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Home Tech: Automated Water Leak Detection

Sooner or later, no matter where you live or how old your house is, you're going to have a plumbing failure. And whether the water leak is big or small, the key is to catch it before it causes catastrophic damage to your home. Think we're being alarmist? Damage caused by plumbing failures costs homeowners and insurance companies billions of dollars every year. Here are some high-tech solutions that will alert you when a leak is just getting started so you can deal with it ASAP.

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Leak AlarmsFamily Handyman

Leak Alarms

From a price standpoint, battery-powered water leak alarms, available at home centers, are hard to beat. Sensors are placed on the floor next to plumbing fixtures and appliances like washing machines and water heaters. When the sensors detect even the tiniest bit of water, the alarm puts out an ear-splitting scream to announce a leak. You can also set a sensor on your basement floor to detect and warn you if water is seeping in from outside or if your sump pump has stopped working. Water leak detectors work great, but they're effective only if you're home to hear the alarm and turn off the water. And don't forget to change the batteries!

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High-Tech Leak AlertsFamily Handyman

High-Tech Leak Alerts

A step up from simple leak alarms is a leak detector that sends you alerts via the Internet. The system shown here is made by Insteon. It consists of a hub that you connect to your home's Internet modem. Wireless leak sensors, available as accessories, run on batteries and send radio signals to the Insteon hub whenever a leak is detected. The hub then sends an alert to your smartphone or computer. Additional 'smart home' type accessories are available for use with the hub and are sold separately. While this is a great leak detection system, you'll still have to run home (or call somebody with access to your house) to shut off the water if a leak occurs. Available online from the manufacturer.

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Single-Point Shutoff SystemsFamily Handyman

Single-Point Shutoff Systems

For better leak and flood protection, especially if you can't be home all the time, consider a 'single-point' leak detection and automatic shutoff system. This type of water leak detector gets plugged into an electrical outlet and has a sensor that you place on the floor or inside an appliance pan. An electric shutoff valve turns off the water to appliances like washing machines whenever leaks are detected (especially helpful if your washing machine is upstairs where even a small leak can do extreme damage to the rooms below). Similar shutoff systems are available for water heaters, dishwashers and the like. Floodmaster Water Heater Automatic Shutoff System:
  • Sounds alarm and shuts off water supply when leak is detected.
  • Accessory available that cuts off electricity to power vents on gas-fired water heaters.
  • Can be connected to a home alarm system.
  • Available online.
Watts Intelliflow Automatic Washing Machine Shutoff Valve
  • Sensor placed on floor; water supply shuts off if leak is detected.
  • Shutoffs take pressure off hoses when washing machine not in use.
  • Available online.

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Sometimes Low-Tech is the Best TechFamily Handyman

Sometimes Low-Tech is the Best Tech

A great way to prevent leaks and floods is to regularly do a visual check of your plumbing system. Inspect pipes, fittings, supply hoses, shutoff valves and all water-using appliances for signs of corrosion or leaking. Fix small problems before they become big ones. And if you're going out of town for an extended period of time, shut off the water main (or well pump).

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Whole-House Shutoff SystemsFamily Handyman

Whole-House Shutoff Systems

For the ultimate in water leak detection and flood prevention, consider a whole-house automatic shutoff system like this one. Wireless sensors placed around the house tell it when there's a leak or if a pipe has frozen, and a motorized valve shuts off water to the house. The WaterCop has been around for a few years, but the company now offers a Wi-Fi module that sends alerts to your smartphone or computer when there's a problem. A complete system consists of leak and freeze sensors, a Wi-Fi module and automatic shutoff valve. Depending on your DIY skills, you might need to hire a plumber to install it on your home's water main.