Smart Water Leak Detector: Flume Water Monitor
Water leak detection is an industry with millions of dollars at stake. Water damage is one of the top claims on homeowners insurance, and it’s usually not from natural disasters; it’s from preventable things like the washing machine overflowing, a busted pipe in the wall, or a leaky valve in the garden.
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains links that may earn us a commission from Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We received the Flume 2 Smart Home Water Monitor as part of this review. Opinions and conclusions are our own.
One of our first smart home products was the Nest thermostat. In addition to keeping the house comfortable, you can set a low threshold on the thermostat, so your house never gets cold enough for your pipes to burst. This is great if you have a vacation home that you don’t want to pay to heat when you’re not there but don’t want it to become flooded.
We later added a couple of water leak detectors to our house that connected to our smart home hub that would warn us if they sensed water. We put one under the sink after we had a busted disposal, and we put one in the laundry room to would alert us if the washing machine flooded. Unfortunately, if we weren’t home, there wasn’t much we could do if there was a leak or a flood.
Testing our Water Leak Detectors
We learned this the hard way when we were spending the night in San Francisco and our smart home hub, the Lowe’s Iris at the time, kept alerting us that there was a leak under our sink. The Iris had a great feature, it would call you in case of an emergency. Well, we thought it was great until it kept calling and calling, and we weren’t planning to be home for a while.
Luckily we able to get a hold of our housekeepers, who had been over to the house earlier that day and came back to verify that there was no flood in our kitchen. We guess that when they were cleaning around the sink, some water must have dripped down in between the edge and triggered the water leak monitor. We fixed this with some caulking, but the whole event was annoying and stressful. If we hadn’t had that water leak sensor, we probably would never have noticed there was a problem, and it would have taken years for any visible water damage to appear under the sink.
As the smart home market has continued to evolve, water leak detection systems have started to gain more traction. We started seeing new solutions at CES and CEDIA, using more sophisticated technologies. After our experience with the water leak, we were especially excited about having the ability to turn off our water automatically or remotely when something went wrong. That day we were two hours away, but what if we were in Italy or New Zealand? Our house could flood while we were sleeping and we’d wake up to a notification of a leak.
Adding Water Shutoff Capability
After some research, we decided to try out the Guardian by Elexa. We liked that it was something that just clamped on to the water shutoff valve that we could control remotely, and that we could pair it with long lasting water leak detectors that could turn off the water in case of an emergency. And with the optional battery, it will even shut off the water if a leak is detected and the power is out.
Since we bought the Guardian, we’ve seen lots of different solutions for monitoring for leaks and shutting off the water. Our Guardian works with their specific water leak sensors that we can place around the house, near the washing machine, in the bathrooms, or other locations that might leak. The Guardian sensors are wireless and promise long battery life, up to 10 years, a definite improvement over our original sensors. We can set our Guardian to automatically shut off the water if one of these sensors detects water, or we can turn our water on and off at any time or from anywhere, from an app on our phone.
The Guardian is great and definitely a step up from the old system that just notified us if there was a leak without the ability to do anything about it. However, not all water leaks start by just spilling over onto a sensor. Plenty of them start in the wall if a pipe starts to deteriorate. You could also have a leaky toilet that could take months or even years to diagnose.
Getting Smarter about our Water Usage
Several companies have been developing solutions to monitor a home’s water usage, using lots of clever technology and artificial intelligence. We love the Flo by Moen solution, an elegant all-in-one device that you can install in-line within your home plumbing system, but we have hesitated to try it because of the expense and risk of hiring a plumber to come in and cut into our pipes to install it. If we were building a new house, it might be a different story.
We prefer to use something easier to install and non-invasive, such as the Streamlabs device that clamps onto your main water pipe inside your home to monitor the sonic waves to detect issues. Streamlabs is a great solution if you install it in the right place, but our water line enters in a wall and splits to two lines inside, and the only line we could access was the feed to the hot water tank in the attic. Now we have a great way to track the usage of our hot water only.
We also have two separate water meters for our home, one for our house and another for the recycled water we use for irrigation. We pay less for the recycled water, but a leak in either system would be expensive, not to mention wasteful. That’s why we were so excited to learn about the Flume water monitoring system at CES 2020.
We first saw the Flume at the Orbit Irrigation booth. Orbit was demonstrating their new B-hyve XR smart sprinkler controller that promised to work with the Flume, so we could see how much water we use, and get an alert if something went wrong. Since we once left our hose running overnight to fill up a fountain, this sounded like a really great idea.
Easy to install
The best part of the Flume is the ease of installation. We don’t have to dig in our walls or climb in our attic. We just strap the sensor to our water meter using a very strong rubber band and it starts watching our water usage from the meter, the same way that our water company determines how to bill us. It’s very accurate and reliable.
Monitoring two water meters
We got our first Flume last spring and put it on our recycled water meter. Once we installed it and the app and set up the notification alerts, there’s not much else to it. It keeps an eye on our water usage and will tell us if something is out of the ordinary.
What’s been even more interesting is our second Flume that we added recently to our home water meter. Now we are finally getting data on our in-home water usage, something we’ve wanted for some time.
The Flume learns your patterns and will alert you if something looks different. So far, at home, we’ve been alerted when filling up the bathtub or if we let the water run in the kitchen longer than normal, and our Flume on the recycled water meter helped us diagnose a leaky valve in our sprinkler system.
But what we’re most interested in is getting alerts when we’re away. When we leave, we can turn on an alert in the Flume to notify us if there’s any water usage in the home. That way we can feel confident that we will get an alert if there is a real problem, and with our Guardian water shutoff system we can turn the water off to avoid further damage. Whether we are at the grocery store or in Europe, we feel safer knowing we can better avoid a water damage catastrophe.
Unfortunately Guardian and Flume don’t talk to each other, which would be better of course, but as long time smart home users we’ve come to expect that. Very few companies making speciality devices can afford to integrate with each other, and if they do connect with another platform, it would be with Amazon, Google or Apple. We are still hopeful that smart home standards will address that in the future, but we know we’ll be doing this manually for a while.
Flume 2 vs the Original Flume Water Leak Detector
The Flume 2 is almost identical to the original Flume, but it includes a few significant upgrades. The Flume 2 battery will last twice as long if you add a second battery, and they’ve improved the Wi-Fi chip and gateway to make it faster, longer range and more stable. It also looks a little nicer than the original Flume, though that doesn’t matter much since in our case it’s underground.
Working with our Irrigation System
In the fall we also added the B-hyve XR smart sprinkler. We had been using a Rachio smart sprinkler for years, and while it was still working great, we wanted the ability to be able to use the Flume and the XR together so we could better keep track of what’s going on in our garden.
Now when the B-hyve runs a zone, the Flume tells it, and therefore us, how much water was used, via the B-hyve app. It’s another way to help adjust your sprinklers for maximum efficiency, instead of just waiting for the grass to yellow and guessing if you need to add water. You can also use this to determine if a zone is using more water than expected, which may indicate a broken dripper or sprinkler head.
Opportunities for improvement
We think the Flume is a great, practical way to keep track of our water usage, but there are some features we’d love to see.
We’re not sure how many homeowners like us have two separate water meters, but we do and we would be interested to see a consolidated view of our water usage in the Flume app. Right now they are listed separately.
While the B-hyve XR sprinkler and the Flume work together, it would be nice if the devices could take action based on the data instead of just reporting it. For instance, when the B-hyve watering cycle is complete, but the water is still running, it would be nice if Flume or B-hyve alerted us right away since it should know that the B-hyve is not watering immediately. For now, we have this set up manually in the app through an alert.
As we mentioned before, it would be great for the Flume to work with other water shutoff products such the Guardian, so that in an emergency, the Flume could trigger the Guardian to shut off the water. It would be even better if the Flume, the Guardian and the other water leak sensors we have in our house could talk to each other to diagnose a potential water issue before it starts. While we know this is an industry problem, it would be great if Flume could at least work with IFTTT to create and send triggers that we set up manually.
It would also be great if the Flume knew when we were both away, using location services, so it could immediately alert us in case of a water event. We have this set up manually now and turn it on if we travel for a few days, but it would be much easier for it to be automatic.
Finally, we’d love to know more about how we’re using our water and how better to conserve. It would be great if the Flume could use AI and machine learning to learn about our habits so we could figure out which things are using water and how much each uses, for instance running the shower, flushing the toilet, using the dishwasher. Flume is working on AI and they have a beta that tries to figure out if water use is for irrigation or the home.
For us, the Flume Smart Home Water Monitor is one of the best devices we’ve installed in years. It is easy to install, provides really accurate data, and the batteries last for a long time. With the combination of the Flume and our remote water shutoff capability, we feel confident we can detect water leaks and reduce the risk of catastrophic water damage if we’re traveling, and hopefully save some precious water in the meantime.