How do water leak detectors work? How new technology uses artificial intelligence to detect water leaks and prevent water infiltration.

Several months ago, we went to the Housewares show in Chicago. There were a couple of companies showing off their latest technology for detecting water leaks in homes. 

What Causes Water Infiltration?

Water infiltration is the bane of a homeowner’s existence. If you’re not worried about torrential downpours, hurricanes, ice dams or hail, you’re worried about basement seepage, broken water mains, dripping pipes, exploding hot water heaters and the damage all of that (plus mold) might cause.

If you think it can’t happen to you, welcome to homeownership – or vacation homeownership. One of Sam’s clients once had a vacation home about two hours from Chicago. When that client went to the home after a long winter, he found that the entire basement was flooded with eight feet of water in the basement that had been sitting there for weeks due to a burst pipe.

And, closer to home: A couple of years ago, our sump pump electric outlet failed during a storm and shut off power to the sump pump. That caused some minor damage to the carpeting in the basement. A different time, the water line to the ice maker broke off and leaked into the basement. More damage. And still one other time, the line to the water filter under the kitchen sink broke off and sprayed water all over the place.

Each time, we were around when the water leakage occurred and we were able to cut the water off before there were any real problems. Sam had installed water sensors around the home that had given us warning on some of these events but in others, we were sitting right there when they happened. We were lucky.

Ilyce’s mom lives on the 35th floor of a condo building. One day, while she was out, the water line to her filtered drinking water in the sink broke. Four hours and many gallons of water later, she was able to turn off the water. By then, water had flowed through several floors of the building, causing significant damage.

How Do Water Leak Detectors Work?

The good news is that today’s wireless technology might be able to either alert you instantly that there is a problem, or even shut off the water main automatically or remotely. 

Some of these devices sense water and send off an audible alarm along with a text or email alert so whether you are home or away you get the alert. One device we’ve been testing is the SipleSence Leak Detector. (Each sensor goes for around $60.) These devices only detect the water leak if that water leak ends up touching the device so the placement of the device is crucial.

The company sent us two devices to test. In most homes, the areas of concern for water would be under sinks, next to the water heater, or adjacent to sump pump and ejector pits, refrigerator, other water filter connections, etc. If you have a larger home, you might need a couple of dozen devices to detect water leaks. 

It works well – if the water leaks enough to touch the device and if you’re at home to go and shut off the water. But what happens if you get the alert and are on vacation? What do you do? 

Using Artificial Intelligence for Water Detection and Shut-Off 

There are other water detection and shut-off devices that use artificial intelligence to detect water leaks in a home. If the device detects a water leak, the device shuts off the water to the home. (Flo by Moen sells for between $450 and $499, plus the cost of a plumber to install it.) This device also will send you an email alert and allow you to monitor your water usage on your smartphone.

And a third type of devices are those that are mechanical with remote sensors. The sensors are able to detect leaks and if they detect a leak, they send a signal to a water shut off mechanism at your water main to move the valve to shut off the water supply. (Guardian Leak Prevention System with three leak detectors sells for around $400 and you can install it yourself.) 

Pros and Cons of Wireless Water Leak Detectors and Automatic Shut Offs

Each system has its own drawbacks. The Moen system detects a leak but doesn’t tell you where it is and you have to spend a bit of money to get a plumber to install the system for you. The Guardian system is for people that can do the plumbing work themselves, but it only works on system where the shutoff valve is not part of a water meter or other complex pipe system, is easily accessible and has no twists or turns. And the SimpleSence detectors will tell you where the leak is but there’s nothing you can do if you’re not at or near the home.

In Sam’s tests, the SimpleSence detector worked well, was pretty easy to install and sent both text messages and emails when it detected water. But the system is pretty expensive if you need one by every potential water source. The same goes for the Guardian system as it comes only with three detectors, and additional detectors will cost about $49 apiece.

Just recognize that each of these systems has its limitations. For example, Sam wondered what would happen if he left the hose on a slow drip to water a flower bed overnight. Would the Moen system would shut off the water to the entire home the next morning? The company says that it’s artificial intelligence learning system is quite sophisticated and will avoid those issues. (We weren’t able to test it.)

But certainly, the entire industry is moving in that direction and our guess is that soon all of these products will include artificial intelligence, wireless notifications, and remote monitoring and helpful data analytics. 

And, in the end, having something to help catch a leak before it becomes a tsunami of problems is a lot better than nothing. 

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