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What to Do If Your Office Building Has a Water Leak

Damage from water leakage can have a costly impact on your business. In addition to the repair and cleanup, a leak could impact day-to-day operations by damaging equipment and records. A serious leak could even cause your business to close temporarily. Prevention, early detection and prompt action can help minimize disruption.

Water damage in the ceiling tile.

Water Leakage: Warning Signs

Some symptoms of water leakage are obvious: You walk into your office one morning, and there's an inch of standing water on the floor or a drip coming from the ceiling tiles. Other signs are more subtle and not as easily recognized, which can cause a delay in addressing the problem. Common signs of roof leaks, for example, include water spots, rust stains, and damp or discolored areas on ceilings. You may also notice a musty smell, especially in small storage rooms or closets with limited air circulation. Note any changes in the appearance of your building and follow up with your building's facility manager.

Common Causes in Business Buildings

These are some common causes for water leakage in commercial buildings:

  • Pipes. A burst pipe occurs when water freezes inside a pipe, causing it to expand and resulting in a crack or burst. Small cracks can cause significant damage, releasing hundreds of gallons of water a day. To reduce the risk for a burst pipe during a cold snap, the Red Cross recommends keeping cabinet doors open to promote airflow around pipes, wrapping exposed pipes with insulation and letting a faucet slowly drip to keep water moving through the pipe. Talk to your building's facility manager about ensuring the building maintains a minimum temperature of at least 55 degrees during unoccupied hours and weekends.
  • Toilets and faucets. Toilets and faucets in commercial buildings may receive significant usage, especially if they are in a restroom used by employees and customers. These fixtures are at increased risk for a leak.
  • Roofing. Clogged gutters can be a problem year-round, preventing water from properly draining off the roof. When water pools in one spot, the roof can be susceptible to leakage. In winter, ice dams are one of the most common causes of a leaky roof. Ice dams form when warm air in a building's attic causes the roof to warm and snow to melt, but the water cannot drain off the roof, forcing it underneath the shingles and into the building. Inadequate insulation and ventilation, along with clogged gutters, increase the risk for ice dams.

Prevention: Leakage Detection Systems

A water leak detection system can alert you to a leak before significant damage occurs. There are two types of systems: active and passive.

  • Active systems typically use moisture sensors to detect leaks. Once a problem is identified, an active system will automatically shut off water flow to the affected area.
  • Passive systems, also known as "water alarms," are less expensive, stand-alone units. Mounted on a flat surface, these detection units will sound when the moisture sensor is activated but rely on someone to realize the alarm has been triggered and then manually turn off the water to the affected area.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Building Has a Leak

Whether the culprit is a small faucet or a major roof leak, prompt action is essential to minimize potential damage and business disruption. If you are in a commercial building with a landlord, document evidence of the leak and any known damage (such as wet equipment) and contact your landlord's maintenance team.

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