Clean water, especially in the western U.S. has become both scarce and expensive. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American homes lose one trillion gallons of water annually due to leaks. This is equivalent to the annual amount of water used in over eleven million homes.
Leaks not only waste water, but the damage to a home from a leak can be incredibly expensive. A 1/8” crack in a pipe can leak two hundred and fifty gallons of water in a single day and the average insurance claim from a leak is almost $7000.
Given the above statistics it makes sense for every smart home system to include technology to detect leaks.
Historically leak detection has been the job of an alarm system. Most alarm panels support both wired and wireless leak detectors. These detectors would be placed in areas of a home that have the highest risk of water damage, such as:
- Underneath sinks
- Behind toilets
- Underneath refrigerators that include cold water dispensers and ice makers
- Underneath dishwashers
- Underneath clothes washers
- Underneath a tank style hot water heater
- In basements
Unfortunately, just because these are the most likely places for a leak to occur doesn’t mean that the leak will follow the rule book and occur in a place where there is a water sensor. For example, a pipe run too close to a poorly insulated wall on the 2nd floor of a home could freeze while the family is on a winter, ski vacation. The resulting leak could destroy the living room, office and other first floor rooms before the water finally reaches a leak detector.
Fortunately, there are now smart leak detectors that monitor the flow of water in the home looking for leaks. Below is a comprehensive review of five cutting edge leak detectors. As you would expect with emerging technology there are significant differences between these products.
A Quick Word About How to Use this Guide
This article is extensive and designed to cover everything a home owner or installer would want to know when seriously researching leak detection devices. To make it easier for you to navigate, use the menu below to jump to different sections of the article. Each section has a “Back to Menu” link at the bottom that will jump you right back here.
Okay. Let’s dive in.
TL;DR Comparison Between the 5 Cutting Edge Leak Detectors
|Water Measurement Sensitivity*||Additional Sensors||Water Saving Features||Smart Home Integration||Additional Features|
|Flo by Moen||1 drop per minute||Water Pressure, Water Temperature||Yes||Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT||Built in Shutoff Valve|
|Streamlabs||Approximately 22,730 drops per minute||Room Temperature||Yes||Amazon Alexa, Google Nest||Pipe cutting not required for installation|
|flume||Approximately 900 to 6300 drops per minute) depending on Water Meter||None||Yes||Future||Pipe cutting not required for installation, Battery operated sensor doesn’t require power outlet|
|FLUID||Approximately 22,730 drops per minute||Room Temperature||Yes||Future – IFTTT and SmartThings||Pipe cutting not required for installation|
|FL-1000||1 drop per minute||Water Temperature, Dry Pipe Alarm||No||IFTTT, Contact Closure, RS-485.
Working on interfaces to SmartThings and Control4
* Based on 90,921.8 drops per gallon of water.
The Flo by Moen Leak Protection System
Flo by Moen is more than just a water leak detector. First, it is the only device included in this article that includes a built in shut off valve so it can automatically shut off the water supply to the home in the event of a leak.
Second, Flo by Moen integrates a water pressure sensor. High water pressure puts stress on the plumbing in a home that can lead to premature failures, catastrophic bursts, and leaks. Flo by Moen also uses the pressure sensor in conjunction with a flow sensor to detect very small leaks. The combination of the two sensors makes this product exceptionally sensitive so it can detect leaks as small as one drop per minute.
Finally, the device includes a temperature sensor to send warnings to the homeowners if there is a risk of pipes in the home freezing; which again would lead to a catastrophic bursts or leak.
A Smart Leak Detector and Mitigator
Flo by Moen learns how a family uses water and leverages this knowledge to detect abnormal water activity and leaks. When abnormal water activity is detected, the device sends alerts the homeowner via their mobile app, text message, email, or even a phone call. Through the app the homeowner has the option of turning off the water or recognizing that this isn’t a leak and leaving the water running.
If the homeowner doesn’t respond to the alert within 5 minutes, Flo by Moen can take the initiative and automatically turn off the water. It also has 2 additional modes; “away” and “sleep”. In away mode the device assumes the homeowner isn’t at home using water and it reduces the 5 minute delay before shutting the valve. If the home owner is, for example, filling a pool or using a large amount of water in some other way they can place the device into sleep mode and it will ignore the excessive use of water.
Flo by Moen will warn the homeowner of the following issues
- Small drip is detected
- Freeze warning when the temperature inside the Flo by Moen device approaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit
- High water pressure
- Low water pressure
Flo by Moen will also send critical alerts for the following conditions
- Extended water usage when the water in the home is running constantly for an extended period of time
- High water usage when an excessive amount of water is being consumed.
- Fast water flow when the flow of water in the main water line is higher than normal
- Water system shutoff when the device automatically shuts off the water supply to the home because the homeowner didn’t respond to a critical alert
- Flo by Moen also allows the homeowner to troubleshoot plumbing problems. For example, it could inform the homeowner that the water, in the home, has been running for an extended amount of time. It is then up to the homeowner to look around the home to uncover where the leak is. The homeowner might hear water running in a toilet and think that the toilet might have a leaky flapper valve that is wasting water. The homeowner can then simply shut off the water supply to the toilet, use the Flo by Moen App to run a water “health check”, and validate whether this fixed the abnormal water activity.
Every night Flo by Moen will turn off the water supply to the home to run a detailed “health check” to assure there aren’t any leaks, large or small, in the home. The health check closes the valve and monitors the pressure in the pipe, looking for even the smallest drop that would signify there is a leak. Over time, even a small leak can cause a large amount of damage in a home; including allowing mold to grow.
System Requirements and Installation
Flo by Moen requires:
- That the main water line is above ground and accessible inside, or near, the home
- That the main water line is 1-1/4 inches or smaller
- That the homeowner has an Android or Apple smart phone (there is also a web interface)
- That the home has a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network
- That there is an outlet near the location on the main water line where the device will be installed (a 25 foot extension chord is also available)
- Cutting of the main water line for installation
The smart phone app also allows the homeowner to view the real time water consumption, water pressure, and temperature in their home.
All of the above is included with the basic product. The manufacturer also offers additional value-added services, called FloProtect”, for a $5 per month subscription. These include:
- If Flo by Moen has been used properly in the home and there is a leak, Flo will reimburse the homeowner’s insurance deductible towards the cost of repairs (up to $2500)
- Water Concierge – Live chat with tech support to assist the homeowner in solving their plumbing issue
- Enhanced water usage data by fixture
- Extended product warranty
- Flo will provide a letter to the homeowners insurance company verifying that the home is protected by Flo by Moen to assist the homeowner in obtaining a discount on their homeowner’s insurance
Integration with IFTTT
Flo by Moen also integrates with IFTTT. There are IFTTT triggers for all Flo by Moen system alerts. There are also IFTTT actions to open/close the included motorized valve and to set the device home/away mode.
This is a very comprehensive IFTTT service that should provide proper integration with a smart home processor/hub. For example, the smart home system could automatically set the home/away status based on when the alarm system in the home is armed/disarmed.
In addition, integration with an alarm system that includes its own water detectors could trigger Flo by Moen to turn off the water if the alarm system detects a water leak before it is recognized by the device itself. However, the requirement for an alarm system, or smart home processor/hub, to communicate through IFTTT, and not directly through a wired connection between the two devices, is a risk.
For example, a storm could both damage a home, causing a leak, and cause an Internet outage. This would keep the integration through IFTTT from working even though Flo by Moen will detect leaks and shut the valve in the event there is one without an internet connection.
Flo by Moen is a comprehensive product that covers all the bases when it comes to protecting a home from leaks. It includes a sensitive leak detection sensor, the electrically actuated valve to shut the water supply off to the home to minimize the damage from a leak, it doesn’t require an active internet connection to detect a leak and close the valve, temperature and water pressure sensors that provide information that the homeowner can use to take proactive measures to protect their home, and optional add-on services to help a homeowner troubleshoot plumbing issues and better understand how water is used in the home.
The Streamlabs Leak Detector
The Streamlabs leak detector greatly reduces the complexity of installing a leak detector so that it can be accomplished by any homeowner. The Streamlabs detector requires:
- 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
- Power outlet within 10 feet of where the Streamlabs detector will be located
- At least 6 inches of clean, straight, pipe
- Access to the water inlet supply
- Apple or Android smart phone
However, the Streamlabs detector can only be mounted to 3/4 or one inch copper, CPVC, or PEX pipe.
The Streamlabs detector doesn’t require cutting of the water pipe to install it. Instead the detector simply clamps to the pipe using two of the included zip ties. To measure the flow of water in the pipe the detector beams ultrasonic sound waves both downstream and upstream into the water pipe. It then measures the differences in these signals to determine the rate of flow of water in the pipe.
Setup simply involves:
- Creating a Streamlabs account
- Connecting the detector to the homeowners Wi-Fi network
- Clamping the detector to the water pipe using two zip ties
The Streamlabs detector will then automatically determine the type, and size, of pipe it is clamped to. Finally, it is calibrated by sensing the water in the pipe first with the water flow turned off and then while a toilet is flushed or a faucet turned on to a high flow. All of this is accomplished through the mobile app.
How the Leak Detector Works
Once setup is complete, major, and minor, leak alerts can be configured using the app. Streamlabs looks for leaks based on two factors:
- Length of time that water is flowing
- Amount of water that is flowing
This allows the Streamlabs detector to look for small leaks that occur over a period of time and larger leaks, such as a burst pipe. The settings for the time or the volume of water for a leak to be detected are fully configurable using the mobile app.
The device also supports home/away settings. When set to away, any flow of water over 15 seconds will trigger a notification being sent to the homeowner’s mobile phone.
In addition, according to Jeff Long, Director of Marketing and Operations, Streamlabs has just release a new leak detection feature called SmartAlerts. This allows homeowners to enroll in a 7-day learning period where the Streamlabs leak detector will learn a family’s water usage habits. It will then use this knowledge to determine what constitutes a water leak, and what isn’t. For example, if someone in the family takes long showers, using SmartAlerts this won’t trigger a leak notification.
Unfortunately, the ultrasonic detection technology that allows this device to be installed without cutting the water pipe has its limitations. The smallest leak that can be detected is one quarter, gallon, per minute. So, it will catch a running toilet or a faucet that was left on but a slow leak of only a few drops per minute that, over time, can lead to moisture and mold cannot be detected.
The Streamlabs leak detector also includes a temperature sensor. With this sensor, the area around it can be monitored to make sure it isn’t too cold; which could result in a frozen/burst pipe.
Limited Smart Home Integration and Support
The smart home integration capabilities of the device are limited. The Streamlabs detector can only integrate with Amazon Alexa and Google Nest. In either case this integration only provides the ability for telling the detector whether the homeowners are home or away. However, Streamlabs does have an open API so more integrations are possible in the future.
Leak notifications are only sent to the smart home app. So, if the homeowner is, for example, on vacation there isn’t anything they can do about a leak. There are currently no integration capabilities that could automatically trigger a motorized valve to shut off the water to the home either directly, or through integration with an alarm system.
Even if the homeowner is only an hour away from their home, a major leak of five gallons per minute will dump three-hundred gallons of water into the home before the homeowner arrives to shut off the water supply unless the homeowner was able to contact a friend or neighbor to shut off their water.
The Streamlabs leak detector does provide information on water usage to the homeowner to help save money on their water bill. The homeowner can see the current water usage rate and the rate of use over the current day, month, and year.
Streamlabs does have a community forum; however, it is aimed at troubleshooting problems and as a vehicle for customer support to help people. The company doesn’t leverage their community of users to promote more efficient use of water or allow users to compare their usage with the community to better understand how their water savings efforts compare with other users.
According to Jeff Long, Streamlabs is working to develop relationships with smart home automation companies. However, the detector is designed as a product where any homeowner can install it themselves so there are fewer opportunities for a smart home integration company to install Streamlabs than with some of the other leak detectors.
The flume Leak Detection System
The flume leak detection system, like the Streamlabs detector, doesn’t require cutting any pipes to install so the system can be easily installed by a homeowner. Unlike the Streamlabs, the flume water sensor attaches to the home’s water meter using a simple, adjustable, rubber strap and leverages the flow sensors in the water meter to detect leaks. The sensor then wirelessly connects with the flume bridge; which in turn connects to the home’s Wi-Fi network.
Further simplifying installation, the flume water sensor operates on four lithium ion AA batteries, with an expected lifespan of two years, and can be located up to one-thousand feet from the flume bridge. The requirement of most leak detectors of having a power outlet near where the detector attaches to the main water line can be challenging for many homeowners; especially if the main water line is located in a crawl space beneath the home.
When water flows through a typical water meter it spins a magnetic disc inside the meter. The faster the flow of water through the meter the faster the disc spins. The flume water sensor measures the magnetic field from the spinning disc to measure the flow of water.
System Requirements and Installation
The flume leak detection system requires:
- A compatible water meter
- 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network
The system is compatible with about 95% of the water meters used in the U.S. There is a list of compatible water meters on the flume website.
The flume leak detection system is reasonably simple to install. The steps include:
- Insure the smart phone being used for the installation is connected to the home’s Wi-Fi network
- Install the flume water app from the relevant app store
- Create a flume account
- Enter profile information including information about how the yard is irrigated, the number of bathrooms, the number of people living in the home, and some additional details
- Use the smart phone to scan the barcodes on the flume bridge and water sensor
- Plug in the flume bridge and connect it to the home’s Wi-Fi network
- Place the flume bridge and the water sensor next to each other. This will establish a connection between the two devices
- Locate the home’s water meter and enter information located on the face of the meter (including the manufacturer, model, and size) in the flume water app as well as take a picture of the face of the meter. The picture will be used if help from flume customer service is required
- Attach the flume water sensor to the meter by stretching the rubber bands connected to the sensor around the meter
- Run a steady stream of water from a faucet or hose to calibrate the system
Through the app, the homeowner can set a budget for water usage (daily, weekly or monthly), define rules for leak detection, and display detailed reports on water usage. The dashboard page of the app shows the homeowner their water usage for the current day, how the family is doing in keeping their water usage under the budget, and whether water is currently being used; or not.
Budgets can be configured as needed by the homeowner. For example, certain areas of the country have penalties for exceeding a predefined amount of water during a specific time period. A budget could be setup to warn the homeowner when they exceed 75% of that amount to allow the homeowner to take actions so they avoid the penalties.
The app also allows the homeowner to view their detailed water usage for different time periods including minute by minute usage for the last hour.
Because the sensitivity of the flume system is dependent on the measurement sensitivity of the water meter the flume is capable of measuring leaks as small as .01 – .07 gallons per minute; depending on the water meter that has been installed. This isn’t as sensitive as some of the other leak detectors. Flume works to overcome this limitation by looking at small leaks over a longer time period. For example, the low flow leak rule can be set to notify the homeowner any time the water is simply left on for 2 hours; no matter how low, or high, the flow rate is.
Finally, the app supports multiple flume leak detection systems installed at multiple houses. For example, a homeowner can install a flume leak detection system at both their vacation home and their primary residence. The app allows them to switch back and forth to view water usage at both locations as well as display notifications from both systems.
This is where the lack of integration with other smart home systems becomes even more of a limitation. Knowing that there is a leak at a vacation home that is hours away doesn’t do very much good if the leak detection system can’t shut the water off though integration with a motorized water valve.
Future flume Developments to Expect
Unfortunately, today the flume leak detection system is a stand-alone device that doesn’t integrate with other products. However, according to Eric Adler, CEO of flume, they are working on:
- Nest integration to streamline the process of setting flume home/away modes
- Direct integration with a motorized shutoff valve
Internally there is an API used for the above, and future, integrations with third party products but flume doesn’t make this API public
Other plans the company has are to:
- Release a web application for customers to interface with the flume as an alternative to their smart phone apps. A very early version is already available to customers and the company is working to squash bugs and increase its stability.
- Add the ability to identify specific devices that use water in a home through their unique water usage signatures. Flume refers to this as “disaggregation”.
Both of these new capabilities are planned for release in 2019.
While flume doesn’t currently have any programs for partners, Eric is open to discussing this with interested third parties.
The FLUID Learning Water Meter
The FLUID learning water meter was launched on Kickstarter in September of 2015. It is still an emerging product. According to Josh Becerra, founder of FLUID, the team is working hard to deliver units to backers three months from now, in April. Josh hopes to also begin selling additional units at that time.
The FLUID, like the Streamlabs leak detection system, doesn’t require any pipe cutting to install. It clamps around the water supply line to the home and uses two ultrasonic transducers to measure the flow of water through the pipe.
The FLUID water meter requires
- 3/4 inch copper pipe supplying water to the home (more pipe options are planned for the future)
- A power outlet near where the FLUID will be mounted to the water supply line
- Wi-Fi Network
After clamping the FLUID water meter to the water supply line inside the home, the homeowner simply plugs the power adapter into a nearby power outlet, connects the power supply to the FLUID water meter, downloads the FLUID smart phone app, and using the app connects the water meter to their Wi-Fi network.
Leak Detection and Optimization Through Machine Learning
The FLUID water meter helps homeowners to better understand their water usage, save water, save money, and detect leaks. Because of the volume of data that FLUID has collected during their development process they’ve already trained their machine learning model so the meter will be able to detect the unique “signatures” of various fixtures (such as a toilet) and the various appliances that use water.
FLUID can even recognize when multiple appliances, or fixtures, are used at the same time. The system will then report how much water is used for showers, washing clothes, cleaning dishes, watering the lawn, and more.
FLUID detects leaks by watching for constant or erratic water usage. Because signatures of water use for water using appliances and fixtures have been captured by the water meter, FLUID has a unique ability to understand when abnormal water usage occurs that could be a leak. The system then sends a notification to the homeowner describing the issue through the mobile app.
However, the ability for FLUID to capture signatures and identify the devices using water will not be part of the initial release of the product. When the product launches, leaks will simply be detected by looking for abnormal water flow rates and water use over an extended period of time.
The FLUID app provides real time monitoring of water usage. It allows the homeowner to view water usage that has occurred during the day, over the past week, month, or year. A homeowner can also set monthly water consumption goals and track their family’s progress towards that goal. In addition, the app will provide the homeowner with helpful tips for conserving water.
Planned Integrations with the Smart Home
The team at FLUID is planning for integration with both Nest and SmartThings. However, this is not expected to be available at the time of the initial product release. The team also has developed a REST API that can be used for additional integration and they plan on making this API public.
Given the startup nature of the FLUID leak detector, many aspects of the product are still evolving. For example, there is discussion in a press release on the company’s web site that products sold to people beyond the initial Kickstarter backers will require recurring fees. However, in my discussion with Josh Becerra their current thinking is that recurring fees will only be charged for premium services that they will deliver in the future.
The FL-1000 Leak Detector
The FL-1000, by MC Smart Controls, is an emerging product that should be available for purchase in March, 2019. Unlike the other products, the FL-1000 is strictly a leak detector and doesn’t include features to help homeowner’s save water usage.
According to Lawrence Lebeau, at MC Smart Controls, their research found that homeowners quickly tired of features focused on water savings so they focused all their efforts into making the FL-1000 the most sensitive leak detector they could and to offer it at a lower price because the cost of water savings features wasn’t included.
How the FL-1000 Works
The FL-1000 is inserted into the main water line to a home after the pipe has been cut and a T adapter has been connected to the 2 pipe ends. The T adapter uses a slip fitting system that doesn’t require any soldering or crimping.
The FL-1000 utilizes a very sensitive solid state sensor and is capable of detecting leaks as small as 1 drop per minute. The only other leak detector to match this sensitivity is the Flo by Moen; which also requires cutting of the main water line for installation.
The FL-1000 has the best integration features of any of the products in this article. For homeowners there is an interface through IFTTT that will be triggered whenever a leak is detected and can be used to trigger a web based water valve. In addition, there are contact closure outputs. This makes it ideal for integration with an existing alarm system or smart home processor/hub that includes control of a motorized valve in the main water line.
When either the FL-1000 or a water sensor detects a leak the alarm panel or smart home processor/hub can close the motorized valve; cutting off water to the home and stopping the leak from causing further damage. Since the action of the FL-1000 detecting a leak and closing of the motorized valve can all take place locally, within the home, this can work properly even if the Internet connection to the home is down.
System Requirements and Installation
Installation of the FL-1000 requires:
- Pipe Sizes of 3/4” x 1/2”, 1” Copper 3/4 ”x1/2”,1”
- PEX Dimensions W-2” L-5.5” Material
- That the homeowner has an Android or Apple smart phone
- That the home has a Wi-Fi network
- That there is an outlet near the location on the main water line where the FL-1000 will be installed.
To install the FL-1000 the homeowner, or a plumber, first shuts off the water supply to the home and opens a faucet to drain as much water as possible from the home’s pipes. The water supply line is then cut approximately 1 foot down stream of the shut off valve. A T-fitting is then connected to the water line.
Next, the FL-1000 sensor is connected to the right angle opening of the T-fitting. After the water supply line is turned back on and the T-fitting is checked for leaks, power is applied to the FL-1000. The homeowner can then use the app to connect the FL-1000 to their Wi-Fi network.
Using the app the homeowner can create an account, register the FL-1000, configure the FL-1000 for detecting leaks, and calibrate the sensor. Part of the registration includes telling the system the homeowners email address, telephone number, and wireless carrier. This will be used by the FL-1000 to send leak alerts to the homeowner.
With the FL-1000 app the homeowner can setup a fixed schedule of times when the FL-1000 is looking for leaks. Up to three time intervals can be scheduled in the app. However, families today don’t have fixed schedules like they did in years past.
Many people work in their homes and leave for appointments on an ad hoc basis. If a fixed schedule doesn’t fit the family’s life lifestyle, the FL-1000 also integrates with IFTTT and it can be used to set the leak detectors home / away state to disable / enable monitoring
Locating Leaks Within the Home
In addition to detecting leaks, the FL-1000 can also be used as a tool for locating them within a home. Using the same example that I described earlier (a suspected leaking toilet) the homeowner could turn off the water supply to the toilet, and use the FL-1000 app to run a manual leak test. If the test passes, then the homeowner knows that the toilet is the source of the leak.
In the future, MC Smart Controls is working on integrating lead detection into the FL-1000.
MC Smart Controls will also be selling a version of the FL-1000 specifically designed to detect leaks in an irrigation system. It integrates directly with their smart irrigation controller as well as controllers from some other manufacturers.
Whether MC Smart Control’s focus on leak detection without features to help a family save on their water usage is the correct strategy remains to be seen. However, purchasing an FL-1000, with its very sensitive leak sensor, and a device, like the flume, to help the family manage water usage is a strategy that some homeowners might embrace.
Additional Strategies for Protecting a Home from Leaks
While the devices described above can detect leaks in a home, even when integrated with a motorized water valve, there are limitations. Installing an alarm panel with water sensors at key points in the home, that are at the highest risk for leaks can shorten the time for a leak to be detected; if the leak occurs at a historically vulnerable location. But, this can be an added expense that goes beyond what a homeowner may be willing to spend. Fortunately, there are other options to reduce the risk of leaks in a home, at the most vulnerable locations, which can be recommended, and installed, by an integrator.
One of the most inexpensive investments in leak prevention is to replace the rubber hoses that come with most clothes washing machines with hoses that are covered with a steel braid. This inexpensive fix greatly reduces one of the most common points of a catastrophic leak in a home; a burst washing machine hose.
Even a washing machine hose with a steel braid isn’t 100% immune from bursting over time so an additional safety measure is to install a Floodstop for the washing machine. The Floodstop includes both a water sensor that is placed below the washing machine and motorized valves that cut off the supply of water to the washing machine if a leak is detected. The Floodstop also includes a contact closure output so it can be integrated with an alarm panel to trigger a water leak alarm.
In addition, Floodstop manufactures similar devices to protect:
- Water Heaters
- Dish Washers
- Ice Makers
LeakSmart is an award winning leak detection system based on wireless sensors that can be placed at strategic points around a home and includes two options for shutting off the flow of water in a home in the event of a leak. The first option is a motorized valve that is installed by cutting the main water supply line. The second option is a motor that clamps to the standard, manual, cutoff valve that is installed in every home. LeakSmart also has devices, like Floodstop, for cutting off the flow of water to appliances that are prone to water leaks.
LeakSmart currently integrates with Nest, Wink, Iris, and Amazon Alexa. They are also planning on direct integration with some of the professionally installed automation systems. In addition, from my discussion with LeakSmart, they are planning on releasing a flow based detector that will integrate with their system later in 2019.
This will be a true hybrid system that detects leak through both water flow monitoring and water sensors at high risk locations. It is also worth noting that the LeakSmart system doesn’t require an active internet connection to operate.
If a homeowner doesn’t feel that the risk of an internet outage is significant, then a smart leak detector could be integrated, through IFTTT, with a Flo by Moen leak detector to monitor high leak risk locations and close the Flo by Moen valve in the event of a leak. The iHome Control Wi-Fi Dual Leak Sensor is a wirecutter favorite that integrates with IFTTT and could be used this way.
Water leaks pose a significant threat to homeowners and I believe that every smart home should include protection from leaks. Integrators can easily leverage the average cost of repairing a leak against the low cost of installing preventative hardware in a discussion with a homeowner as to whether it should be included in the installation of a smart home system.
To further the message of financial advantages of installing a leak detection system a homeowner may be able to obtain a discount on their homeowner’s insurance. With the add-on FloProtect service, Flo will provide the homeowner with a letter that can be submitted to the homeowner’s insurance company to obtain such a discount; though not all insurance companies will provide one. Integrators, as part of the installation of any leak detection system, can provide a similar letter themselves; as long as they are using high quality parts and proven techniques for protecting the homeowner from water leaks. Again, this can further the economic case for the homeowner to purchase a leak protection system.
Flo by Moen is the only device that combines leak detection and automated water shutoff though flume plans to add this integration in the future. The only alternative that can combine these two functions is for an integrator to install an FL-1000 and leverage the contact closure output to trigger the closing of a motorized shutoff valve. Like the Flo by Moen, this provides a system where the water can be shutoff without requiring an active Internet connection.
Integrators need to be aware that installation of a motorized valve requires periodic exercising of the valve to assure it won’t freeze over time; especially, if the home is located in an area with hard water. The Flo by Moen shuts its valve every night as part of the way it measures for leaks so with this device periodic valve exercising isn’t required.
Finally, it is always a good idea to protect these devices, along with a motorized valve, with an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) so they can operate during a power outage (Flo by Moen is introducing a battery backup in 2019). In fact, if there is a power outage during the winter, when the home isn’t occupied, and the risk of a pipe freezing becomes very high, it is a good idea to immediately turn off the water to the home to avoid the possibility that the UPS battery runs low before the temperature in the home drops to a critical level that would freeze a pipe.
Areas for Improvement
An issue is that all these leak detectors that include a temperature sensor, except the FL-1000 and Flo by Moen, measure the temperature of the room where the leak detector is located. The FL-1000 and Flo by Moen actually measures the temperature of the water. The homeowner can use the FL-1000 mobile app to set a temperature threshold for freeze alarms being sent by the device.
This can also be done with Flo by Moen but it does require a call to tech support. This is important as water temperatures in certain parts of the country can be quite low during the winter and without the adjustment could potentially trip the alarm.
Measuring the temperature of the room can be problematic. In most cases the leak detector will be installed in the basement of a home, or the crawl space below a home. The temperature of the basement, while typically cooler than the rest of the house during the summer may, in fact, may be warmer than the rest of the home if the heat has failed, during the winter, for an extended period of time. In this case the temperature in an upstairs bathroom might be cold enough for a pipe to freeze but the temperature in the basement might remain too warm for the leak detector to think there was an issue.
It would be much better if the leak detectors that measure room temperature included a battery operated, wireless, temperature sensor that could be located in a place in the home that was vulnerable to freezing pipes. While Flo by Moen will detect leaks and close it’s integrated valve without an active Internet connection, room temperature sensors around a house that integrated with a smart home processor/hub could also be used to close the valve on the Flo by Moen through IFTTT; but only if whatever caused the heating system to fail didn’t also cause Internet access to be down. If the motorized valve was integrated directly with the smart home processor/hub and both were protected by a UPS then this would eliminate that risk.
Detecting leaks without including some way for the water flow to the home to be automatically shut off is simply inadequate protection. Further, requiring an active internet connection for the water to be shut off after a leak has been detected places the homeowner at added risk.
Today, people spend a great deal of time away from their home at working, socializing, shopping, eating out, vacationing, etc. A system that doesn’t automatically shut off the water leaves a homeowner at significant risk for a large amount of damage from a leak, even if they are notified that a leak has occurred.
Motorized water shut off valves are available from a number of manufacturers and can be leveraged to provide a complete leak protection system if the Flo by Moen isn’t chosen as the solution for a customer. Some choices are:
When it comes to saving water, none of these devices leverage the power of the community. The folks at MC Smart Controls may be correct that the average person quickly loses interest in initiatives to save water in a home, save energy, etc. However, Facebook, Twitter, and even Reddit have shown us the power of the community to keep people engaged.
These manufacturers should do more to leverage their user community. Individual budgets can be set but there isn’t any feedback on how a homeowner’s water usage compares to other people with similar demographics.
A single person living in a one bedroom apartment is going to have very different water usage compared to a four person family living in a detached home. The data needs to be better normalized and people with the lowest usage should be incentivized to share their savings techniques with other community members to help fulfill the goal of these devices; reduced water consumption.
Flo by Moen and potentially FLUID have gone the route of charging recurring subscription fees. Flo has done this for add on services including the use of water signatures to identify how much water is used by individual devices in a home and gap insurance that covers a homeowner’s deductible in the event of damage from a water leak. FLUID has similar plans.
Let’s be honest, people hate subscription fees. On the other hand, people have learned to tolerate ads within apps that support keeping a service free. These companies both use water-use signatures to identify specific devices in a home and could easily have looked at a homeowner’s water usage of, for example, a toilet and provided ads of more water efficient toilets that could save the homeowner money on their water bills.
With the specific information Flo by Moen and FLUID have on water usage and the cost of water in the customer’s geographic area, the ad could include accurate estimates of the amount of water and money that would be saved by purchasing this advertised, water saving, toilet. This could be a very effective ad that would be valuable to, in this case, a toilet manufacturer and offer real revenue to offset the recurring fees being charged. It also offers real value to the homeowner.
I believe that insurance companies will begin to drive adoption of leak detection technology into homes. Insurance claims for leaks are such a problem that this is inevitable. Currently some insurance companies offer discounts on homeowner’s policies for people who install a water leak detection system. However, I have heard of people who, after insurance has paid a significant insurance claim for a leak, have been forced to install a leak detection system.
I believe this trend will expand and homeowners will have to install leak detection systems or face significant premium increases. It is possible that some insurance companies will even refuse to renew a homeowner’s policy without a leak detection system being installed. Products like Flo from Moen and the FL-1000 that either include a shutoff valve or can be integrated with one are the ones best positioned for this.
However, I also believe that a hybrid approach to detection where flow based leak detection is integrated with strategically placed water and temperature sensors, in a home, provides the best possible protection from leaks. Flow based leak detectors have their limitations because they are trying to differentiate between normal water usage and a leak. Because of this the leak from, for example, a broken washing machine hose, can do quite a bit of damage before the leak is detected by the flow based leak detector. Similarly, traditional leak detectors are limited to only being able to detect a leak where sensors have been installed in a home.
Today, only the FL-1000, when connected to a traditional alarm panel that includes water and temperature sensors around a home, can provide hybrid leak protection without an active Internet connection. A similar system can be created by integrating IoT sensors with Flo by Moen using IFTTT. However, the risk to this is that an active Internet connection is required for the sensors to communicate through IFTTT to close the Flo by Moen valve. Whether this risk is an issue for people depends on their personal situation and their ISP. People in major metropolitan areas may have very reliable Internet access while Internet access can be spotty in more rural areas.
For more from Jay Basen, visit his blog, Topics in Home Automation.