and moisture between the interior and exterior parts of the building (walls, roofs, floors, and doors).

The cause? Well, as much as material, age, and other factors may cause water intrusion, research indicates 60%-70% of building envelope problems are due to installation deficiencies. Even the most diligent contractors can unknowingly create damage from nails, screws, boots, or dropped equipment. Dents or small holes might seem harmless, but even minor breaches can cause significant damage when it comes to extreme weather or heavy rain. The aggregate structural damage resulting from an ongoing water intrusion issue is often quite severe and should not be ignored.

The good news is that there are strategies and techniques to prevent water intrusion that are unobtrusive yet highly effective.

Electronic Leak Detection (ELD) Offers Pinpoint Accuracy For Even the Smallest of Leaks

Electronic Leak Detection is a non-destructive diagnostic tool used by specialists to identify water leaks using electrical current to locate membrane breaches accurately on both vertical and horizontal surfaces. It can precisely locate entry points and areas of trapped water within a surface. These areas will then be marked for repairs to be addressed.

ELD can be used on not only roofing applications but other surface areas, including parking garages, patios, green roofs, basements, waterproofing between split slabs, and more.

ELD vs. flood testing and other methods

As opposed to other methods of testing, ELD offers a host of advantages. Several moisture testing methods are known in the industry, such as nuclear moisture testing, infrared thermography, and electrical impedance testing. However, as these tests are looking for moisture and not leaks, the problem may not be detected until water has already accumulated under the membrane. These methods also do not reveal the actual location of the leak and require additional testing. On the other hand, ELD can test nearly all surfaces, new or old, wet or dry, and pinpoint the actual leak, even if it’s too small to be seen easily by the naked eye.

Flood testing, a traditional leak detection method, requires flooding the area both before and after the test. Initially, to find the leak and then to determine if the repairs solved the problem. This is both wasteful and expensive because it requires a structural analysis to identify if a surface can handle the weight of the water and if the drain system can take a large amount of runoff when water is released. Overall, ELD is more efficient in every way.

There are several methods of ELD, but the principle remains the same—accurately locate defects using electrical current.  Here are two methods we use:

Low Voltage Testing

The low voltage method requires a wet surface to create a conductive medium over the entire surface. A wire is placed around the perimeter of the space and connected to a pulse generator. Then, a second wire from the pulse generator is connected to the structural surface to complete an electronic circuit over the entire testing area.

The water acts as the upper electrical “plate,” the structural deck as the lower electrical “plate,” and the membrane as a barrier between the electrical circuit. Any leaks in the membrane will create a current that will flow through the breach. A trained Z6 technician uses a receiver and probes to trace the sensors until the exact defect is located. The process is similar to the way metal detectors are used to uncover hidden treasures.

High Voltage Testing

The high voltage method requires a dry surface and can be performed on horizontal and/or vertical areas. High voltage testing requires a conductive metal or concrete surface, or a conductive medium can be installed just below the waterproofing membrane on non-conductive spaces.

A charging wire from an extremely high voltage (low amperage for safety) current generator connects to the structural surface. A second wire connects to an electrode brush made of highly conductive bristles that sweeps the entire testing area. The membrane acts as an insulator, and if the brush passes over a leak of any size, the electrical circuit is completed and signals the location of the membrane breach.

The Benefits of Electronic Leak Detection

Early identification and repairs of defects will no doubt save you money in the long run. Preventing a small leak from turning into a significant structural issue that may require the entire system to be replaced.

ELD benefits include:

Cost Savings: Testing is completed within hours, unlike traditional flood testing, and decreases labor costs.

Non-Invasive: Leaks are found without saturating the penetrated area. It also reduces the possibility of trapping water under the membrane.

Accuracy: Pinhole leaks and breaches can be identified and precisely located.

Eco-Friendly: Detecting and repairing defects reduces water consumption and leads to lower energy bills.

How Z6 Consulting Can Help

If you don’t have one already, taking the effort to put some simple and often inexpensive water intrusion plans in place during pre-construction, construction, and post-construction can save your company from the expense and headache of water infiltration damage, and restoration.

Z6 can thoroughly test waterproof surfaces to identify leaks as small as a pinhole and identify defects that may cause issues down the road. Our certified technicians provide quality service from start to finish and answer any questions or concerns you may have.

We offer innovative solutions for the creation and maintenance of better building envelopes. Contact us today to learn more about our services, including ELD.