Property and Vacation Home Management using WiFi and Cellular Temperature Monitoring Devices

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1 Property and Vacation Home Management using WiFi and Cellular Temperature Monitoring Devices Considerations when selecting and using automatic environmental monitoring devices for vacation and rental home properties to help prevent damage due to extreme temperatures. Fall and the coming winter brings many things: annual holiday celebrations, garden harvests, colorful nature displays, followed in many locations by long nights and the accompanying cold temperatures occasionally combined with ice and snow. For some, this is a time to pull out that good book you ve been saving, play family board games, sit by the fireplace with a good cup of coffee, tea or cocoa, and relax. For others, it heralds the thoughts of ski slopes, toboggans, ice skating, and rustic lodges. Joys and Sorrows of Winter Weather Cost of Water Damage from Leaky Pipes For Property Managers and Vacation Home Owners, thoughts come to mind about the potential for damage to water pipes should heating systems fail and pipes freeze. And these thoughts are not without merit. According to one source (Link to Source) using an extrapolation of California water damage loss data from the Insurance Industry Institute, insurers paid an estimated $5.6 trillion in claims in The analysis further notes that water damage due to leaky or burst frozen pipes accounts for 32% of all claims in 2001, up from 24% in 1997, with the average claim costing $4,730. Repair costs are rising in some cases due to mold treatment remediation costs. And with increasing homeowner awareness of the potential dangers of mold, repair costs due to water leaks are likely to rise. The author of the analysis described notes teasing out the cost of frozen pipes is not straightforward as much if the insurance industry data is proprietary. One data point is a 1998 U.S. government laboratory study about energy efficiency (Link to Lawrence Berkeley Lab Study) where it was noted, The U.S. insurance industry paid $4.5 billion in claims during a 10-year period for freezing pipes in 17 southeastern states. A straight line extrapolation leads to an annual loss of $1.38 billion per year for the entire U.S., and that was before costs due to mold have increased for business and home owner losses.

2 More recently, a State Farm press release reported the number of frozen pipe claims nearly tripled nationally, from 9,000 claims to more than 26,000 claims, between 2008 and 2009, the last year for which data is available, with losses in Kentucky, Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire and Colorado leading the list. Link to State Farm Press Release 2010 Frequency of Frozen Pipe Claims in US (Source: State Farm) Property Owner Options to Prevent Frozen Pipe Damage Several things can be done to help prevent frozen pipes. One is to relocate pipes in crawl spaces and exterior walls, but this can be difficult and expensive. Some low cost methods are to insulate exposed pipes, open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to piping under sinks and vanities near exterior walls, or leave a trickle of water running in pipes exposed to cold air when there is a chance of freezing, although the later method may cost more if the water is running in hot water pipes. A third way is to drain the pipes, a common practice usually done when owners are winterizing three season remote cabins or vacation homes, but this may not be practical in year round residences.

3 Many vacant property owners have water pipes that are not normally threatened, say for a ski resort condominium where the owners use the property most weekends during the winter, because they leave the heat on. But even these properties can experience problems when electrical power is interrupted or heating system fuel runs out. One such property sustained significant damage when water pipes in exposed restroom walls burst, causing flooding in the unit and several thousands of dollars of damage to the interior as well as covering the parking spaces below the condos with ice. Covered parking below condo with water from frozen, burst restroom pipes. Additional Steps to Help Prevent Frozen Water Pipe Damage Wireless Technology Approaches Cost-effective electronic environmental monitoring devices coupled with wireless and cellular technology have recently provided the backbone for warning system. Modern WiFi and cellular communications coupled with reliable temperature sensors and cloud based monitoring software offers robust, fault-tolerant systems that send alerts when temperatures reach dangerous levels so that action can be taken before problems get out of hand and expensive repairs are needed.

4 WiFi Based Temperature Monitoring Devices WiFi temperature monitoring systems operate through the property s WiFi network. Sensors can be placed anywhere in the home, particularly where water pipes are located, and automatically monitor temperatures. When the temperature dips below the user set threshold, an and/or SMS text message can be sent to one or more recipients letting them know of potential danger. This approach works very well when heating systems fail to operate properly. However, because they operate over the property s computer network, WiFi devices cannot send messages when the network is down, say when the cable company or electrical power services are interrupted. Some WiFi monitoring device suppliers have overcome this limitation using low-cost web-based monitoring plans. Typical operation in this mode is for the WiFi temperature monitor to send temperature readings to reliable, secure servers at regular intervals, every 15 minutes for example. The cloud based system can be set to note when alerts are not sent on time after a few intervals, say three 15 minute reporting intervals. In this example, after three reporting intervals the users can set the device to send an alert, letting them know there s a potential problem due to a loss of communication. Two sensor port WiFi monitoring device (left) and temperature sensor (right) Cellular Temperature Monitoring Devices Cellular temperature monitoring devices operate like WiFi except that they use cellular carrier networks instead of cable or satellite. Cellular monitors require subscription plans; state-of-the-art-devcies suppliers employ web based cloud services for the user interface. All set-up, alert setting, and data logging is done on-line, so fault-tolerant operation is built in. Cellular monitoring offers additional levels of fault protection it does not rely on the user s computer network to get the message out, and with back up batteries, will continue to monitor and send out data even when site power outages occur. Advanced features can include escalation plan tools which allow users to set multiple temperature alerting thresholds and send multiple alerts to several recipients to makes sure someone gets the critical message. Additionally, innovative cellular devices provide not only and SMS text alerts, but may

5 be programmed to call the user s phone so that critical messages get through even when they may be asleep. The most advanced devices employ iphone and Android Apps for smartphone users. In addition to temperature, a host of additional sensors can be added to WiFi and cellular devices, such as water leak and humidity, providing an additional level of peace of mind when it comes to vacant property management. Four port Cellular Temperature Monitoring Device (left) and Cloud Based User Interface (right) Summary Cold weather brings its joys and sorrows. Skiing, ice skating, tobogganing, sledding, and the latest design coats, hats, scarves and boots are a few of the joys of winter. Higher heating bills, shoveling snow, and damage due to extreme cold are some of the downsides. Home owners and property managers who find vacant homes in their care have an additional charge: making sure water pipes are safe from freezing. Several easy, inexpensive ways to help prevent damage are available, including a small trickle of water left running. For times when this is not possible or when the cold becomes extreme, additional measures may be needed. Wireless communications combines with electronic temperature sensors can provide a level of alerting protection when traditional methods fail. Insuring wireless monitoring devices are fault tolerant, especially in remote areas where power outages are likely to happen, is a practice that can help insure a happy, safe property owner experience. In the end, spring will come, so enjoy the cold weather and be safe.

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