Water damage to residential properties is common and devastating, but with current water sensor technologies and solutions, it can be largely prevented and more easily mitigated.
Why Do You Need a Water Sensor System?
Though water damage to residential properties is common and devastating, now it can be largely prevented and more easily mitigated by using current water sensor technologies and solutions. The annual cost to insurance companies from residential water damage and mold in the United States averages upwards of $13 billion, with individual homeowner claims averaging between $7,000 and $10,000. Early detection is invaluable both in terms of cost, reduced damage, and inconvenience and hardship of having to endure cleanup and restoration efforts.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, 2% (1 in 50) of insured homes in the US file a property damage claim caused by water flow or freezing pipes each year. Annual US residential water damage claims average in the range of 20% to 35% of total home insurance losses.
Damage caused by roof leaks, poorly installed windows, faulty water heaters, failing toilets, increased water pressure, or aging appliances can lead to: water stains, toxic mold, corrosion, and weakened structural supports due to rotted wood. In many cases these leaks or intrusions begin as small, often imperceptible drips, that, when left unabated, develop into costly damage.
Trends that are Increasing Non-Weather Water Damage
Aging homes are of top concern to homeowner insurance professionals as plumbing failures, such as broken seals, clogged lines, pin holes, aging pipe joints and loose connections are inevitable without proactive maintenance and upgrades.
The current residential building trend is larger homes with extra bathrooms, which translates to more piping. Another newer source of increasing risk of water damage is the trend of more homeowners wanting laundry rooms on upstairs floors. Furthermore, luxury homes filled with highly valuable and vulnerable furnishings and personal effects are also a source of increasing costs due to water damage.
Benefits of Water Sensor Systems
Though early leak detection is the most obvious benefit, water sensor systems provide more advantages than you may realize, such as:
- Instantaneous Alerts for Water Leaks
- Automatic Shutoffs
- Temperature Monitoring to Prevent Frozen Pipes
- Remote Monitoring & Notification of Issues
- Early Detection of Faulty Plumbing & Appliances
- Moisture Detection to Prevent Mold Buildup
- Insurance Premium Savings
- Cost-Savings from More Efficient Water Use
- Less Costly Repairs Due to Early Detection
- Easy Installation
- Integration with Smart Home Systems & Hubs
How Do Water Sensors Work?
Most inexpensive water sensor systems work on a similar principle of detecting the elemental properties of water (H2O) where none should exist. Sensors are equipped with two metal probes that react, via an alarm or alert system, when the probe comes in contact with water causing the two probes to sense increased conductivity facilitated by water.
More technically advanced detectors can monitor changes in acoustics, as water, and specifically leaks, create soundwaves. A sensitive detector can gauge the severity of the leak by the frequency of the sound produced.
Leakbot, based in the UK, uses a unique approach by monitoring the temperature of air and water to detect a leak, which allows for easier installation, as devices need not be near the source of the leak.
Another functional principle of detection systems is that of flow-based analysis or detection of abnormal water pressure. More expensive and feature-laden products, such as Grohe, Guardian, Phyn and Moen, detect changes in water pressure based on constant monitoring of your home usage. Since these products are applied at the home’s main water line going into the home, they have an added benefit of being able to shut off the flow of water should the pressure deviate from its normal state.
All sensor systems work either with WiFi or a smart home hub, so your investment should consider the unique properties of each type before you purchase. Though most systems will have a mobile app for monitoring usage and receiving notifications, not all systems may have a mobile app.
Best Features for Water Sensors
Water sensor systems can be configured many different ways, starting with a simple, one sensor solution to having a complex system consisting of many sensors of different types and functionality. Some sensors are equipped with multi-functionality such as water, temperature and humidity. Since not all water sensor systems are equal, here are features to consider as you conduct your research.
Before you invest, keep in mind your expectations for dependability, remote access & monitoring, primary functionality, expandability, and interoperability with popular smart home hubs and platforms.
Water Sensor Features to Consider for Residential Usage
|System Price||$200 to +$700|
|Single Sensor Price||$20 to +$100|
|Water Detection Sensitivity||How much water is detected to trigger an alert?
Some sensors can trigger an alert in 1/32 of an inch of water.
Some sensors send an alert as soon as it is touched by water.
|Water Detection Calibration||Ability to adjust sensitivity, monitoring & alerts|
|Sensor & Device Types||Water Sensor Systems can consist of the following sensors & devices:
Water/Leak, Flow, Temperature, Humidity/Moisture, Sump Pump, Shut-Off Valves
|Automatic Water Shut-Off||Not all brands provide a device that can automatically turn-off a water valve when a leak is detected|
|Freeze Warning||A temperature sensor is necessary to provide freeze alerts to prevent frozen pipes|
|Moisture Detection||A humidity/moisture sensor is necessary to detect and minimize mold buildup|
|Number of Sensors||Typically equals the number of locations to monitor|
|Alert Types||Leaks, Floods, Freeze Warnings, Water Usage. Depends on the types of sensors available in your system.|
|Notification Channels||How can alerts be sent? E.g. text, email, voice, in-app|
|Notification Lists||Can notification alerts be sent to multiple recipients? (e.g. homeowners, property managers, neighbors, etc.)|
|Connectivity & Control Type||How can you interact with the system? E.g. Mobile App, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, Alexa/Google Home, cell networks
Does the device connect to the water meter?
Can cables be used to connect multiple sensors?
|Battery Life of Sensors||4 to over 10 years
Check if the device can send a low-battery notification
|Power Source||Battery-only, Electrical, or Combo. Battery-only devices are easier to place|
|Tamper Detection||Alerts sent, if tampered by children or pets|
|Alert Sound Level||Higher levels are important for larger homes with remote areas like basements|
|Device Floatability||Can the water sensor float in case of flooding?|
|Smart Home Integration & Interoperability||Does the device easily integrate with popular smart home hubs and systems? Samsung SmartThings, Z-Wave, SimpliSafe, Alexa, Google Home, etc.
Make sure that your water sensor device can work with your existing home automation controller (hub). For example, not all Z-Wave controllers may be compatible with your device.
|Ease-of-Use||Do It Yourself Installation, upgrades, adding new sensors, adjusting settings and locations, etc. or Professional Plumbing Integration|
|System Expandability||Ease-of-adding more sensors, or creating, expanding a holistic monitoring system: security; temperature; air quality; smoke detectors; outdoor irrigation systems; etc. (e.g. Simplisafe)|
|Insurance Discounts||Can the vendor’s products be purchased through a partnership with insurance providers at reduced rates or will your insurance premium be reduced? Do these discounts vary by vendor or product type?|
Where to Place Water Sensors?
Place water sensors in areas of your home where water is used, such as:
- Under Sinks
- Near Toilets
- Near Washing Machines
- Near Refrigerators
- Near Sump Pumps
- Near Water Heaters
- Near Bathtubs
- Near Dishwashers
- Near Any Inside Water Connections
Insurance Benefits of Water Sensors
Given that leak detection devices can save insurers and homeowners billions of dollars each year, you can easily understand why insurance companies are starting to offer incentive programs to fuel adoption of these devices.
Most standard homeowner insurance policies help cover water damage (less your deductible), if the cause of the issue is sudden and accidental. However, depending on the type of coverage you have you may still be liable for damage to personal property that was flooded as a result of a burst water heater or pipe.
Insurance providers are very rigid regarding water damage caused by “sudden or accidental” incidents, thus they will deny claims due to a homeowner’s maintenance negligence that could have prevented a catastrophic situation. Homeowners who neglect an obvious slow leak for months until the damage reaches critical levels could find themselves a coverage dispute.
Water sensor systems are the perfect remedy to avoid this type of damage, as reputable insurance companies will offer homeowners a reduction in premiums as part of a sound smart home monitoring program.
As part of your purchase decision process, be sure to contact your carrier to inquire about any special offers or recommended products or vendors. Always get written confirmation that you will be granted a reduction in your policy rate for the product you intend to purchase.
Usage Scenarios & Living Situations for Water Sensors
Here are various usage scenarios to consider to help you prioritize the features that are most important to your specific situation:
- Older House
- House with DIY, non-permitted, or unlicensed plumbing work
- Basement Susceptible to Flooding
- Cold Climate
- Flood Zone
- Home in a Multi-Dwelling Building (Townhome, Condo)
- Frequent Traveler
- Rental Property
- New Home Construction
- Caring for an Elderly Person
- Outdoor Irrigaton System
Leading Water Sensor Brands & Products
Products are listed in alphabetical order.
Flume Water Monitor
A Consumer Affairs pick for favorite smart water leak detector, the Flume Water Monitor tracks and controls water sources, including irrigation systems at the water meter. The sensor straps onto the home’s existing water meter and does not require any professional plumbing installation. The company states that the product is compatible with 95% of existing water meters.
The kit comes equipped with an antennae bridge that is placed in the home and connects to your home WiFi network and acts as a mediator between the WiFi network and the monitor strapped to the water meter outside. Flume compares your homes water usage to your self-described profile and alerts you or a third-party of any anomalies that may deviate from your baseline.
Grohe Sense Guard Smart
Synonymous with quality and lifetime performance, Grohe has a water leak detector with automatic or manual shut off. The Sense Guard Smart monitors water pressure and temperature in your home’s pipes and detects and alerts you to anomalies to prevent major water catastrophes. This smart water system’s controller uses a standard electrical socket and requires a LAN (Local Access Network) to connect to the user app.
Included in the package are three WiFi-enabled sensors, which send information directly to the cloud to accumulate temperature and humidity data in order to perform algorithms to set your home’s baseline. Unusual occurrences such as increased water flow, freezing temperatures or pipe breaks are recorded and sent via alerts to phones or other smart devices. Additional sensors may be purchased, each with a four year battery life.
Guardian by Elexa Leak Prevention System
The Guardian by Elexa Leak Prevention System works on the water probe conductivity principle and is able to mechanically shut off water at the home’s main water line valve. Easy to install, the shut off mechanism is bolted onto your home’s main line water pipe near the shut off valve.
The sensors are equipped with long lead lines to reach tight spots such us under refrigerators, washing machine or dish washers. The metal contacts on both the front and back of the sensors will send a signal to the valve, which will quickly turn the valve into the closed position preventing the flow of water into your home.
The kit is equipped with three sensors, two lead probes and a shut off valve mechanism. Individual sensors are sold separately for $50, should you wish to increase your leak detection coverage throughout your home.
Honeywell Lyric – W1 WiFi Leak and Freeze Detector
With both temperature and humidity sensors and a 3-year battery life, the Honeywell Lyric W1 WiFi Leak and Freeze Detector is perhaps the first choice for many homeowners looking to start a water leak detection home program. This product is ideal if you already have Honeywell products in your home working through the Lyric app, although this is not a necessity. The system uses WiFi and the alerts can be diverted to the smart device of a neighbor or other third-party should you plan to be away for extended periods of time. The kit includes a floor sensor, battery backup, water alarm and a four-foot cable sensor. Additional cable sensors are sold separately and can give you up to 500 more feet of sensor capability.
LeakSmart Starter Kit
The Starter Kit by LeakSmart includes an automatic shut-off valve, a 32 sensor capable system hub and one sensor. With the flexibility of running off an existing smart home protocol, the LeakSMART detects leaks and freezes, triggers an alarm, while simultaneously sending a text alert, before shutting off the home’s main water supply. Sensors are small, WiFi-enabled, and waterproof and can be purchased separately to increase your home’s coverage area.
Moen 900-001 Flo Smart Water Shutoff
The Moen Flo Smart Water Shutoff monitors changes in your home’s water pressure to detect abnormal flow and possible leaks. The device is mounted on the home’s main water line near the shut off valve, where a drop in pressure causes an alert to be sent to your smart device via WiFi before it shuts off the water supply. Alerts can be quieted before the water supply is turned off, in order to prevent false reads for known circumstances, such as landscaping irrigation or other one-off water events.
This product also monitors temperature and sends alert warning for possible freezes. The unusual feature of this device is once daily (usually during ‘quiet hours”) check where the device turns off the water supply temporarily to check for pressure changes caused by tiny leaks. A monthly subscription is required for additional coverage, such as household water usage monitoring to encourage water conservation. Although Moen recommends professional installation, those with trade experience and knowhow can set the system up in a few hours.
Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant & Plus Shutoff
Phyn does not use a sensor system to detect a potential leak. Instead, the Phyn Plus Shutoff unit is installed on the main water line going into your home near the shut off valve. Usually installed by a professional, the Plus Smart Water Assistant measures changes in water pressure hundreds of times per minute, while learning your individual water usage patterns changes through artificial intelligence.
The Phyn Plus can not only send you an alert, but can turn off the water supply. This device also monitors water temperature to alert homeowners of potential freeze warnings that can result in frozen and cracked pipes.
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