Smart Home and Extreme Weather Part 2
26 February 2021
As a follow up to last week’s post regarding smart home, extreme weather and power, I wanted to address the issues with water and severe cold. As I stated last week, Debbie and I fared pretty well through the storm, all things considered — minor power outage and water pressure issue — all good now. But others faced nightmare scenarios with burst pipes and water damage. I’d imagine you’ve seen the images and video on TV.
In the image above, a water pipe that froze and burst resulted in more than $28,000 in damage to the structure and its contents.
Debbie and I experienced water problems when a sump pump failed in the finished basement at our home in Minnesota. It soaked a lot of carpet and caused some water damage to furniture. Still nothing in comparison to the recent storm but it was enough then to get me to deploy a SmartThings Water Leak Sensor along with the other SmartThings sensors I already had around my home. Today, there are a lot more and better smart devices that can alert you if your home springs a leak so you can take action quickly.
Fire might be a homeowner’s greatest fear, but any insurance company will tell you that water is a far more common cause of property damage, even if you don’t live in an area subject to flooding. And it can come from many sources — a failing water heater, a burst pipe, a broken supply line under your sink, a clogged toilet or even a split hose connected to your washing machine.
Just as it’s essential to have a smoke detector in each of your home’s bedrooms and common areas, it’d be smart to install leak detectors in places where water damage could start — the laundry room, water heater closet, the bathroom, under your kitchen sink and so on. As Debbie and I have the opportunity to build from scratch, we have the opportunity to best plan our strategy to avoid water issues in our smart home. The following are some options we’re considering, you should look into them as well. Insurance can fix your carpet, furniture and drywall but won’t replace family heirlooms, original artwork or rare collectibles.
The Flo by Moen Smart Water Detector monitors for the presence of water in locations it shouldn’t be — from a leaky supply line, appliance or drain pipe, tracks ambient temperatures and can warn you of freezing conditions that could lead to a burst water pipe. It also reports ambient humidity and raises an alarm if the air becomes so moist that it could lead to the growth of mold. All of the reporting and configuration is done through the control panel in the Flo app. You’ll get the most benefit from the device if you also own the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff, which can automatically turn off your water supply in an emergency, but it’s a great smart home device even if you don’t.
Another option is the hub-based Waxman LeakSmart sensor — it sets itself apart from others in in the leak sensor category in that that the company also manufactures a smart water shut-off valve. Due to the nature of its integration with your home’s plumbing, most people would want to have it professionally installed. I’m not sure I’d attempt this, especially on a new build project. Still, it’s a huge draw over other sensors that either require more elaborate valve setups or don’t offer those controls at all. LeakSmart quickly detects water leaks from burst water supply lines, appliances and plumbing fixtures throughout your house. And immediately shuts off your home’s water supply then alerts you when a water leak occurs
The Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff takes a more holistic approach to water leak prevention. Rather than placing sensors near appliances, faucets and fixtures that might leak, the products in this category analyze your water system at the main supply coming into your home to look for anomalies. If they detect a leak, they can shut off the water supply to prevent catastrophic damage. I am really partial to this design as it simplifies management and turns off the water when it detects a leak.
Phyn Plus uses patented, high-definition pressure wave analysis to alert you the second a leak is detected, mitigate costly damage through automatic water shutoff and teach you about your water use. Phyn Plus measures tiny changes in pressure 240 times every second to understand the unique signature of each water fixture in your home. This allows Phyn to understand the subtle differences between a running bath and a burst pipe. Phyn also works seamlessly with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. And with IFTTT you can have Phyn trigger actions with other smart home products.
There are some features of Flo Technologies’ Flo by Moen smart valve that you may prefer over the Phyn Plus — namely, its ability to make robo calls warning you of potential problems with your water-supply system before it shuts it off — but I think the Phyn Plus is a little more sophisticated. The Phyn Plus is more expensive, but Phyn doesn’t charge a subscription fee to get the most value out of its product.
The second-generation Flume can’t turn off your water supply if it detects a leak, but it costs hundreds less than the systems that can, and you won’t need to cut into your water pipe — or hire a plumber — to install it. The Flume 2 is even better than the first-generation product and is a fantastic value for $199. About 70% of Flume users have found leaks. The Flume app alerts you of abnormal (or accidental) water usage whether you’re at home or away.
You might be surprised by the variety of approaches to what seems like a simple task — detecting the presence of water where it shouldn’t be. Some operate on wifi, others require a hub to communicate. Some plug into an AC outlet, others require a battery. Some come with external sensor cables and mount to the wall, others lay on the floor. Most, but not all, have onboard sirens. This is yet another example of smart home technology that is full of innovation but lacks standards.
If the options above don’t work for you, here are the specs and features you’ll want to consider when shopping for a smart home water leak detector.
Hub requirements: Honeywell’s Lyric and D-Link’s sensor both operate on wifi, so you don’t need additional products to make them work. Other products, such as the Fibaro Flood Sensor and Insteon Water Leak Sensor, require a hub to connect to the internet and the apps on your phone.
Connection protocols: If you own a hub already, you must make sure the sensor uses a compatible connection protocol. Fibaro, uses Z-Wave, which works with SmartThings and Wink hubs. Insteon sensors only work with Insteon hubs (one of which is compatible with Apple’s HomeKit). If you own a well-known hub such as Wink or SmartThings, you’ll likely see those names on the sensor’s box.
Integrations: Some hubs, such as Wink, SmartThings, and Insteon, allow you automate actions on other devices when a leak occurs. That way you can trigger lights, turn on cameras or sound an alarm. Wink, SmartThings, and D-Link also support IFTTT, a service that lets you automate tasks between connected devices and services. This will allow your sensors that communicate with water valves to turn off your main water supply to stop a leak.
Size and extendibility: If you plan to put your leak sensor in a a tight space, make sure the sensor is either small enough to fit, or that it offers a sensor cable to extend its reach.
Built-in siren: Unless you plan to put the sensor far from where you might normally hear it, it’s helpful to have a siren onboard. That way, you’ll still get alerted at home even when the internet is down.
Additional onboard sensors: Some leak sensors can also measure other environmental conditions that can lead to problems such as temperature (a frozen pipe) and humidity (excess moisture in the air, allowing mold to grow).
Power source: Most leak sensors are battery powered, but some, such as D-Link’s Wi-Fi Water Sensor, depend on AC power. An outlet-powered sensor with battery backup in the event of a blackout would be ideal; unfortunately, they are rare.
Everything happens for a reason as they say. I’m going to chalk this past winter storm up as a wake up call to me to take the issues of water leaks more serious and do some research. It was also interesting to find out about smart home technologies that I otherwise may have overlooked. I really like the idea of being able to make water damage mitigation part of my larger smart home plan. And who knows, there may be insurance benefits that will help further justify ROI but in the end, if it saves us from losing valuable family heirlooms or helps us avoid a huge inconvenience it’ll be worth it.
Let us know if you think it’s worth it. Or if, unfortunately, you have had water issues and whether you think one of these solutions may have been able to save your home.