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What is a leak detection system?

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

A leak detection system monitors the flow of water through a pipeline. When abnormal behavior is detected, the system cuts off the water flow to the entirety of the household by closing a valve within the leak detector. Without the detection system, water leaks can flood your home thereby requiring flood water extraction services. Leak detection systems are usually installed at the water’s point of entry into the home. This way, no matter the problem, water flow can be shut off from every water-using fixture and appliance, protecting the whole of your home from disastrous and expensive damage. Whether a toilet flapper becomes jammed, a tub is left running too long, or a fitting bursts behind a wall, a leak detection system will immediately recognize the escalation in water usage.

Notably, leak detection systems are programmable, letting you customize shut-off settings based on your household’s water usage patterns. They also connect to smartphones via an app, sending you and your Home Watch Professional alerts when they detect irregular water flow. This allows you to protect your property remotely, whether you are at work or on a vacation thousands of miles away from your home.

The Wi-Fi connectivity of most leak detection systems gives you the power to monitor your water usage in real-time. The leak detectors will notify you via an app when a leak has sprung, cutting off water flow before the small leak morphs into a catastrophe. Though the leak detection systems are equipped with smart valves that will immediately stop water flow when they sense flooding, the real-time tracking lends helpful insight into your household’s water usage. Many leak detectors have both live and historical data visible within the app. Using this data, you can observe when your water consumption is highest and what appliances or fixtures are triggering the water usage.

Leak detection systems are also capable of detecting when pipes are in danger of freezing. When pipes freeze, they are at risk of cracking or bursting, (as water will expand as it hardens into a solid form). This can lead to costly plumbing repairs, not to mention potential flooding if the pipes thaw and water flows through a broken pipe.

Why install a leak detection system?

A leak detection system protects your home from one of the most common and costly damages to households and notifies your Home Watch Company.. A plumbing leak is more likely to damage your home than fire, lightning, or burglary. Every year, 8.1% of homes will experience a plumbing leak, contributing to over $10 billion in insurance claims. In fact, on average, American household wastes 10,000 gallons of water every year due to water leaks. These can come from sources as seemingly innocuous as a stuck toilet flapper or a small under-sink leak in your guest bathroom. However, over time, these small leaks accumulate thousands of gallons of wasted water. Just like it’s essential to install smoke detectors in your home’s bedrooms to protect yourself in the event of a fire, installing a leak detection system can alert you and your Home Watch Company of leaks before they become disastrous.

Furthermore, water damage goes hand-in-hand with mold. Mold can pose very serious health risks. Mold aggravates allergic conditions, causing eye irritation, sneezing, runny noses, and even exacerbates skin rashes. Inhalation of mold spores can also cause asthma attacks in those with severe mold allergies. Babies, infants and toddlers, elderly people, and those with pre-existing health conditions are all at elevated risk of illness associated with mold exposure. Even small under-counter leaks can lead to the proliferation of mold over time if they are left unaddressed. This often requires complete mold remediation.

How does a leak detection system work?

Leak detection systems work by monitoring water flow through either a mechanical turbine or ultrasonic wavelengths. These leak detection systems observe the pattern of the water flow, either by counting the gallonage passing through the sensor or sonically recording the time delay. Other leak detectors also cut off the water by detecting the presence of moisture. If these leak detection systems sense moisture is reaching the floorboards, a mechanical valve is triggered that will block water flow. Moisture-sensing leak detectors are better suited for under-sink of point-of-use applications. Whole-house leak detection systems tend to track water usage to detect potential leaks.

Mechanical leak detection systems use an impeller to count the gallons as they pass through the unit. As water flows through the system, the blades on the impeller fan spin. As the fan spins, the gallonage of water passing through the system is recorded and communicated back to the system. This type of mechanical leak detection system works by physically tracking the water flow. Water demand in a home usually comes in intervals, like when running a dishwasher or brushing your teeth. Sustained periods of water flow indicate to the system that a leak is present somewhere in the plumbing.

The leak detection system can be toggled between two modes: “Home” and “Away”. On the “Home” setting, water flow can run interrupted for 30 minutes before the smart sensor in the ball valve will shut off the water supply. This setting allows residents to freely use water without triggering the device. Though some water applications will use water consistently for extended periods (like the washing machine or watering plants), it is unlikely for water to be continuously used for more than 30 minutes, even if people are at home.

The “Away” setting will only allow for 30 seconds of uninterrupted water flow before the smart sensor shuts off the valve and the water supply to the house is halted. These two modes can be set to correspond with your usual work hours. If you plan on taking a vacation, you can set the to stay in “Away” mode until you return from your travels. Similarly, if you have a vacation home, w can set it in the “Away” mode for the majority of the year to ensure your second property isn’t devastated by water damage while you’re not there. These settings can be adjusted to reflect your water usage habits.

Why do water leaks occur?

Water leaks frequently happen because of water hammers, extreme pressures, corrosion, or aging plumbing. A water hammer is a surge of water pressure resulting from the water changing directions or stopping abruptly. When you open a faucet to wash your hands, water rushes through your plumbing and out through the faucet. When you close the faucet handle, all of the energy and inertia propelling the water from the water main out through the faucet is met with a harsh stop. This dramatic shift in momentum and dissipation of energy is known as hydraulic shock, more commonly referred to as water hammer. If you’ve heard a banging or clanking sound rattling around your copper pipes, that is a prime example of a water hammer. Water hammer is a nuisance both because of the noises and vibrations it produces. However, it can also have deleterious effects on your plumbing. Severe episodes of water hammer can damage fittings and valves, causing them to fail. Water hammer can also beat away at plumbing over time, weakening the integrity of the pipes and leading to pinhole leaks. The damage brought on by water hammer pulses can be mitigated by expansion tanks, pressure regulating valves, or water hammer arrestors.

Extreme pressures can also damage pipes. As previously mentioned, freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on a home’s plumbing. If water freezes within pipes, it will expand. This increased exertion of pressure on the pipes can cause cracks and even lead to pipes bursting altogether. This is especially a risk if your pipes are made of metal like steel or copper. However, stainless steel braided hoses are also much less likely to burst or crack than rubber hoses.

Corroded or aged plumbing is also at high risk of sprouting a pinhole leak. Certain water conditions, like acidic water, can deteriorate metal plumbing over time. Galvanized steel plumbing is susceptible to rust. As rust weakens the pipes, small leaks will emerge. If these pinhole leaks occur in a concealed place, like behind a wall, in the basement, or guest home, these small leaks can cause jaw-dropping damage before they’re caught and addressed. However, a leak detection system will identify these small leaks the moment they emerge and before they cascade into enormously expensive repair projects.

How much does a leak detection system cost?

Leak detection systems for the whole house cost between $500-$2,500, depending on the system that is installed. Some homeowners may need to hire a plumber to install the system. Depending on the length of the installation and the hourly rate of the plumber, this can add another $200-$500 to the installation costs.

There are systems on the market that cost considerably less, however, these systems usually cannot turn your water off. These are usually referred to as water monitors. The Water Monitor also employs ultrasonic technology to observe the behavior of the water flow and will alert you to irregularities via the in-phone app. These units are quite affordable, costing around $200. They also fit snugly on top of your water pipes, eliminating the need for costly and labor-intensive installations. However, in the event of a leak, they are unable to prevent any damage from occurring. They will send an alert to us and the homeowner, letting us know it sensed abnormal water usage. Water monitors are useful for catching small leaks before they become more insidious problems. However, these systems are not ideal for vacation homes or properties you do not have convenient access to unless it's monitored by a Home Watch Professional Company.

Let us help you prevent this.



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