My wife and I spent July 4th in Key West, Florida and, after an evening of fireworks, we returned to our hotel for a peaceful night’s sleep. But it didn’t last long. At 2 a.m. we got a call from our adult daughter Katherine, telling us that water was gushing through the walls and ceilings and down the stairs of our house, because of a broken plastic pipe in the upstairs bathroom. She was at the house 11 hours earlier and we don’t know exactly what time the water started flowing but, based on the extensive damage, it was probably several hours before she discovered it and turned off the water.
Nearly four months later, we’re still repairing the damage but, when we had the bathroom vanity, sink and faucets replaced this week, we made sure the plumber used high quality braided stainless steel supply lines so, hopefully, this will never happen again. But we can’t be sure, because, in addition to these lines, there are rubber, plastic or metal hoses and pipes connected to our washing machine, dish washer, water heater and other sinks.
If it ever does happen again when we’re away from the house, we won’t have to rely on our daughter stopping by to spot the problem. Vivint, which offers home security solutions, connected smoke detectors and home automation systems, installed water detectors under our sinks and other areas where leaks can occur. So, if there ever is a water leak in the future, we should know about it in seconds rather than hours. Vivint’s fee range from $50 to $70 a month, depending on equipment and services.
The system consists of small battery operated device with sensors that are activated if a 20th of an inch of water seeps underneath.The sensors communicate via wireless signals to a panel that not only sounds an alarm, but sends a message to my wife and my mobile phones and notifies a dispatch center.
Unlike with Vivint’s door and window sensors and smoke alarms, the company’s dispatch center won’t call the police or fire department but they will attempt to notify me by phone and, if they can’t reach me, they’ll call my wife followed by a list of contacts, including our neighbors who, hopefully, will get the message in time to turn off the main water valve in front of our house before much damage is done.
Fortunately there haven’t been any leaks since I installed the unit, but I did test it by pouring water near the sensor and, after ignoring the local siren from the control panel, I got a call from the dispatch center to notify me of the leak and patiently accept my explanation that it was just a test.
I also tried out a $79 Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector that connects to your WiFi network and mobile phone to notify you in the event of leaks, freezes, or excess humidity. The unit connects directly to your WiFi network and doesn’t require a hub. If it detects a problem the device itself will sound a local alarm and notify you and a list of other contacts via email, but it won’t make any phone calls to you or a dispatch center.
Another option is a Samsung SmartThings Water Leak Sensor which cost about $37 each, but requires you have a $75 SmartThings Hub somewhere in the house. The sensor gives you an alert on your smartphone if it detects excess water. It can also trigger a light or a siren. The detector is one of many products that work with the SmartThings hub, including switches, bulbs, motion detectors and numerous other smart devices.
The idea for SmartThings came from an experience similar to my flood. In 2011, co-founder Alex Hawkinson’s vacation house in Colorado was heavily damaged because of water damage from frozen pipes. Had Hawkinson known about the problem immediately, he could have prevented much of the damage just as I could have probably saved some my house’s floors and walls if I had known about my leak within seconds rather than hours later.
While the Vivint, Honeywell and SmartThings sensors can notify you or others of a leak, they can’t turn off the water, which means you can still have some serious damage between the time someone is notified and when they can manually shut off the water. But there is a $699 kit from leakSMART that comes with five sensors and an electronic motorized brass water ball valve that connects to your home’s main water supply to turn off your water if a leak is detected. There is also an iOS and Android app that can monitor for water leaks and control your home’s main water supply, but the great part about this system is that it doesn’t require a human to turn off the water.
Monitoring equipment and services vary widely in cost. Some services, like Vivint, charge a monthly fee depending on services and equipment while others involve equipment purchasing only, but typically leave it to up to you to arrange for installation and monitoring. If you purchase equipment that doesn’t come with a monitoring service, check around for third party services like The Monitoring Center or see if the device’s app can notify not only you but a list of friends and neighbors in the event of an emergency.
As a resident of drought-stricken California, I’m grateful for all the water we can get — as long as it stays away from my floors, walls and ceilings.