Tips for sustainable water management in construction

Water damage has superseded fire when it comes to risks on construction sites. This won’t come as a surprise to many construction professionals: water can cause immense damage and do so slowly over a long time or in one flash flood. Water problems can occur in multiple places at once, and damage can be widespread. Even though insurance can mitigate some of those risks, water damage can create considerable and unexpected costs on a project.

“The problem with water for construction sites is how it can appear in different ways,” explains Chetan Mistry, Strategy and Marketing Manager for Xylem Africa. “It can come from groundwater or from rain, or a burst pipe on the site. It can cause a big flood or small leaks start causing unseen damage. Depending on the damage, it can take additional time and resources to dry and repair such areas and remove raw materials – usually with the help of suitable professionals.”

Water damage occurs in two general areas: water intrusion and water escape. Intrusion is external water entering the site, such as rising groundwater or rain. Water escape comes from pipes or other equipment that transport water around the site.

Four areas of focus

There are multiple ways water can access a site, summarised into four areas. Addressing these places with the appropriate use of inspection, equipment and technology can help prevent damage, identify the source of a problem, and prevent further damage.

  • Groundwater: This is water from the surrounding area. It could be located underground or result from nearby catchments. These concerns are most prevalent in the early stages of a project and can be mitigated with thorough inspections of the site – particularly foundation locations. You certainly don’t want to breach a water table underneath. Other than inspections, a sound stormwater drainage system can redirect and remove excess groundwater. It’s also prudent to use equipment such as Flygt dewatering pumps or mobile Godwin dri-prime pumps to dewater sites even if no-one is on-site.
  • Rain: Rain is the element projects have the least control over: if a storm is coming, there is nothing you can do to stop it. But a site can be prepared to manage any water damage that might occur. If possible, temporary roofs should be built over areas such as elevator shafts or stairwells. If these cannot be roofed, surround then with dykes to prevent water from flooding down them. Ditto for areas where the building envelope isn’t complete, such as crane mounting points. It’s good practice to partition sites to water can collect in certain areas, then use mobile dri-pumps such as from Godwin to drain these temporary dams. Leak detectors, such as from the Pure Technologies brand, can help discover weak spots in new pipes.
  • Piping and fixtures: Even though rain and groundwater can cause a lot of damage, pipes and fixtures are the riskiest. They can produce many small leaks or unseen leaks, and they typically cause problems when the construction project is at an advanced stage with many elements and raw materials that can be damaged. Fixtures and pipe connections should be regularly inspected, especially if crimping is used instead of soldering to affix pipes. Brands such as Pure Technologies and Visenti offer several hardware and software products to test if pipes and joins are sufficient. Other detection systems, including Sensus flow meters, can alert you on whether there is too little or too much water in a particular family of pipes. These help alert to problems early, helping mitigate the damage.
  • Drains: Drains are often overlooked because they don’t seem to pose a significant risk. After all, aren’t they meant to accommodate water and reduce problems? Yes, providing they are not clogged. But often on construction sites, detritus can fall down open drains, causing blockages just when you have water problems that need urgent draining. This area, though, has a very low-tech and inexpensive answer: place grills over drain openings.

These steps should be complemented with regular inspections and a water-aware culture on the site, adds Chetan Mistry:

“By combining technology and awareness, you can avoid most water problems and greatly reduce the damage in case something does go wrong. It’s important to train personnel to identify signs of potential water problems, such as moisture damage or low pressure on pipes. You should have regular inspections of the site, checking pipe connections, as well as the condition of equipment such as pump generators and warning sensors.”

Water damage can be very harmful to a project’s budgets. The damage can be widespread, difficult to contain, and ongoing. Even a minor leak can result in long-term damage that will sully reputations and leave customers very unhappy. In contrast, buying or renting water management equipment represent a fraction of those costs. Investing in sustainable water management today can save you enormously in excess payments and brand damage.