Water Leak Sensors: The Most Overlooked Smarthome Device You Probably Don’t Have

While most smarthome products are aimed at convenience, there’s one smarthome device that’s actually quite useful, possibly saving you headaches and ton of money: the trusty water leak sensor.

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Water damage is a homeowner’s worst nightmare, aside from a house fire or a natural disaster, of course. While a small water leak isn’t a huge deal if you find and repair it promptly, a busted water pipe can turn a dry basement into the Pacific Ocean in zero seconds flat. However, with water leak sensors in place, you’ll at least have the opportunity to lessen the disaster level.

Why This Is So Important

While it’s easy to notice a burst water pipe and shut the water off ASAP, a slow water leak can go unnoticed for a while. By the time you finally do notice it, significant damage can already be done.

The situation can be even worse while you’re away from home. If a pipe bursts, you have full city water pressure spraying water into your house at about 20 gallons per minute. To give you some context on just how much water that is, a free-flowing water pipe could fill up one of those utility buckets in about 15 seconds.

Once the damage is done, it only gets worse until you begin fixing it, thanks to mold growth. And when you begin the cleanup process, pretty much everything needs to be replaced, including carpet, drywall, and insulation (not to mention any of your personal items like furniture. It might be worth attempting to dry out everything the best you can, but sometimes the damage has already been done.

To add insult to injury, insurers don’t like to insure homes where there has been significant water damage. It can not only cause your rates to rise, it can make selling your home a real hassle later on if companies refuse to insure it for new buyers.

Now, we’re not saying that water leak sensors are the end-all solution for preventing water damage. After all, they still won’t prevent water leaks or burst pipes. However, they’ll let you know the instant that water is detected in a place where it shouldn’t be, which then lets you take control of the situation to mitigate any further damage.

This is great for when you’re away from home and would have no clue of a burst pipe otherwise—a few days’ worth of water shooting out of a burst pipe can do a lot of damage. Hopefully, you’ve made the habit of turning off your water main whenever you go on vacation, but even if you’re at work, a couple of hours of water flow can still do plenty of damage.

How to Install Water Leak Sensors

There are several smart water leak sensors available on the market. Any of them would do the trick, but the important thing is that you get one that works with your smarthome hub. If you don’t have a smarthome hub, you can get Wi-Fi water sensors that connect directly to your home’s Wi-Fi. However, if you start piling up on these water sensors, there’s a greater chance that your Wi-Fi network gets bogged down with so many devices. This is why we like to use Z-Wave and a smarthome hub for smaller devices around the house.

You can also get “dumb” water sensors, but all they do is sound an alarm when they detect water, which isn’t helpful at all when you’re away from home. However, they’re generally cheaper than their smart counterparts, and they’re better than nothing. However, we’ll be taking a closer look at smart water sensors, specifically this one from Aeotec.

Water sensors are pretty simple, and they work by having two contact points that are disconnected from each other. Whenever the two contact points both make contact with water (since water is conductive), it completes the circuit and activates the alarm (and sends an alert to your phone if it’s a smart sensor).

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After you set up the sensor and connect it to your hub (in my case, I have a Wink hub), it’s important that you install the water sensor correctly. It’s pretty easy with some sensors (like the SmartThings water sensor) where the contacts are on the bottom of the sensor so that you can just place it on a flat surface. However, with the one I have, the contacts are attached via a long wire and need to be properly mounted to something.

With that said, it’s important that you don’t just lay the contacts flat on the surface horizontally, as they’ll be a few millimeters off the ground. Thus, water would have to form a fairly substantial puddle before making contact with the water sensor. Instead, mount the contacts vertical facing down, so that both contacts are touching the surface. That way, any water whatsoever will trigger the sensor.

From there, the main sensor body can be mounted somewhere up higher using the included screws or adhesive strips (the main body isn’t waterproof). The contacts themselves can also be mounted using an adhesive strip if need be.

After that, whenever the sensor comes into contact with water, you can have your smarthome hub’s companion app send you an alert on your phone. Or if you have an alarm or siren set up as well, you can also connect it to that so that it sounds an alarm whenever a water leak is detected.

Image from michelmond/Shutterstock

Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.