Smart Water Leak Protection and Homeowners Insurance Benefits
February 13, 2022
It’s that ‘frozen pipes’ time of year again for many of us. Precautions can be taken but very often, like last year’s ‘Snowmageddon’ that crippled thousands of homes here in Texas, extreme cold can leave them with without power or water. Loss of power is one thing but the damage a burst pipe can cause could be significant. 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. Nothing too significant but it was enough 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. Non-weather water damage is huge for insurers — as much $16 billion a year — and it’s better to predict and prevent than to clean up the mess.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if, instead of relying on adjusters and restoration companies to determine how much damage was actually caused by a water leak, an insurer could stop the leak almost before it starts.
That’s now the reality for a growing number of insurers who have deployed leak sensors for commercial and residential properties. These Internet of Things devices are well on their way to becoming standard features of insurance policies.
Chubb, the world’s largest publicly traded property insurance company, has embraced the technology and is pushing ahead with thousands of the hockey-puck-sized sensors around the country. More than 300 Chubb-insured buildings now have the systems in place. It’s all part of Chubb’s declared “war on water damage,” which notes that non-weather-related water damage is one of the biggest drivers of losses for the insurance industry.
There is the cost of the sensors and the hub connection, but the belief is that one loss prevention will pay for itself — basically making invisible risk actionable via IoT. The meshing of mature technology and loss prevention is creating an exciting time for the insurance industry. Wider use of IoT sensors is producing multiple benefits for insurers, including enormous amounts of data on properties and a key marketing tool that carriers can use to attract and retain policyholders.
Besides preventing damage, the greatest attraction for property owners may be premium discounts. Chubb is still compiling data and has not yet said what the average credit is for commercial policyholders. But homeowners who install devices can see credits of 3% for sensors and as much as 8% for water-line shutoff devices.
Chubb is the largest writer of high-end residential properties in the US, providing shutoff valves that will close the main supply line to the house as soon as a leak is detected anywhere in the home. A sensor sends a notice to the homeowner’s cellphone — perfect for those times when families go on vacation and aren’t there to notice a growing puddle on the floor.
Temperature sensors with alerts also have proven to be especially valuable for policyholders who have expensive wine collections. Freezing or high temperatures can ruin an expensive bottle of wine.
The sensor devices have become a part of Chubb’s long-term business strategy. Other insurers are buying into the trend. Vyrd Insurance, a startup property insurer in Florida, has developed their company’s business model to call for widespread use of water sensors that can help detect leaks and alert rapid-repair teams. The Hartford, Peninsula Insurance Services and other insurers also have begun deploying the systems.
The next evolution is leak detectors for roofs. Chubb has started installing sensors below the roof decking in some commercial buildings, recognizing that water infiltration from damaged roofs is also one of the largest loss drivers for insurers.
So, as a smart home owner, what do you do? As most smart home technology is self-installed, and there are a lot of options depending on the existing platforms and devices in your home, you need to think through how and where to deploy the technology.
Water sensors can detect leaks and unwanted water in your home near appliances such as dishwashers, water heaters, faucets, washing machines and more — and potentially save you from major water damage and expensive repair bills. I’ve had friends who have had water damage issues and the disruption alone is worth the investment, not to mention avoiding the need for repairs to your home and furniture.
Along with checking for corroded, damaged, or rusty water supply lines and performing regular maintenance, water sensors can help you manage your risk through remote monitoring, early alerts and freeze warnings. By catching problems early, you may be more apt to avoid expensive repairs and loss of treasured belongings.
The Honeywell Wifi Water Leak and Freeze Detector keeps you connected and aware to potentially costly water activity in your home. Whether you’re in the kitchen or on vacation you can receive notifications when a pipe freezes or a leak is detected. The integrated Resideo Home App keeps you updated to alerts and also guide you through a step-by-step setup of the water leak sensors for easy DIY installation. The wifi-based battery-operated sensor includes a 4-ft. cable sensor which detects water along its entire length. Additional cables can be added, extending the sensor length up to 500 ft., allowing you to loop and lay the sensor through a basement or utility room. The battery will last up to three years. The device can notify you by sending notifications to your phone, with LED status lights and a 100dB alarm.
The Ring Alarm Flood and Freeze Sensor can be placed on any floor or any flat surface near a water source, and you’ll get alerts when water is detected or when the temperature drops below 40°F, so you can stay ahead of water damage. Position the sensor near sinks, bathtubs, showers, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters, water coolers, toilets, basements, and any other sources of potential leaks. Simply download the app to receive instant push notification of any water leakage. This solution is battery powered like the Honeywell Wifi Water Leak and Freeze Detector and the Ring Alarm Security Kit is required for setup.
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.
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 — like turning on lights to alert you.
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. 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 detection solution.
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.
As you can see there are a variety of smart home water leak solutions ranging from insurer provided to DIY. Whether you are a customer of an insurance company that provides water leak technology or providing your own, combining smart home devices together with remote monitoring and control offers new ways to make your home more safe and secure. Auto insurers are already giving price breaks to drivers willing to install monitoring devices on their vehicles. I can imagine a time in the not too distant future where home insurers will give premium discounts to home owners who have verifiable DIY water leak solutions in place.
Debbie and I are still evaluating solutions to see which will be the best matches for our needs, as should you. I have to admit I’m leaning heavily toward the Phyn Plus or Flume solutions due to their ‘whole home’ solution approach. As our project is new build we can easily design the solution into the plumbing plan. But they are easily integrated into existing home pluming as well. Home security can involve some very critical decisions so do your homework.
Our home planning continues but we’re now in more of the ‘finishing’ stage. I have a good idea what the technology solutions will look like but no final decisions yet. I’m holding off on that until we have a groundbreaking date so I can make sure I’m deploying the ‘latest and greatest.’ Debbie is focused on colors, textures and finishes — paint, counter tops, cabinets, doors, windows, etc. She has always been very good at this so I’m really comfortable leaving that to her.
I’m curious what your thoughts are on water leak detection. Have you experienced any issues with water damage in the past? If so, what was your response to mitigate future issues with water? If not, have any of the options above compelled you to consider taking action? Please let us know in the comments, DMs and emails as always. And please keep sharing topic suggestions as we love hearing from you. Until next week …
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