Statistically, water damage is among the top most frequent insurance claims. While you can’t do too much about the inevitable deluge of water pounding on your home from the outside — rains, hurricanes, river floods — you can, and should, control the water inside your house. When water is securely contained within your plumbing, it is your obedient servant. But it can suddenly leap at you from a burst pipe pouring gallons per minute, or secretly trickle from a loose fitting for weeks, finally spreading over huge areas with rot and mold. When your water gets out of control, the damage can be devastating. If you are lucky, your losses will be limited to an unusually high water bill.
In most cases, making your house flood-safe is reduced to finding effective ways to identify water leaks and alert you to them as soon as possible. So, where it concerns flood safety, the smart automation industry is focused on developing water sensors and enhancing their functionality.
Basically, the idea of a water sensor is pretty straightforward — it detects the presence of water with special probes. The key difference in the different choices of water leak sensors are usually features on what they do after they detect water and how they fare in terms of maintenance. Let’s look closer at the options offered by different water sensor models to see how they can be used in setting up a flood-safe house.
Water usually flows down, so it is wise to install water sensors on the floor where they will detect water while its level is still rather low. The major concern here is whether the sensor can survive being submerged in the water. Some sensor models, even those in the high-price range, show poor resistance to water and get permanently damaged after a single submersion. For example, Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector, although showing reliable performance, stops working when covered in water, while Fibaro Flood Sensor can float and, therefore, is not damaged even when the water level is high.
Photo courtesy of Fibaro
Whenever there is a water leak, be it a small slow trickle or a powerful burst, it is critical to stop the water supply as quickly as possible to reduce the damage and stem the outpour. So, the minimum expectation from a water sensor is alerting the owners. Smart water sensors send notifications to the owner’s smartphone, so that the owners know immediately of a water leak, wherever they are. However, the perfect arrangement is to have alerts both via the mobile app and via a local alarm or siren. Of course, the local alarm makes sense only when there is someone at home, but it can be critical at night when you may miss a notification on your smartphone.
Most water sensors are capable of communicating via a wireless technology, so they can be set to trigger a compatible siren via Wi-Fi, for example. In addition, many of them, like Fibaro Flood Sensor which we have mentioned already, have a built-in sound alarm which goes off when the leak is detected.
Having mentioned communication protocols, we have come to another key matter which can influence the choice of water leak sensor, that is, their ability to integrate with smart home systems and other smart devices. Some sensors, like Roost Smart Water Leak and Freeze Detector, operate in a standalone mode. On one hand, this may seem an advantage, as the sensor works without a hub and thus requires minimum investment. On the other hand, standalone operation drastically limits the sensor functionality, as the only action it is capable of is alerting the owner via the application. If, however, a sensor operates via a home automation hub, the possibilities for response are much more varied. For example, whenever the sensor detects water leak or flood, it can start a sequence of actions — turning on the lights, sounding an alarm and, like leakSMART Second Generation Leak Prevention Kit, shutting off the water supply. The leakSMART package includes an automatic valve turning off water upon receiving the command from the hub. The valve requires professional installation, of course, and the kit is a bit on the pricey side, but your comfort and peace of mind are totally worth it. The idea that water can be shut off within seconds after the leak is detected is priceless.
If you are looking for an easily integrated water leak sensor, you may like the D-Link Wi-Fi Water Sensor which is one of a few devices supporting the IFTTT (If This Then That) technology. It requires no hub to connect with other devices, but uses the IFTTT application instead. This feature keeps the D-Link sensor in the affordable price range while giving almost endless integration possibilities.
Most water leak sensors are battery-powered which makes them independent of the general power availability. Different sensors require different number of batteries and different battery types, so their battery life is also different. Insteon Leak Sensor, for example, uses only a single AA battery but boasts an unbelievable 10-year battery life. Most sensors, however, can be expected to operate 2 to 3 years between battery changes.
D-Link Wi-Fi Water Sensor is one of the rare examples of an AC-powered sensor. On one hand, this is a plus as your sensor will not die unnoticed when its batteries run out. On the other hand, in the event of power outage you will lose leak detection, too.
While the main function of all water leak sensors is to detect water and alert their owners about it, some of them support additional features which turn a sensor into a multipurpose device enhancing its field of use and sometimes making other devices unnecessary.
For example, a water sensor which can also monitor temperature increases your flood protection greatly, as it will alert you of sub-zero temperatures around your plumbing. Frozen pipes pose serious danger, as they can burst suddenly gushing water everywhere. Try Samsung SmartThings Water Leak Sensor alerting you both of water presence on the floor and of temperature changes. With Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector, you are also getting humidity monitoring to keep your home free of mold.
If you’re feeling a little flooded with information, I’ve provided some general guidelines that will help you select the perfect water sensor for your home.