Winter is the season of kids making snowmen, ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, and worries about frozen pipes. When water freezes, it also expands, and this expansion can cause a pipe to crack. An 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can leak up to 250 gallons of water in a single day, causing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars of damage to a home. And, don’t forget that the moisture from a leaking pipe can also lead to the growth of toxic mold. The remediation of mold, alone, can cost thousands of dollars.
The Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff will guard your home from even the smallest leaks. It also provides insight into how water is being used in a home, enabling homeowners to make changes in how they use water that can both conserve this valuable resource and save them money.
Not every leak will cause damage to a home. A dripping faucet or a leaky toilet flapper won’t damage a home but they can cost a homeowner a significant amount of money. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The average household’s leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry. A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. That’s the amount of water needed to take more than 180 showers.”
With all this in mind it makes sense to take steps to both detect leaks that can cause damage and eliminate leaks in a home that waste water.
Phyn Smart Water Solutions
Phyn, a company focused on smart water solutions, was founded in 2016 as a joint venture of Belkin and Uponor. While Belkin is a well-known manufacturer of smart home solutions, including their Wemo line of smart products, Uponor is a less well-known brand to consumers. Uponor is a 100-plus-year-old manufacturer of plumbing pipes and fixtures. They are a leader in the manufacture of PEX, which is the plastic piping that is used in a majority of new homes built today. In August of 2021, Belkin purchased Uponor’s shares in Phyn to become the sole owner of the company.
Phyn’s first product, the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff, was announced at CES 2018. The designers at Phyn understood that a device used to detect leaks and track water usage needed to be maintenance free and extremely reliable, so they chose a high-definition ultrasonic sensor for measuring flow that had no moving parts to wear out. Again, for reliability, Phyn included a shutoff valve in the Phyn Plus so water flow to the entire home could be halted when a leak is detected, minimizing the damage it might cause.
The Phyn Plus’ ultrasonic flow sensor is manufactured by Badger Meter, a world leader in flow measurement. In fact, many towns use Badger Meter’s products to monitor residential water usage for utility billing. The sensor used in the Phyn Plus is capable of sensing a leak as small as 0.01 gallons per minute.
Whenever a faucet is used, toilet flushed, etc. there are microscopic pressure waves produced in the water lines in the home that travel at four times the speed of sound. The Phyn Plus senses these pressure waves by taking measurements 240 times per second. The machine learning behind the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff then allows it to distinguish between normal water usage and a leak. The machine learning also fingerprints the unique pattern of pressure changes made by individual fixtures in the home to provide insight into how water is being used.
Phyn Plus (2nd Gen)
In November of 2021 Phyn announced the second-generation Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff. Key features of the new product are:
- Simpler Installation – The new product enclosure is lighter and 25% smaller for easier installation in tight spaces
- Automatic and Remote Water Shutoff – The Phyn Plus provides real-time mobile notifications to alert homeowners to potential leaks and issues including frozen pipes and give them the ability to turn off their water remotely using the free Phyn app (iOS and Android). Phyn can also turn off water automatically in the event of a catastrophic leak, protecting homeowners from costly damage. Some insurance companies will also offer a discount on a homeowner’s insurance policy when a Phyn Plus is installed.
- Water Consumption Tracking – Users can track their water usage by month, day, hour, or even in real-time. In addition, they can identify water consumption trends and compare usage by fixture types.
- Plumbing Checks – in addition to constantly watching for leaks, Phyn runs daily preventative “plumbing checks” where the internal valve in the Phyn Plus is turned off for a short period of time and the sensors look for tiny variations in the water pressure within the home. This allows the Phyn Plus to catch tiny leaks and pressure irregularities before they become larger issues.
- Smart Home Integrations – Phyn works seamlessly with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Phyn also integrates with IFTTT to provide triggers and actions that can be used to integrate the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff with other smart home products.
- Phyn App – Doesn’t require any subscriptions and is designed for homeowners.
- Phyn Dashboard – A web-based portal for business to monitor and manage multiple properties with Phyn devices and requires a paid subscription.
- Lower Price – The Phyn Plus has an MSRP of $499
The Phyn Plus can detect a wide variety of leaks, including toilet flapper leaks, supply line leaks, water left on, catastrophic leaks, frozen pipes, pinhole leaks (can be detected during a plumbing check), drip leaks (can be detected during a plumbing check), and unusual water usage.
In fact, a 2019 study commissioned by the Southern Nevada Water Authority and conducted by Utah State University found that Phyn Plus was the most reliably accurate whole-home leak detection solution across multiple flow thresholds. A copy of that study can be found here.
Will it Work in Any Home?
It is important to know that the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff is designed for homes that are individually plumbed, including single family homes, town homes, and condominiums. Depending on the plumbing layout, it may, or may not, work in a multi-unit apartment building or condominium where plumbing is shared among units.
The Phyn Plus is also limited to working in homes with a 1-1/4” diameter or smaller main water line supplying water to the home. The majority of homes have a main water line that fits this criterion.
Finally, the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff will need to connect to the home’s Wi-Fi network and requires a nearby outlet for power.
In the Box
Phyn provided me with a second-generation Phyn Plus to evaluate for this article. Included in the box are the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff, a power supply, installer guide, and a homeowner guide. The power supply has a 2m (~78”) long cord for plugging into a nearby outlet and a 1m (~39”) cord that connects from the power supply to the Phyn Plus. This allows it to be located almost 11 feet from an outlet.
The homeowners guide (written in 10 languages) includes some important information. First and foremost, it warns that the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff should, for safety, be plugged into an outlet equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). It also provides:
- Instructions for pairing the Phyn Plus with a Wi-Fi network
- Includes a figure with the location of the USB-C port used to power the Phyn Plus Shutoff
- Includes a figure with the location of the action button that can be used to reset the device and to operate the shutoff valve
- Includes a figure that shows the location of the access cover to the shutoff valve and instructions on how the valve can be manually operated with a screwdriver
- Includes a figure that shows the various states of the device’s LED display panel that indicate when the device is in Wi-Fi pairing mode, when the valve is open and water is flowing, when the valve is closed and water is off, and when the device is in standby mode or has power
The installer guide includes very little writing. It is primarily a series of illustrations. One important fact that is not included in the installer guide is that the connectors on the Phyn Plus are 1” NPSM. NPSM connectors are not nearly as common as NPT connectors, and I was unable to find them at any of the local plumbing supply houses in my area. In fact, one plumbing supply house mistakenly tried to sell me adapters with 1” NPT connectors; which would have led to a flood in my house had I used them to install the Phyn Plus. Phyn was able to bail me out and supply me with the correct adapters for the installation. So, make sure you get the correct connectors.
Most people will need a licensed plumber and potentially a licensed electrician to install the Phyn Plus. Some homeowners may feel that they have strong enough DIY plumbing skills to tackle the installation themselves. However, it is important to remember that the Phyn Plus is installed in the main water line of the home and a mistake could leave your house without any water.
The Phyn website provides the ability to enter your location, and it will provide a list of qualified installers. They’ve also partnered with HomeAdvisor to help locate someone qualified to install the Phyn Plus.
If you are lucky enough to have a GFCI outlet near the main water line in your home, then you can skip the additional cost of having an electrician install one. My main water line enters my house through a crawl space that didn’t have any outlets, so for my installation a GFCI outlet had to be added.
Finally, you should point out to the plumber, if they aren’t experienced installing the device, that there is an arrow on the Phyn Plus that designates the direction of water flow through it. It is very important that the Phyn Plus be installed in the correct orientation.
Phyn includes a very informative installation video on their website. That video can be found here.
I went through a slightly different installation process than a first-time purchaser of a Phyn device would perform because I already had a Phyn account from when I reviewed the Phyn Smart Water Assistant (which doesn’t include a built in shutoff valve.) That article can be found here. So, I was able to simply login to my account using the Phyn app and add the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff as if I was adding a new Phyn device in a second home.
The installation process suggested by Phyn is to plug in the Phyn Plus to test the operation of the motorized valve before it is installed, then install the device, plug it in, and finally use the Phyn app to complete the installation.
It is important to test the Phyn Plus before it is installed. It has been my experience that Phyn makes quality products, but you don’t want to run the risk of having a plumber install a defective device. Plumbers are expensive, so testing the device before it is installed could save a significant amount of money.
Once the Phyn Plus was installed, I used the Phyn app to complete the setup process.
- I scanned the QR code on the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff
- Connected to the Wi-Fi SSID being broadcast by the device
- Selected my home Wi-Fi network from a list of networks displayed in the app
- Entered the login credentials for my Wi-Fi network
- Waited for the device to download any available firmware updates
- Entered information about my home including the number of outdoor spigots, showers, tub/show combos, sinks, toilets, tubs, and washing machines.
- Next the app allowed me to provide information on the plumber who installed the Phyn Plus and to rate the plumber’s performance. If you installed the device yourself this step can be skipped.
This completed the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff setup.
Once the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff is installed and the setup, using the Phyn app, is complete, there is very little to do but to sit back and let it monitor your plumbing system. The device uses a high definition pressure sensor, temperature sensor, and an ultrasonic flow sensor with machine learning to differentiate between leaks and normal water usage and assign water usage to different fixtures in your home.
In addition, the Phyn Plus will perform a plumbing check every night. This involves turning off the internal valve for a brief period of time (between three and ten minutes) and monitoring the plumbing system for any small changes in pressure that would occur if there was any kind of leak. Once the plumbing check is complete the internal valve is opened again. This allows the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff to detect much smaller leaks than it could during normal water usage. This includes a pinhole leak in a pipe or a dripping faucet. The time period when plumbing checks are performed can be adjusted in the Phyn app’s settings.
Running a plumbing check every night provides another benefit. A plumbing valve can build up mineral deposits if it isn’t regularly used. These deposits can, over time, jam the operation of the valve. By closing the shutoff valve every night the Phyn Plus’ valve won’t be subject to becoming jammed from deposits.
The Phyn Plus also includes a temperature sensor. In combination with the other sensors in the device, the AI behind the Phyn Plus uses a patent pending algorithm to accurately predict when a pipe in the home may freeze. If this occurs, then a notification will be sent to your smart phone.
Water Usage Management
Beyond leak detection the Phyn Plus can help you understand your water usage so you can better manage it and save money on your water bill. The machine learning behind the device will, based on Phyn’s knowledge of how different plumbing fixtures are detected, start assigning water usage events to different types of fixtures. However, even the smallest home will have a number of different sinks. So, if you want to understand how much water is used in the kitchen vs. the sink in your bathroom you are going to have to spend some time helping Phyn’s machine learning understand how to differentiate between them.
Simply selecting “See Water Events” from the main screen of the Phyn app will display a list of water usage events that the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff has detected. You can assist the learning process in several ways.
First, if the Phyn’s machine learning hasn’t correctly associated the water usage event with the correct fixture, then you can edit the event and change it. For example, the Phyn Plus might think water from a toilet being flushed was from a faucet being turned on. In that case you can edit the event, so the machine learning algorithm learns that the water usage signature is really associated with your toilet.
Also, if Phyn’s machine learning correctly identifies the fixture where water was used then the homeowner can press the small, grey Phyn icon to the right of the event in the app, turning it blue. This confirms that the fixture was correctly identified.
Additionally, you can edit the water usage event to correlate it with the specific fixture in the home where water was used. For example, you could edit an event and change it to the master bath toilet instead of simply associating it with a toilet in the home.
It is important to understand that doing all the work to train Phyn’s machine learning algorithms to properly associate water usage with the correct fixture in your home is completely optional. If all you want is a leak detection system, then the Phyn Plus will do that job for you. If you are willing to make the effort to help train Phyn’s machine learning algorithms to uniquely identify the different plumbing fixtures in your home, then you can take control of your water usage. For example, you can show your teenager how long they are spending in the shower and how much water that uses. If they are environmentally conscious then this might help change their behavior.
Phyn Smart Water Sensor
The Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff can detect all kinds of different leaks in a plumbing system. However, certain types of water damage would not be detected by the device including weather-related issues (flooded basement) or water coming out of a fixture like an overflowing washing machine or bathtub.
There are also areas of a home that are at the highest risk of a plumbing leak. These include dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators with ice makers and/or water dispensers, hot water heaters, and toilets.
Monitoring these locations in a home makes sense as an added layer of protection against water damage.
In the fall of 2021, Phyn introduced the Smart Water Sensor. This device independently connects to a home’s Wi-Fi network and can trigger a Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff to immediately shut off the flow of water to the home when it detects a leak.
The Phyn Plus can be integrated with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT.
The following voice commands can be used with both Alexa and Google Assistant:
- Ask Phyn device how much water I used today
- Ask Phyn device how much water I used this month
- Ask Phyn device to turn off my water
- Ask Phyn device to turn on my water
The Phyn IFTTT service supports triggers for:
- Freeze Alert
- High Pressure Alert
- Leak Alert
- Plumbing Check Alert
- Humidity Alert – Only available with a Phyn Smart Water Sensor
- Temperature Alert – Only available with a Phyn Smart Water Sensor
- Water Detected Alert – Only available with a Phyn Smart Water Sensor
In addition, the Phyn IFTTT service supports actions for:
- Turn on water
- Turn off water
- Run a plumbing check
Phyn has done a good job supply all the necessary IFTTT triggers and actions a user might want.
Phyn Plus Areas for Improvement
While the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff is a good product, there are several ways I believe it could be improved.
- Unfortunately, the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff doesn’t include any way to directly trigger a smart home processor/hub or an alarm panel without making a trip through the internet, to IFTTT, and back to the home. So, an internet outage could defeat the device’s ability to trigger, for example, a water alarm on the home’s security system. Similarly, there is no way for a smart home processor/hub or an existing alarm system with water sensors to close the Phyn Plus’ valve without going through the internet to IFTTT. An internet outage absolutely shouldn’t impact a home’s protection against leaks.
- Similar to #1, if the Phyn Smart Water Sensor detects a leak it sends a message through the Phyn Cloud to the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff to close its internal shutoff valve. The Phyn Smart Water Sensor should be able to directly communicate with a Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff in a home so, again, an internet outage doesn’t impact the home’s ability to protect against leaks.
- One thing that Phyn doesn’t offer to owners of their products is a community for users that allows them to share water saving tips and collaborate on product enhancements and suggestions. A community would allow Phyn users to go beyond simple usage data to fulfill the overall goal of Phyn to help people save water.
- The water usage information that is provided by the Phyn Plus is very useful. However, to be more proactive at saving water the product really could use programmable notifications. For example, it would be great to create a notification so if the shower in the bathroom used by a teenager lasts longer than 10 minutes you can knock on the door and tell them they are clean enough. Or, if it is the winter and any water is detected flowing from an outdoor hose spigot you can get a notification and immediately check out what the problem could be.
- If would add value to the product if Phyn integrated with local water utilities. Then a homeowner could simply enter their zip code and the cost of water would be integrated into the usage reports in the Phyn App. Then a homeowner would not only be able to see the amount of water being used by specific activities in their home but also understand the cost.
- The Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff’s NPSM connectors are difficult to find adapters for. It would simplify installation if the device had NPT fittings instead.
All in all, the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff will work well to guard your home from even the smallest leaks. It also provides helpful insight into how water is being used in a home, enabling homeowners to make changes in how they use water that can both conserve this valuable resource and save them money.