If you’ve ever come home to a soggy basement or found out too late that your kitchen sink or toilet has a slow leak, you know how expensive it can be to repair or replace carpets, flooring, and walls that have sustained water damage. Finding leaks before they can do major damage is now easier than ever thanks to the proliferation of smart home water-sensing devices that send alerts to your phone when they detect moisture. They range in complexity from simple puck-shaped sensors that you place on the floor, to in-line systems that monitor your water flow rate for irregularities that may indicate leakage.
We’ve gathered the best smart leak detectors we’ve tested here. Read on to find out what types of leak detectors are out there, how they work, and how much you can expect to pay.
What Is a Water Leak Detector?
Not all smart leak detectors are created equal. The most basic DIY devices are battery-operated discs or small square boxes that are very easy to install and are designed to be placed on the floor where leakage may occur, such as directly under a refrigerator, sink, toilet, or washing machine. They typically have two or more metal sensor terminals (feet) that are in contact with the floor, and built-in Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi radios to connect to your phone. The sensor is triggered when the feet come in contact with water, and usually just a few drops will set it off. Once triggered, a push alert or email (or both) will be sent and an audible alarm on the device itself will sound. It’s important to look for a sensor that offers a reasonably loud siren that you can hear from anywhere in your home.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that leaking water will begin to puddle in an area adjacent to the sensor’s location. To make sure that you’re alerted before too much water has piled up, you can purchase a pack that comes with multiple sensors, allowing you to expand your water detection range. Alternately, you can purchase a sensor that comes with an extension cable. In most cases, the entire extension cable acts as a sensor that will trigger an alarm when any part of it comes in contact with water. This type of water sensor can be hung on a wall, with the cable resting on the floor or placed directly on the floor along with the cable for maximum coverage.
Orbit’s B-Hyve Smart Flood Sensor comes with three tiny spot sensors and a plug-in hub that connects them to your home Wi-Fi
While smaller, battery-powered sensors are great for detecting leaks in obvious places, they won’t tell you if there’s a leak in plumbing that resides behind your walls or in your ceiling. Granted, if water is leaking from a ceiling pipe you’ll eventually find out about it, but by that time you’ll probably be dealing with damaged ceiling tiles and drywall and possible wood rot. For whole-home protection, look for a leak detection system that monitors your entire water delivery system.
These types of systems are usually installed in-line, in an area close to your water meter and will likely require professional installation as they literally become part of your plumbing system. As water flows through the device, it gathers information about your water delivery system such as flow rate, water pressure, and water temperature. Once it learns the particulars of your home’s water system over time (usually a week or two), it will send an alert if your water usage spikes or your water pressure changes, both of which may indicate a broken pipe or a faucet that has been left on. These devices can also tell you if you have a slow drip situation somewhere in your system and if your water temperature is too cold, a condition that can lead to burst pipes.
There are a handful of in-line smart monitors that do more than just warn you of potential trouble: they generate daily, weekly, and monthly usage reports and will tell you how much water each fixture (shower, sink, garden hose, etc.) is using. Additionally, they will run system health tests periodically throughout the day looking for abnormal pressure or flow rates, and if a problem is detected, they will automatically shut off the entire water supply to your home. These systems are ideal if you’re frequently away from home or have a second home that remains empty for long periods of time.
What Makes a Leak Detector Smart?
There are a couple of ways a smart water sensor can communicate with your phone or any other mobile device. Some sensors are Bluetooth-only, which means you must be within range of the device (typically 40 feet or so) to receive alerts and silence alarms. If you want to receive alerts and control the sensor while you’re away from home, make sure it has a Wi-Fi radio or is part of a connected home automation system.
For anyone who lives in a climate where frozen pipes are a reality or where heat and humidity levels tend to run high, look for a water sensor that will also monitor environmental conditions. If your sensor has built-in temperature and humidity sensors, it will send alerts when conditions reach a certain threshold. For example, if you live in a cold climate, you can have the sensor alert you if the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, a level that can lead to burst pipes. Similarly, if you live in a hot climate with muggy conditions, you can have the sensor alert you when the humidity level hits 55% or higher to avoid mold growth. Abnormally high humidity levels can also indicate water leakage in the area.
The Flume 2 is a whole-system that consists of a strap-on water sensor and a Wi-Fi bridge
If you want your water sensor to do more than let you know that you have a leak, look for one that works with other smart devices. Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant voice compatibility let you do things like silence alarms and check temperature and humidity levels simply by asking, but ideally you’ll want the sensor to actually trigger another device that can help minimize damage from the leak such as a fan or a dehumidifier.
Some water sensors are part of a family of smart devices made by the same manufacturer that use the same app and will work with one another, but if you choose a standalone sensor, make sure it supports IFTTT (If This Then That) or is compatible with a home automation platform such as HomeKit or SmartThings. With IFTTT, you can create applets that allow the sensor to trigger other compatible devices such as smart plugs and thermostats, and most home automation systems let you create automations or scenes to have connected devices work with each other.
How Much Does a Water Leak Detector Cost?
Smart water sensors can range in price from $50 to over $500. The more affordable models are just leak detectors that typically lack a Wi-Fi radio and communicate via Bluetooth or work as part of a home automation system. You’ll pay more for features like environmental monitoring, extension cables, sirens, and LED indicators, as well as numerous integration options such as voice control and support for IFTTT. At the high end are the in-line systems that monitor your entire home and will shut off your water if they detect a serious problem. Keep in mind that in addition to a steep price, in-line systems will have to be professionally installed, and that will add $200 or more to the total price.