Either it's happened to you, or you probably know someone who's had it happen to them. I'm talking about the unfortunate circumstance of a major flood in a home caused by a burst pipe or broken plumbing component. Knock on wood, it's never happened to us in our home, but it's occurred in my parents' second floor laundry room, the second floor bathroom of an aunt and uncle, and the upstairs bathroom of another friend. In each occurrence, a burst pipe, broken washer on the toilet, or cracked washing machine part resulted in a several hour long interior waterfall that ultimately ended in thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in damage, weeks or months of inconvenience, and a level of frustration I'd rather not imagine.

Given the level of effort we put into our home, we've done all we can to ensure we are not one of the millions of insurance statistics filing a claim for water damage. We use braided metal hoses or solid metal supply lines on all fixtures (where possible), we shut off the water entirely when we go on vacation, we check our connections regularly for minor signs of leaks, and we use connections and shut off valves that are appropriate for each place they are installed, like this polished nickel brass supply line with high quality quarter turn valve in the guest bathroom. 

All that being said, we have no protection against a broken part or burst pipe causing a leak that is allowed to run for hours or days while we're away, damaging floors, walls, ceilings, and all of the precious items we've worked so long and hard to build or restore. Honestly, I'm such a serious worrier I don't know how I've been able to sleep at night or function as a normal person with this horrible possibility hanging over our head.

After knowing so many people affected by similar situations and the crippling paranoia that has started to mount in my chest since I started writing this blog post, I have something that may be able to lower my blood pressure just a bit. A while back I began researching fail-safe options for our house. I felt there had to be something that would be able to sense a major leak in progress and shut down the water main rather than allowing it to gush until we return home. Though nothing is foolproof, a water sensor and auto shutoff valve seems like pretty a great way to control some of the uncertainty. Well, wouldn't you know it, I'm not the first one that had this idea, and there are a slew of products out there that can help protect your home from a catastrophic water disaster.

After much research, we settled on a product called the "WaterCop." The device is an inline and remote controlled water shut off valve that installs directly on your house's main water supply line. It comes with several radio frequency sensors that install in the various locations around your home where major leaks often start and cause significant damage, such as behind toilets, under sinks, around water heaters or washing machines, or anywhere water might tend to accumulate form a burst pipe.

The whole package consists of just a few parts. The box comes with a 1/4 turn shut off valve, the remote operated actuator that controls the position of the valve, and several leak sensors (the number depends on the package that you order). 

The sensors run off of battery or auxiliary power via an adapter and have a lead that is placed within cabinets or on the floor near potential trouble spots. If the lead senses water, it sends a remote signal to the WaterCop main unit in the basement to activate the mechanism, which turns the value into the off position, hopefully greatly reducing the amount of damage from a leaking pipe or fixture. Additionally, the sensor makes a high pitched beep when it comes in contact with a liquid, so you know where the leak may be occurring. Pretty novel idea, I'd say.

The true workhorse of this product is the combination of a quarter turn ball shut off valve with a special operating fitting..

...and the main mechanical housing, that plugs into a nearby outlet. When plugged in the housing is always "listening" for a signal to close if a sensor touches water. Two front mounted buttons offer the ability to manually test or reset the device. And the one other cool thing on the device is the housing's auxiliary I/O port on the front. The manual comes with a pin-out wiring diagram that I may be able to use to program an add on board that would notify me if the valve closes or even allow me to open or close the valve from my iPhone/the Internet. Cool? Yep, I think so too.

While I wish we could say this was a sponsored post and we got this for free (because it sure wasn't cheap), it's not, that's for sure. But in this case, as with many "insurance" items around the house, an ounce of protection is hopefully worth thousands of pounds of soggy home renovation prevention.

Though we're hopeful for the function of the product, I know this device has some drawbacks to be aware of, but they are rather hard to get around in just about any product. It's reliant on electricity to function, so if we have a power outage and a leak at the same time, the battery sensors will beep but the valve won't shut off. Additionally, if the leak occurs where a sensor isn't located, such as within a wall, we have no protection. 

Placement of the sensor is critical. If the floor isn't level and the leak doesn't accumulate near the sensor, it can leak for hours and never shut off. And finally, false positives are a concern. If we're cleaning and get the sensor wet, it will shut our water supply and require a reset. But all of these things are okay as long as you know them going into the job.

The install of this great device *should* be very straight forward. We're planning on installing it in the next several days, so we'll hopefully be back with a little install guide that tells you just how simple it really was. Unfortunately, I know we were probably just cursed by the DIY gods for typing that statement. 

Have you ever dealt with a water leak in your home? Do you have any leak protection type gizmos in your house? If so, is it the brand we have or another, and what are your thoughts on it? If not, have you considered it? Let us know what you think. 

Comments 12

Comments

Jennifer
2/13/2013 at 12:15 PM
I had to comment since your idea of the one of the worst things ever to happen to a house happened to us. I think I've posted before about the topic here but we had to move out when a supply fitting broke in our master bath on the 2nd floor of our house while we were at work. It was about $45k worth of repairs when all was said and done.

The watercop sounds interesting but their website is pretty low on the details. I'm most interested in the wireless sensors and what frequencies and power they operate at. My fear is that they are relatively low power at 2.4 GHz which is pretty crowded band. Range might be an issue for punching through 2 stories of house and concrete/wood.

No plastic fittings on anything. All stainless steel fittings for all supply lines and toilets. We did this the 2nd day after our flood. Several of the plastic non-damaged ones actually fell apart in our hands while replacing them. Our insurance adjuster told us we were the 2nd or 3rd house in our area that had seen these fittings fail that year. They were actually considering litigating the manufacturer because of how many failures they had seen. Ours were old anyway since the house had been remodeled in the 80's.

We had bought (on a whim) some LeakFrogs from Woot! a few years prior when we were having hydrostatic flooding in our basement. They are super cheap (<$5) and chirp when they sense water.

We are still dumb? and that we leave the water on when we go on vacation and don't turn any valves off to sinks and toilets. I guess we figure lightning can't strike us twice, especially when we have people check on our cats and house when we are gone. However your plan is solid and makes me think we should start doing the same now.

Funny story after all this. We got the house all nice and fixed up. Then we looked at the fireplace and said - we never got this inspected when we bought the house 4 years ago - maybe we should have it inspected before we burn the house down next?. Yep you guessed it - fireplace is a no go to use since it wasn't up to code in 1928 and the house wasn't built until 1936.
Alex
2/13/2013
So sorry for your water plight, I honestly can't imagine (and hope we never experience) something like that.

We'll be testing it out all over the house to ensure solid communication and function. We'll surely report back to you on it.

Thanks for taking the time to leave such a great comment.
2/13/2013 at 12:54 PM
Thank you for posting this today, haha. We're going to be away from the house for three weeks, and I never even thought to turn the water off!
Alex
2/13/2013
I've heard mixed things on whether or not you need to turn off the gas to your water heater if you have a gas one. Otherwise, I'd turn off the water at the main shutoff before heading out and turn the hear *down* but not off, so you don't risk a burst pipe. Oh, and have an absolutely amazing time. I hope we can keep up with you and live vicariously through Instagram while you're away.
Kathy S
2/13/2013 at 3:54 PM
I haven't looked into this, but if it can open/close the water valves in your house wirelessly, I hope it has some security procedures in place so someone doesn't purposely turn on your water and leave it running, especially when you're away. If's it's secure then it sounds like a neat idea.
Alex
2/13/2013
I think it's as secure as a garage door opener, so I feel okay about it. However, if I do hook it up to the Internet I'll have to make sure it's secure, wouldn't want visitors to the blog cutting our water in the middle of our shower or something. :-)
Phoebe
2/13/2013 at 7:40 PM
I just saw the cover and your article in Old House Journal. You guys look great, and the house looks amazing! I saw the cover and I thought it looked like your dining room-- and it was! I was so happy to see my favorite blog in my favorite magazine!
Alex
2/13/2013
Phoebe, that's awesome! We didn't know it would be out before the 16th. So glad you liked it. We think it turned out great. Did you get it delivered at home or did you see it in the store?
Phoebe
2/13/2013 at 10:13 PM
It arrived in the mail today! I really enjoyed learning more about your house. You guys do such a great job!
I’m a worrier too… but in more of a general sense. By the end of vacation, I’m usually convinced the house has been looted and burnt to the ground. By whom or what, I couldn’t tell you… but driving up the street, I’m always surprised to see that it’s fine.

Comments look like you’re featured in OHJ! Fantastic!
JC
2/14/2013 at 4:07 PM
I often wonder if this comment box has a character limit, but if so, I haven't reached it yet! XD

This post inspired me to want to re-watch "The Money Pit" (1986). Just because.

I've experienced my fair share of plumbing disasters, but luckily none at my own house yet (unless you count turning on the water with one joint not soldered -oops but that was in the basement near the valve and I didn't make much of a mess).

Most disasters happened at my parents' house where I grew up (and where my Dad still lives). Here are some memorable ones.

- Second floor toilet backing up on Thanksgiving. This was a fairly new bathroom at the time, since we had renovated the upstairs (which we almost never used when I was a kid), and this was caused by debris in the main stack. I forget why, but at one point, the top part of the cast iron vent pipe was removed/replaced and in the process of removing the top part, the plumbers involved let a bunch of cast iron pieces fall down into the pipe. This eventually caused the catastrophic failure, and caused a 2-storey mini flood down to the basement. Luckily the pipe was over an unfinished staircase and nothing really got damaged, but it cost a bunch to have the pipes fixed and the debris removed.

- Several basement sewer backups. These were gross, and I won't go into details. Basically these happened every few years and are caused by roots from the neighbour's tree that were growing into the clay joints of the waste pipe going from the house to the main sewer. This problem should be solved now, since they cut down the tree a few years ago (a HUUUUGE maple).

- Kitchen flood at a CLIENT's house. This was an epic fail - again, by incompetent plumbers. We were installing a new kitchen, and the plumbers had left the sink cabinet's ABS pipes sticking out from the wall a fair bit (the extra length had to be cut to install the cabinets). One line was the sink drain (obviously), and there was a line coming out from the wall (vent). When we cut into the vent pipe, we got a MASSIVE flood of water. The pipe was only partially cut, but the force of the water was hard to staunch. Basically, when they tested the system, they fill it with water to check for leaks (this was in a brand new house). Well, they apparently forgot to drain the line(s). The water dripped right through the plywood subfloor and into the basement. We were NOT impressed, and neither was the client. We were all running around for rags and buckets. It was a disaster. It also put us behind since we had to get fans and wait for most of it to dry out.

Although a water disaster seems like a total nightmare, I'm not worried enough about it to get one of these contraptions. In most cases, the insurance companies will cover the costs of any/all repairs right down to a brand new kitchen (we've done a lot of insurance jobs were just the bottom inch of cabinets were damaged and the clients for an entire new kitchen paid for).
7/16/2015 at 11:09 PM

Install a $100.00 APC 750 or 1000 battery back-up for 5-10 days of aux power for classic WaterCop from Best Buy.

Protect wall cavity plumbing with the dual sensor. Drill a hole in lower vanity wall and insert 1 prong in the wall cavity and the other prong for exposed plumbing in the vanity. Place prongs inside hose bib walls, also use a deep picture frame or artwork to hide a sensor battery pack. Just poke a hole in the Sheetrock up high and lower the sensor prong until it hits the bottom plate, then hang the art work over the sensor pack. Be creative to maximize your WaterCop leak detection System!!!

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