Friday, January 26, 2024

Finding an In-Home Wifi Smart Water Monitoring Device

This week, I got a surprise with my quarterly water bill.  The bill was over $2,200.00!!  Apparently, there was a leak somewhere.

First things first ... find the problem.  However, there was no obvious leak.  Good, I don't have to worry about another high bill in a few months.  I've spoken with the municipality several times over the past few days, and they've been very helpful.  My guess is that the leak originated with a toilet that I replaced three weeks ago.  The toilet was an older model, so I replaced it with a modern low-flow toilet.  We'll probably never know if that old toilet was the cause of the problem, but the town has verified that only a few cubic metres of water have been used in the past twenty days, so at least I don't need to worry that this is an ongoing problem.

  



Looking forward, I want to prevent this kind of situation from happening again.  For one thing, I don't want to waste natural resources.  On top of that, when it comes to insurance incidents, it appears that water damage is six times more likely than fires, and eight times more likely than theft!  Once website suggested that a staggering 98% of homes on a 25-year mortgage will suffer water damage at some point.  And the average claim for an internal flood or water damage event is now up over $10,000.  Many incidents are well above $25,000+ for repairs.

Needless to say, it is VERY much worth my while to do everything possible to monitor for leaks, regardless of whether the main concern is excessive consumption or preventing water damage.

I decided to do some quick interest research.  I already have the water meter that was installed by the municipality, but my was goal was to find an additional water meter or some sort of monitoring device that would let me monitor consumption remotely in real time, ie. online or through an app, without having to wait for a report from the town.

 

Here were my requirements:

1.  Price was essentially irrelevant.  Ideally, I hoped to keep the budget under $1,000 total, but in the end, the costs of a flood are so significant that investing in a professional solution should be well worth it.  My mantra is that if you don't pay up front, you'll pay in the end.  But you'll always pay.

2.  The device needs to be able to communicate digitally through a browser or through an app.

3.  Push notifications for special events (high water flow) would be fairly important.  Emails and texts would be even better.

4.  I didn't want to exclude devices which would need to be installed professionally by a plumber.  This will be an investment for the long-term.  There's no point saving a nickel to spend a dollar.

5.  I would prefer an in-line device rather than a line piggyback device, if possible.

6.  The ability to shut off water remotely would be a good benefit.

7.  I wanted a solution that didn't have a subscription model.  I really dislike manufacturers that expect you to subscribe to their apps with a monthly or annual fee.  I understand that there are costs for maintaining apps and the back-end server infrastructure, but I think that manufacturers should build that into the cost of the sale, and try to guarantee 10 years of access.


I thought that I'd be able to find an appropriate device pretty quickly, with a basic Amazon search.  I was very wrong.  This is not a mature field.  After spending six hours digging through hundreds of web pages, this is what I've learned:

- After looking at more than a dozen options from various manufacturers, I realized that many do not come close to fitting my needs.  Only five options came reasonably close.

- Many companies offer moisture sensors.  Do not confuse moisture sensors with water monitors.

 

Moisture sensors are fairly common.  I already have some of these sensors - these are basically small devices that you place in low areas that are likely to collect water if there's a leak.  When they get wet, they sent a push notification through text or email to let the homeowner know there's water somewhere.  Ideally, you'd place these in each corner of the basement, and if a pipe breaks somewhere in the house, the water eventually gets to the basement and trips a sensor, which alerts you that there's a problem.  There are a few problems with sensors.  The main problem is that by the time a sensor is tripped, you may already have $20,000+ in damages if a pipe broke inside a wall upstairs.  Batteries can die.  Wired-in sensors need to be within reach of a receptacle, and don't work when the power is out.  Also, many homeowners put these things under a sink, looking for a leak.  Well that's fine, but it's a burst pipe that will cause the most damage.  If you're worried about your sink's P-trap leaking, just look under the sink once in a while, because that kind of leak is not going to release 20,000 gallons into the home.


Here's what I've learned in my research so far, in case anyone else follows this same path.  First, I'll share seven options that didn't appear to be suitable:

Aqua Data - No useful homeowner solutions.  They have monitors from Neptune, Siemens, and vonRoll Hydro, but they basically just offer industrial equipment that is more appropriate for utilities.

Rachio - Discontinued in-home products, now specializes in sprinklers and irrigation.

Orbit B-Hyve - Only does irrigation and moisture sensors.

Belkin Wemo - Looked promising in 2015 with their Echo technology, but now discontinued.

Eve Water Guard - Moisture sensors only.

Home Wizard - Appears to mount on top of certain types of analog water meters (a screw-on or strap-on device).  It then does a visual reading that is somehow converted to digital (AI?) and then feeds to an app.  Perhaps an option for some homeowners, but that would depend on what type of meter got put in by your utility.

David DROP - This is a hub system with lots of individual devices, mostly moisture sensors.  The company focuses mainly on water treatment systems, and their monitoring hubs look good for that sort of application, but not appropriate for a whole-home application without water treatment.

 

I eliminated all of the above options pretty quickly.  Now let's move on to the most promising five possibilities:

Water Hero - This was the most expensive option that I found, and would cost around $1500 just for equipment.  Ok, that's pricey, but I wasn't going to eliminate this option yet.  However, I tried to find more photos, write-ups, or reviews, and there was nothing.  Thankfully, YouTube had a bit of info, including one short 2-minute from the company.  But I was worried by the lack of reviews.  Also, this product requires a subscription, which really annoyed me.

Phyn Plus - Don't confuse this with the original Phyn, when you're looking for info on the internet.  The Plus model is newer and better, but there's less info online.  This was the option that I initially thought looked most promising.  However, it had a lot of negative reviews re. manufacturing quality and poor tech support.  Also, this system takes several weeks to "learn" your home's water usage, which may not be good for people with erratic consumption patterns.  You don't want the system to shut off your water when you're taking an abnormally long shower.  Also, this unit only connects to 2.4 gHz wireless networks.

Flume -  Good reviews, and a low price.  Also, you don't need to hire a plumber to install it, since it's a strap-on rather than an in-line unit.  However, since it's not in-line, there's no shutoff control, and the sensor half of the system uses a proprietary battery pack.  Many people reportedly that the batteries last less than half a year, especially in cold locations.  Finally, this model now has an annual subscription plan.

Moen Flo - This is an in-line device with some decent reviews, but a concerning number of reviewers who said that the internal valve died within 2 years and they needed to replace the entire unit.  Like the Phyn Plus, the unit needs several weeks to learn consumption, and might not be a good choice for a residence with erratic consumption.  On a positive note, the Flo does not require a subscription anymore, although it did a few years ago.

StreamLabs - They have three devices, the Scout, the Monitor, and the Control.  The Scout is just a standalone water detector, so not what I was looking for.  The Monitor is the mid-range model, a full water leak detector, which uses ultrasound and is not inline.  Still not quite what I wanted.  The Control model is the most comprehensive device.  It's not cheap (around a thousand dollars) but it seems to be well-built.  My only concern here is that they seem to prefer that the owner have a subscription.  Argh.  You can apparently use the device without a subscription, but in that situation you only get push notifications instead of push/email/text, and your data access is limited to the current period instead of the two years of historical data that are visible with a subscription.  On a positive note, if you have up to five homes (which seems ridiculous) you only need one subscription to monitor all five locations.

 

Right now, I'm leaning toward the StreamLabs Control device, but I haven't made up my mind yet.  At some point, once I've picked a device, I'll update this post.  And then later, once I've installed it and used it for a bit, I'll do another update.

 

Edit 1, January 29th:  I decided to try the StreamLabs Control, but they're out of stock at all the regular retailers like Home Depot, Lowes, etc.  I just ordered one direct from the company in California, so we'll see how long it takes to get here.  UPS is saying that it will arrive in three days.

Edit 2, February 5th:  It took 7 days to arrive.  Now I just have to find time to schedule in a plumber.

 

In the meantime, here's one good video that I discovered in my search:




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