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Leak Investigation White Paper: Cracking the Code of Building Leaks

Leaks in buildings can be tricky. Sometimes, even if you see water in one spot, the real source of the leak might be somewhere else entirely. To really understand a leak, experts gather a lot of information about it. They note things like when it happens, where it’s located, how fast it’s leaking, and whether the weather has any effect on it. They might use special tools or even chat with the people living in the building to get more details. Based on their initial checks, experts will take a good look both inside and outside the building near where the leak is seen. This helps them make an educated guess about where the water might be getting in. They might identify one or several potential problem areas. If their first fixes don’t stop the leak, they’ll need to dive deeper into the issue.

There are special tests with water that experts use to check if their guesses about the leak are right. These tests follow certain rules and use specific tools. It’s a detailed process, and sometimes many tests are needed, which can add up in cost. In some cases, to understand the leak better, experts may need to remove parts of the building, like a piece of the wall or part of the roof. This can show them what’s happening behind the scenes, revealing if there were any mistakes made during construction. After experts think they’ve identified the main problems, they’ll try to fix them. But the job isn’t over yet. They then test with water again to make sure the problem is truly resolved.

Fixing leaks can be a complex task, which is why it’s important for experts to keep open communication with the building’s occupants. It ensures that everyone understands what’s happening and what to expect. Genesis AEC’s Director of Architectural Technology, Alan Jalon, who wrote about this process, specializes in design and construction.

1. Leak Investigation

A building leak can be a persistent issue. Discovering the leak’s source can be challenging, as the location of water ingress doesn’t always align with where it manifests. Water can travel both horizontally and vertically depending on the materials it encounters. Therefore, a scientific, systematic leak investigation is crucial for detecting the leak’s origin. Though not every step may be required, understanding the process can inform the decisions of building managers and occupants when consulting professionals.

2. Data Collection on Leak and Existing Conditions

Understanding the leak involves thorough data collection. This step should never be ignored. Information about the timing, location, rate, and associated weather conditions of the leak are crucial. The correlation between climatic conditions and leak occurrence can guide the investigation. Depending on the leak’s complexity, this step might include climatic research, reviewing existing construction documents, moisture probing, thermography, and interviewing occupants.

3. Hypothesis on Entry Point

An experienced architect or engineer should inspect the interior and exterior conditions near the leak. This inspection can help identify deficiencies and water entry points. While addressing these deficiencies might solve the problem, multiple issues could contribute to one leak. If repairs don’t resolve the leak, further evaluation may be necessary.

4. Standardized Water Testing

Investigative water testing follows standardized procedures and uses specially calibrated apparatus to replicate the experienced leak. This testing is conducted in accordance with ASTM and AAMA standards. The test may isolate different building components to confirm the hypothesized entry point. Despite each test lasting about 15-20 minutes, professionals may need to test several components over a day or even several days, making this step potentially costly.

5. Removal of Finishes

Leak investigation often necessitates the removal and replacement of building finishes and materials. Removal during the data collection phase grants professionals visual access to the areas behind the construction, which can be useful during testing. This process offers insight into the underlying construction and the potential water path. Removing exterior building materials can reveal construction inconsistencies and deficiencies.

6. Corrective Action & Re-Testing

Following the investigation, professionals will identify necessary corrective repairs. After a contractor has performed the remediation work, additional water testing is advisable to ensure that the repairs have sufficiently resolved the issue.

Leak investigation can be intricate and involved, necessitating knowledgeable professionals skilled in building envelope deficiencies and standardized forensic water testing. While not every step may be necessary, professionals should discuss the implications of omitting certain steps. This open dialogue ensures the building occupant understands the problem and has realistic expectations.


  1. Hypothesis on Entry Point: The suspected point of water ingress based on an initial inspection of the building’s interior and exterior conditions.
  2. Standardized Water Testing: An investigative method following standardized procedures (like ASTM and AAMA standards) to replicate the leak under controlled conditions, helping confirm the hypothesized entry point.
  3. Removal of Finishes: The process of removing and replacing building materials and finishes to gain visual access to the areas behind the construction, revealing the potential path of water ingress and any construction inconsistencies.
  4. Corrective Action & Re-Testing: The steps taken to fix identified issues that cause the leak, followed by additional water testing to ensure the effectiveness of the corrective measures.
  5. ASTM: The American Society for Testing and Materials, an international standards organization that develops and publishes technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services.
  6. AAMA: The American Architectural Manufacturers Association, a source of performance standards, product certification, and educational programs for the fenestration industry (i.e., windows, doors, skylights, and curtain walls).
  7. Building Envelope or Enclosure: The physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building, including the resistance to air, water, heat, light, and noise transfer.
  8. Forensic Water Testing: A type of investigation that replicates the conditions of water penetration to identify leaks’ sources in the building envelope or building enclosure. It is typically carried out according to established industry standards.

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About Genesis AEC

Genesis AEC – an award-winning consulting, architecture, engineering, and construction management firm – has partnered with life sciences companies for more than 25 years to complement the scientific expertise of our clients as they usher in the next generation of life-saving therapies, treatments, and technologies. Whether it’s providing AE support for existing sites; commissioning, validation, and qualification (CQV) for specific processes or equipment; or turnkey design-build solutions, our team blends sound science and technical expertise with quality assurance and safety measures to deliver unparalleled results.