ultimate guide to iot water monitoring cover

The Ultimate Guide to IoT Water Monitoring: Pipe Leakage Monitoring (Chpt.4)

Pipe Leakage Monitoring

iot pipe leakage illustration

Causes and effects

Pipe leakage is a worldwide concern requiring modern solutions to prevent losses of increasingly valuable water resources, drinking water in particular.

Leakages branch out into a host of issues that affect infrastructure and cause water quality issues, vast economic losses, unnecessary power consumption, and taxing situations on citizens that pay for losses and face availability issues.

A serious concern in global water grids is that most contain severely outdated parts that deteriorate and suffer various damages. Typical culprits in leakage are clay piping systems suffering damage by tree root ingress or erosion and metal piping systems being exposed to corrosion (fueled by ionic impurities such as chemical additives).

In Florida, U.S., the primary causes of leaks in water networks are corrosion, mechanical/physical damage, and loose components. -Florida DEP

A hidden issue

Without proper monitoring technology, water leaks are first detected when the leaked water amounts to overflow on ground level. With this in mind, installing leak detection technology to identify and locate leaks can result in substantial financial, operational, and environmental gains. As uncovering underground pipe grids, diverting traffic, and other costly steps come with the reparational work of these systems, detailed information on the location of leaks is highly valuable.

Sensor types

Pressure sensor from Althen Sensors and Controls
Pressure sensor from Althen Sensors and Controls

Pressure sensors

Pressure sensors are the primary implementation for water pressure monitoring used to identify leaks. These sensors can map both water flow and current liquid amounts in reservoirs (the more water above the sensor, the higher the pressure on the sensor membrane).

The sensors are strategically placed to collect data on pressure parameters. The parameters are then cross-referenced with expected readings to look for discrepancies that indicate leakages, as these would result in pressure loss. As minor differences in readings can be due to measurement errors, differences need to exceed measurement error levels. This often results in small leaks being challenging to detect and remedy.


A strength of pressure sensors is that they do not require a roof structure, making them especially suitable for open water pools and watercourses. It is essential to utilize a capable pressure monitoring system that can quickly detect and locate a leak as the water grid will soon create a new equilibrium in pressure. Compared to flow meters, which can also detect water leaks, pressure sensors are a cheaper and more easily employed alternative for non-utility-industries

fabian jung Ru - Water pipe

Transforming loss to gain

In Asia, it has been estimated that an investment of $2 billion annually over a 10-year period in water loss reduction projects would increase revenue in Asian urban water utilities by $4.3 billion annually. This calculation is based on a reduction of total NRW losses (not only physical) to half the current level and assuming an average reduction cost of $500 per m3 per day (m3/d).

– Frauendorfer & Liemberger, 2010

iot acoustic pipe leak detection

Acoustic sensors

Acoustic sensors, also known as hydrophones, are typically used industrially to monitor leakages in pipe grids, water containers, and similar large-scale water systems and structures.

Water damages present high risks for industries as these can lead to machine failure, short circuits, and operational shutdown, resulting in severe financial loss.

When working with water networks, acoustic sensors are preferred over pressure sensors and flow meters as they allow for more detailed monitoring (flow meters in particular are mainly limited to detecting large ruptures).

While acoustic sensors can be highly precise for system leak monitoring, they are less capable if the leak is due to water intrusion (such as from a faulty roof or external flooding) [45].

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimated in a 2016 report including 246 American utility companies that these suffered customer losses of 11 million liters of wasted water in 2013 from leakage, unmetered residential usage, and more.

Details of acoustic sensor operations

Two spaced-out bracketed sensors are used to locate a leak by measuring the time lag between their signals. As normal water activity can disrupt the readings, sensors are usually activated during nighttime when there is less water movement, making it easier to “hear” leaks. Data is collected over a long period and is then cross-correlated to locate the leak.

As different pipes and leaks produce different noises, advanced algorithms are used to detect location and leak size based on the type of environment the sensors analyze. In metal pipe grids, where sound waves travel favorably, acoustic correlation methods can be suitable for more detailed monitoring.

Apart from acoustic devices working unfavorably in non-metal pipes, pipe grids constitute vast pipe networks, while acoustic sensors only cover a limited area. In addition, they require training of personnel and field experience, so a comprehensive monitoring strategy is essentia

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