Use of Infrared to Detect Underground and Concrete Water Leaks

Water leaks

Water is one of the most important resources that is commonly used by all human beings, animals and plants. Importance of water in supporting health, ecosystem, economic development and life can never be disputed. With the increased threats of water shortage due to, population growth, climate change, prolonged droughts, we cannot afford to lose the little we have through leaks in water supply systems.

Water leaks from fittings, plumbing fixtures and pipes are the common cause of waters loss for many cities and homesteads.  It is estimated that the average water loss due to leaks in a typical home is between 2,000 to 20,000 gallons of water every year. Problems associated with water loss due to leaks in water systems are a major concern which requires urgent solutions across the globe. Some of the major problems caused by water leaks from damaged pipes are: financial loss, property damage, energy and water loss not forgetting the psychological torture associated with locating the leaks.

Problems and losses caused by underground and concrete leaks can be managed if the leaks are detected effectively on time and rectified efficiently. One of the most effective ways of detecting both hot and cold water leaks is by the use of infrared thermography.

Water systems all over the world experience water losses. Leakage is the most common reason for water loss. Problems associated with water main leaks are a growing concern around the globe. These problems include water and energy loss, in addition to considerable properties damage. In current practice, not all water leaks can be detected due to intensive time and expensive cost associated with the leak detection process; consequently, some leaks are still occurring and lead to problems mentioned above. Management of water leaks can be improved if leaks can be detected effectively then rectified efficiently.

Types of underground and concrete water leaks

There are two main types of water leaks: Catastrophic leaks which can cause massive damage if not detected and repaired on time and costly water leaks

Catastrophic leaks

  • Toilet supply and drainage failure
  • Hot water supply line failure
  • Leaks in home appliances
  • Main supply burst

Costly leaks

  • Leaks in the irrigation system
  • Leaky toilet system\

Causes of underground and concrete water leaks

Some of the main causes of underground and concrete water and waste drainage leaks are:

  • Broken seals

A seal is used in all water connectors and appliances to prevent water from leaking. However, they tend to age with time and loosen leading to massive water leaking. They should, therefore, be checked from time to time and changed to prevent water leaks.

  • Clogged lines

Clogging is normally caused by the presence of solid materials in the drainage such as cloths or nylon materials. This causes increased pressure inside the pipes which in turn leads to the pipes cracking or bursting. This can, however, be prevented by ensuring the pipes and drainage is always clean free from solid materials.

  • Corrosion

Corrosion mainly caused by rust has an effect of eating the walls of the pipes away making them weak. This puts them at risk of bursting due to pressure changes leaking to water loss. It is important to keep checking the condition of your plumbing system and consider replacing them once corrosion is detected.

  • Broken pipe joints

Pipe joints tends to weaken with time and loosen causing leaks. It is however hard to know their condition if they are buried underground or inside the concrete.

  • Water pressure

Rapidly changing water pressure can easily cause pipes bursts or breaks especially in conditions of excessive corrosion or weak joints and seals. It is important to have your water pressure under control to prevents pipe bursting leading to underground and concrete water leaks.

  • Tree roots

One of the common cause of underground water leak outside the house is tree roots. Roots tend to intrude on water pipes causing water to leak. It is important to know the line of your water pipe and control tree growth around that area.

  • Temperatures changes

Extreme temperature changes force rapid contraction and expansion of pipes. This has an effect of causing pipes to crack to variations in pipe size leading to massive water loss.

Underground and concrete water Leaks can cause massive water loss, promote unwanted organic growth and cause property and building damage. One of the biggest challenges to preventing these losses is the ability to detect and repair the leaks on time. However, many homeowners are not aware of the plumbing line in their compound making it hard to detect when there is a possible leak in the system. This makes them fully dependent on the services of their plumbers and contractors. To cut cost, many rarely ask for the services leading to huge losses before a leak is detected. This can, however, be avoided by closely monitoring the water bill and raising alarm when a huge variation is observed before an expert confirms the leak.

One of the best technology that is usually applied in monitoring, detecting and confirming possible underground and concrete water leaks is the use of infrared thermography.

Infrared thermography

Thermal imaging also known as infrared thermography (IRT) is an infrared imaging technique which makes use of long infrared electromagnetic spectrum between 9, 000 to 14,000 nanometers to detect radiations and produce an image of the radiation. This technology is made possible since all objects whose temperature is above absolute zero emits infrared. Since the amount of radiation produced by an object increases with an increase in its temperature, it is possible to see and differentiate between objects or animals without illumination.

Initially, detecting underground and concrete water leaks was a challenge as it involved a lot of digging and demolitions not forgetting it was a process of trial and error.  With the invention of infrared thermography, it is possible to detect leakages in water systems laid in pavements, concrete walls and those laid underground with precision and work quickly to rectify the problem thus saving time and minimize wastage.  Use of infrared is not limited to the type of the pipe and time and testing of leaking pipes can be done at any time of the day and on all types of pipes.

Locating and detecting underground and concrete water leaks using infrared thermography

Even though infrared inspections can be conducted at any time, to get accurate results, most of the outdoor tests are done at night when the conditions are calm.  This helps to eliminate the effects of solar reflection and solar loading. The exercise can be conducted when on foot, from an aircraft or a vehicle. It is, however, possible to conduct an indoor inspection at any time of the day.

Use of infrared thermography has proven to be efficient and accurate in detecting underground and concrete leaks, poor pipeline insulation and backfill. When water leaks from the pipes, they tend to form plume around the pipeline. Since water has different thermal conductance from the backfill and the soil, different temperature patterns will indicate showing the leak location. By using this technology to detect the leaks, the resulting data is displayed in the form of pictures of differing grey tones due to differences in thermal conductance of different materials around the leak location. Use of infrared can be used to detect leaks in pipes laid as far as 98.43 feet below the ground surface.

Factors to consider when deciding on the infrared camera to use in underground and concrete water leaks.

Underground and concrete water leaks can be a nightmare when they are not detected on time and repaired. One of the biggest challenges in detecting those leaks and preventing the losses associated is the lack of efficient tools which can locate the exact location and size of the leaks. Using infrared thermography to detect these leaks puts one at an advantage as compared to other methods as they help to give accurate results. However, with many different models, it is important to have the best cameras to get more accurate results to help rectify the problem. Some of the qualities of a good imager to use in detecting underground and concrete leaks are:

  • Wide temperature range

Choosing a camera with a wide temperature range enables one to detect high temperature and ambient sport in a single image. It is important to use a camera with a temperature range wide enough to capture the temperature of all objects around the target location to get conclusive details.

  • Compatibility with other technologies

It is important to use an image which is easily compatible with other technologies such as Wi-Fi and smartphones. This helps in streamlining the thermal images and data for real-time analysis and share the images from one place to another by emails and other platforms.

  • Repeatable results and accuracy

Infrared imagers help you to measure heat differences thus consistency and accuracy should be one of the key factors for selecting the right camera for a project. For good results, it is important to ensure the camera meets +/-2% accuracy.  A good infrared imager should provide an easy way of adjusting and feeding parameters such as reflected temperature values and emissivity for accurate measurements.

  • Image quality and detector resolution

Infrared cameras with higher resolution can be used to measure smaller targets that are far away and thus form sharp images. This translates to more reliable and precise measurements.

When choosing the camera, it is important to check both the display and detector resolution. It is even more important to understand that detector resolutions matter more and one should never be compromised for a higher display resolution.

  • Easy to operate and analyze the results

Always ensure that the camera you use is easy to carry around and to operate. The camera should also be able to give the output in standard file formats that are easy to interpret and are broadly supported.

Benefits of using Infrared thermography to Detect Underground and Concrete Water Leaks

Use of Infrared thermography to detect leaks makes it possible to detect bursts and problems in pipes laid underground or built in the concrete before they develop to big problems. This helps to minimize damages and unscheduled downtime. Use of infrared offers a wide range of advantages as is it used to:

  • Gather information and data without interfering with nature and production
  • Can be used to detect leaks in all types of pipes
  • Can be used to detect leaks in hazardous environments
  • Can quickly detect small leaks and prevent loss and destruction
  • Can be used to scan large areas such as roofs, ceiling and walls.
  • Use of infrared thermography helps to save on time and damages.
  • Because of consistency and reliability, the use of infrared thermography ensures quality
  • It allows for real-time investigations thus act with urgency depending on the situation
  • It helps save on money. Use of Infrared cameras does not require special training and they are cheap to acquire.
  • Use of Infrared thermography gives few false alarms
  • Has no visual limitations

Disadvantages of using infrared to detect underground and concrete water leaks

Some of the defect associated with the use of infrared technology are:

  • Can cause eye damage if wrongly handled. Is always important to use the protective goggles when using infrared cameras
  • The same as heatwaves, infrared waves can cause damage to skin and body tissues.
  • Infrared radiations are easily absorbed near the ground causing greenhouse effects

Detecting Moisture Patterns

Recognizable moisture patterns exist in almost all buildings with water leakage issues. If you take a look at the walls, ceilings, walls, hot water pipes, etc, you will certainly detect water leakage patterns. Some of the common moisture patterns you can easily detect include the following:

Moisture pattern in Walls – Triangular shape appears when the leaked water slowly spreads downwards

Moisture pattern in Ceilings – Unstructured shape forms in the damp, moist, and wet material spreads in the outward direction displaying different temperatures all across the pattern.

Moisture pattern in Flooding – The moisture spreads up the wall, often into the insulation, due to the capillary action.

Hot Water Pipe – Using a Infrared camera, you can detect these leaks that show as warm area

Moisture patterns can’t be detected quickly without proper thermal imaging as the signs aren’t very pronounced and you will easily miss it. Things come to such a pass that people detect it only when water starts to drip from the walls or ceilings. However, appropriate thermal imaging tools and techniques along with training can help you identity moisture patterns quickly.

Best Infrared Cameras for Detecting Moisture Pattern?

Heat differentials for moisture are subtle and you must choose a thermal camera with high resolution and higher thermal sensitivity or NETD. These thermal cameras can detect even minute temperature differences and display it to the users. Lower thermal sensitivity is always preferred and for detecting moistures, you must always choose the thermal cameras with 30mK sensitivity. On the other hand, thermal cameras with 100mK sensitivity are appropriate for detecting bigger temperature differences making them more suited for industrial use.

Thermal imaging cameras that offer features like manual adjustment of span and level are always preferred. Moisture patterns are best detected when you can adjust the image to about 10°C or 20°C span.


Use of infrared technology has proven to be important in many fields such as science, military, and business. The technology has made it possible to develop communication devices, night vision goggles, weather satellites, and underground and concrete water leaks detectors among many other devices.

Detecting water leaks can be a headache especially in pipes laid in thick concrete and deep in the ground. Not known to many, Use of infrared technology has made it possible and easy to detect these leaks fast and easily making it possible to avert many problems associated with water leaks. Despite the many advantages associated with the use of this technology, there are a few disadvantages which can be prevented if the devices are handled carefully

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