1 A COMPARISON OF WATER LEAK DETECTION AND SHUTOFF SYSTEMS By Charles Ergle January 16, 2012 As every appraiser knows, water damage is the single highest continual source of claims at Chubb. Fires happen, homes get broken into, and hurricanes & tornadoes come and go, but water is the true enemy. Icemakers leak, water heaters fail, every spring the toilets explode, water pipes freeze and burst, and washing machine hoses get old and finally break. Murphy s Law is always in full effect, as these things generally happen thirty minutes after our insureds go to Europe for Summer or Colorado in Winter. When they get home, or when the housekeeper finally goes into the house after taking her own little vacation while the owners are gone, the place is a mess at best, or a biology experiment at worst. In the past, our more astute clients would assign someone to shut the water off and drain the pipes; the other 98 percent wouldn t do anything. Now, however, technology as presented us with several methods of either preventing or mitigating these types of losses by shutting off the water until necessary or on command, sensing water flowing when it shouldn t be and shutting it off, or sensing water where it shouldn t be and shutting it off. All systems designed for residential use have UL, cul, IAPMO, NSF, ISO, FM, and/or NEMKO-NRTL tested and certified components. TYPE 1: WATER SHUTOFF SYSTEMS These types of systems are the simplest in that all they do is shut the water off, or keep it from flowing if it isn t needed. Some are whole house, and some are point of use. Costs vary, but are usually well under $1,000 (add for installation as necessary). Flo-Guard: ( ) Flo-Guard is a whole house water shutoff, the philosophy being that, if a system is sensor based it only activates after it detects water and the damage is already done. This system either turns the water off by a manual wall switch (flip the switch to off as you leave, back to on when you return), by connecting it to the security system keypad (as you activate the alarm system upon leaving, the water is shut off at the main supply pipe leading into the house; it can be set up so if the perimeter system is active when you are home, it won t shut the water off), or by integrating it into a smart home control system. It can also be set with a delay feature, and can be set to allow water to flow for irrigation systems, humidifiers, or any other water-using systems that must be active while the home is unoccupied. It can be connected to a monitored alarm, but only to notify them when water is allowed to flow. Cost is around $650. Intelliflow Automatic Washing Machine Shutoff:
2 Intelliflow is a point of use shutoff that works by connecting the washing machine hot and cold water lines after it has been installed in the main washing machine water interface; then, the washer s electrical connection is plugged into the Intelliflow device. When the washer isn t running, its water supply is off; when the washer is turned on, Intelliflow detects the electrical current flow and turns the water on. Newer models can incorporate a water sensor, if that is desired. FloodMaster FM-090 ( ) FloodMaster FM-090 is very similar to Intelliflow, and includes an audible alarm. Wagsvalve: ( ) WAGS is an acronym for Water And Gas Safety. Wagsvalve is a point of use shutoff for gas water heaters. Both the water and the gas lines are connected to the Wagsvalve, and then water and gas lines are run from it to the water heater. One advantage of the Wagsvalve is that it can be configured to handle multiple water heaters. It works by using a water sensor in the drip pan if water is detected, the valve turns both the water and gas off, so only the water in the tank leaks out, and the gas isn t on trying to heat something that isn t there (with an empty tank, the thermostat would be dry and at ambient temperature, so would remain closed, which would keep the flame burning trying to heat the nonexistent water), minimizing the possibility of a fire. It can also be wired into the home s security system. FloodMaster FM-094 ( ) FloodMaster FM-094 is very similar to Wagsvalve, but it does NOT shut off the gas supply. It includes an audible alarm. Leak Controller ( ) is point of use, battery operated, and designed to shut water off on an ice maker, refrigerator, coffee maker, or other similar small water using appliance with a narrow diameter (1/4 to ½ ) quick disconnect fitting. It uses a sensor placed near the appliance, and has a battery life of about a year. It is not monitored, but sounds an alarm if activated. TYPE 2: SENSOR BASED LEAK DETECTION AND SHUTOFF All systems below feature manual shut off switches, so can function similarly to Flo- Guard as necessary. They use individual water sensors that send a signal to the main control panel. Prices run from $500 to $1,500; add 50%-100% for installation. The FloodStopper ( ) The FloodStopper uses individual sensors placed at points of use (water heaters, toilets, washing machines, dishwashers, icemakers, etc.); these sensors can be either hardwired or wireless. When water is detected at the point of use, a signal is sent to the
3 main control panel, and a valve turns water off at the main supply pipe into the house. An audible, visual, or monitored alarm then activates. The leak is isolated by the control panel into one of as many as four zones, and a search of the affected zone will turn up the culprit. Batteries in the wireless sensors last about a year. FloodMaster FM-080 and FM-180 ( ) Both FloodMaster products are very similar to FloodStopper. WaterCop ( ) WaterCop is very similar to both of the above, but relies primarily on wireless sensors (no worries about hardwiring, easy to retrofit, range in large structures can be extended through a series of radio repeaters). Sensor batteries last about a year. Other similar systems are Water Safe, Pipeburst Pro (includes low temperature sensing), Home Heart Beat, and Water Titan. Aqua Gate ( ) Aqua Gate is a battery powered non-monitored low cost version of the above. TYPE 3: FLOW SENSOR BASED LEAK DETECTION AND SHUTOFF These types of systems use a very sensitive pressure sensor mounted on the main water line into the home; when water flows, even at very small rates, the pressure drop is sensed and a signal is sent to the control box; if it meets preset criteria, the valve is turned off. All systems feature user-addressable control panels (install near the primary alarm control panel), manual shut offs, and can be monitored by an alarm company. These systems, by necessity, are also designed to be used in Home and Away Modes. They should be installed downstream of irrigation/pool fill/fire sprinkler systems. They cost from $900 to $3,400, with most averaging around $1,000 to $1,500; these prices do not include taxes or professional installation (a good rule of thumb would be to add 50% to $100% to the base cost). Home Mode assumes water will flow at high volumes intermittently (this assumes water never flows all the time in most residential situations), and allows water to flow continuously until a predetermined time limit is exceeded, then the system shuts the water off. If water is detected flowing constantly at very small amounts (lower limits can be set), the system will shut the water off. These settings can be changed, and even overridden in some cases, but that generally defeats the purpose of the system. Away Mode assumes there will be no-to-minimal water use. The system can be set to account for water softener or ice maker demands, but will shut the water off if any unaccounted for flow is detected.
4 The H2OBreaker ( ) The H2OBreaker can be programmed for elapsed time of flow (in minutes) and for volume of flow (in gallons) for any single water use period. It also monitors the changes in flow rate, and can differentiate between normal flow and a leak by detecting the decrease in flow rate when a water-using device turns off (unlikely in an actual plumbing failure). The active control can be switched off from any faucet by turning it on-off-on; this tells the controller to allow water to flow until the faucet is turned off again, ideal for filling a pool or watering a lawn. The controller also checks to see if a detected leak is real by pulsing the water off-and-on several times before fully shutting flow to the house off this allows the homeowner to override it by turning the faucet off, if this is the case and the detected leak is not real. The controller is programmed to learn normal residential water uses to prevent future false alarms. If no override is detected, water is fully shut off until reset at the control panel. No information about battery backup. FloLogic ( ) FloLogic is a more basic programmable system than above, in that it can be set for flow times and flow rates. The shutoff valve assembly can be plumbed inside the house, or buried out at the meter (however, downstream of any lawn irrigation/automatic pool fill/fire sprinkler systems!!). Flow rates as low as an ounce a minute can be detected. The system has a battery backup capable of powering it for a week in the event of a power outage. Leak Defense System by Sentinel Hydrosolutions ( ) Leak Defense System is a bit more sophisticated than FloLogic, otherwise they are very similar. In Home Mode it has a warning feature which activates 1 minute prior to shutoff an audible alarm sounds, and water flow is restricted; this can be reset during the warning period by shutting off all flowing water for 1 minute. Flow rates of as low as 8 ounces an HOUR can be detected (vs 60 per hour for FloLogic) this is less than one drop per second. TYPE 4: HYBRID SENSOR AND FLOW LEAK DETECTION & SHUTOFF The best of both worlds in terms of water leak detection, but more complicated to install and maintain. It can interface with an alarm system. Only one was researched: The Water Controller by Hydrocom ( ) The Water Controller also has temperature sensing capability (less than or equal to 40 degrees F inside for more than 20 minutes activates the valve). It can operate up to 32 wireless water sensors as well as hard wired ones, has a battery backup, an audible alarm, and can display daily water usage to aid in water conservation. Cost installed is about $1,500 and up, depending on number of sensors, etc.
5 SUMMARY AS IT PERTAINS TO SENTINEL HYDROSOLUTIONS LEAK DEFENSE SYSTEM: Leak Defense System s only real differences from its competitors is that it has a much more sensitive flow sensor (8 ounces per hour vs. 60 for FloLogic, as a comparison), and an audible alarm. The very sensitive flow detector may or may not be problematic, as in my experience almost no home s plumbing system is truly water tight (especially when it comes to toilet tank valves). Such a sensitive component might cause the system to shut water off when it doesn t need to. Over time this could prompt a homeowner to either dial down the sensitivity, or to bypass the system entirely, thereby defeating the purpose. In reality, most leaks are going to flow more water anyway, as the plumbing system s internal water pressure will cause any failed component to spew water at much more than 8 ounces an hour. The audible alarm is nice to have, but in our clients homes these leak detection systems will most likely be connected to a monitored alarm system. As Murphy s Law is in full effect, most of these leaks will occur either when the home is unoccupied; a properly installed and connected system will be armed when the alarm system is armed, so the monitoring company will pick up on the water event and alert the proper people within minutes. I was more impressed by: The H2OBreaker as a pure flow detection type system due to its more variable adjustability than most other systems. The Water Controller by Hydrocom incorporates flow and sensor technologies into one system, along with a low temperature sensing capability. Lisa Klehr in Denver has done extensive research on the Hydrocom system; her only concern with them was their very aggressive sales approach.
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