Using water sensors in property

32 Replies

Hi,

I just recently joined BiggerPockets and this is my first post. I have learned a lot reading through the different forum topics and now have a question of my own. I have a 4-plex that just had a water leak do to an overflow from the washer in an upstairs unit. There is significant damage to the upper and lower unit on one side and wanted to see if there were any suggestions for water monitoring/sensor systems that can be placed around the house and even in walls to monitor and alert you of moisture in those areas. Obviously it is too late for the current water leak but hoping to limit damage if something like this were to occur again. 

I have done some research online and found a few systems that can do this but wanted to ask for recommendations and see what advice there is for these kinds of water/moisture recognition systems. 

Thanks in advance for the help.

Home Depot et al sell small, inexpensive (<$15) sensors that can be placed near potential leak sources. They emit a loud signal when water touches both contact points. We have them installed under/next to dishwashers, washing machines, water heaters etc. They work well for us.

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@Melanie Smith  Have the detection systems alerted you of leaks or problems?  I've been thinking about investing in a little of this system as well.

@Kyle Denmark  Yep, it caught a leak in the water heater at my primary residence a few years ago. There was only a small amount of water before it went off. We had simply placed it according to the directions on the package.  They're very easy to use.  There may be more sophisticated systems that I'm not aware of, but these work fine.

At home we have some Leakfrogs, small water alarms. One of them did detect a leak for us.

There are also systems which will shut off the water when a leak is detected, but I don't know much about them.

Great thank you all for the advice and recommendations so far. Has anyone had any experience with the product called Wally Home which does this? 

We place water alarms in all of our units in key places, such as under the kitchen sink, at the base of the hot water heater, and near washing machines. They have paid for their initial cost many times over. We once bought the Leak Frogs, but they look like a toy (plastic green frog) and children move them. So we now use only the utilitarian type. You can buy them at most hardware stores or on line. Several different models... google "water alarms" and "water sensors" to see some videos of how they work and photos of the different brands.

Welcome to Bigger Pockets Kevin!

Did the hose for the washing break burst?

If you get braided hoses and replace them every 5 years, then that should prevent most washing machine leaks. 

Originally posted by @Dana R. :

Did the hose for the washing break burst?

If you get braided hoses and replace them every 5 years, then that should prevent most washing machine leaks. 

 I install the washing machine hoses with leak detection in them (on the supply side) & they work very well.

The brand is Watts. I also use their braided supply lines with the same leak detection for the dishwasher & fridge water supply lines. 

The water supply lines were part of the problem so thanks for that advice on the lines. I will definitely be looking into that.  

I did not know these existed, and I will certainly check them out.  However, they will only help if the tenant is home.  If a sensor makes a sound with no ear to hear it does it really make any noise?  (Sorry)

For hot water heaters I have been drilling holes in the floors so they leak into the crawl space instead of ruining my floor.  So in my case I will have to put the sensor in the crawl and hope it bothers my tenant enough to call me. 

Originally posted by Mark Forest:

I did not know these existed, and I will certainly check them out.  However, they will only help if the tenant is home.  If a sensor makes a sound with no ear to hear it does it really make any noise?  (Sorry)

For hot water heaters I have been drilling holes in the floors so they leak into the crawl space instead of ruining my floor.  So in my case I will have to put the sensor in the crawl and hope it bothers my tenant enough to call me. 

The great thing about the Wally Home system that I found doing some research is that the sensors alert you via an app on your phone. So even if no one is home you will still get an alert telling you there is water. This is definitely something I am looking into.

They have pans for under washers and hot water heaters . 

Originally posted by @Matthew Paul :

They have pans for under washers and hot water heaters . 

Yes, but the large quantity of water in a tank will soon overflow the pan.  That is in fact what happened at one of my homes before the tenant got home from work.   That is why I drill the hole in the floor. 


The great thing about the Wally Home system that I found doing some research is that the sensors alert you via an app on your phone. 

So you can have multiple sensors and it will tell you which house has the problem? How much is this thing? 

Found it for $300 at http://www.amazon.com/WallyHome-Water-Leak-Detection-System/dp/B00GDI510M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420592640&sr=8-1&keywords=wally+home+system

Spurred on by this thread I have bought a water alarm, the Glentronics 'Watchdog' water alarm available for the very reasonable price of $13.49 - and it is listed as #1 Best Selling in Water Detectors and Alarms on Amazon. 

Glentronics Water Alarm at Amazon

The cost of putting these in the basement of all of my units is under $200. A single flood would easily cause more damage than that. The business case for these things is very strong but to add longevity to the alarm I would go ahead and use 9v lithium batteries, the same type that I now use in smoke detectors. They are supposed to last for 3-4 years in smoke detectors and have a shelf life of up to ten years, which is meaningful since these detectors do not drain the battery until water completes the circuit. 

Ultralife 9v Lithium batteries

So in theory you could place these by water heaters, washing machines, etc and not have to do anything to them for a very extended period. I guess testing the batteries once in a while makes sense but the essential point remains, these things seem to provide a low cost and low overhead protection from expensive damage. This is a really useful thread!

I just picked up several of those detectors from Home Depot for $9.50. Easy to test, just touch both sensors.

@Pat L.  , I read the reviews for the Watts Floodsafe supply lines over on Amazon, and there are lots of horror stories of failures that end up causing leaks. I'd be afraid of trusting them in my rentals or even in my own house: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_10?url=search-alias%3Dtools&field-keywords=watts+floodsafe&sprefix=watts+floo%2Caps%2C279

Let me try that link again: Watts Floodsafe on Amazon

Originally posted by Mark Forest:
Originally posted by @Matthew Paul:

They have pans for under washers and hot water heaters . 

Yes, but the large quantity of water in a tank will soon overflow the pan.  That is in fact what happened at one of my homes before the tenant got home from work.   That is why I drill the hole in the floor. 

 They have pans with a pipe fitting to send the water to a drain.  

Water alarms are only good if someone is there to hear them . 

Originally posted by @Kevin Marshall:

The great thing about the Wally Home system that I found doing some research is that the sensors alert you via an app on your phone. So even if no one is home you will still get an alert telling you there is water. This is definitely something I am looking into.

What are the things that you need water sensors for and how damage would they cause if it didn't inform your phone there was a problem?

The amount of water that would rush out if there's a problem with  the washing machine is so much that wouldn't need an alarm to tell you there's a problem and you'd need to cut off that water right away to prevent damage. 

Even if you had a water sensor that alerted your phone about any problems with washing machine, it would be already too late by the time you got there to shut it off.

Personally, I think the Wally Home system is too new with not enough customer reviews to feel comfortable spending $300 on it.

That's why I'd focus more on upgrading and checking the washing machines hoses. You can get braided hoses and change those every 5 years. Or, you can get  floodchek hoses, which cost $60-$80, but that's a lot less expensive than Wally Home systems.

There are other areas that you'd need water sensors for but the water leaked is usually so small that you don't need a sensor to phone you right away that there's a problem. Instead, you could get away with a more modest water sensor that would emit a loud noise. The problem with such a system is that you'd be reliant on the tenant to inform you there's a leak but why would a tenant want to hide a leak?

Dana - So the washer leak immediately made me start thinking about where other water leaks could come from and what I could do to minimize damage. I realize that when there is a large amount of water in a short amount of time, e.g. pipe bust, washer overflowing a sensor can't help to minimize the immediate damage. In this case a sensor would be useful if the property was vacant to alert you there was a problem, even if it was a sudden large leak, so you could minimize damage as much as possible and not let the water continue to flow out. There will still be a good amount of damage but this situation could be minimized in vacant properties with the sensor. With water and water that is not dried up quickly mold will most likely follow and that can become a big problem itself. 

So I see the value of these sensor that alert you on your phone for a vacant property in helping to minimize damage. If you have multiple properties hopefully they are not vacant all at one time so you could move the sensors between properties as they become vacant and reoccupied. Thats one strategy. 

I would definitely just go with the much less expensive sensors when a property is occupied. These will help with the slow leaks that a tenant might not notice right away but will hear the alarm. 

If the property is vacant, why not shut off the main water supply? Problem solved.

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