I like to look at history and tell stories, but if you are not the type that likes to read a lot and all you want is to control your water flow – jump down to the best plumbing flow control systems to date: my experience with AquaTrip (from Australia and no longer available in Canada) and the new Water-ProTec series F (assembled in Quebec and easily available).
For information on overland flooding, check out The River Is Rising.
Water damage accounts for about 66% of all household damage insurance claims, and most of those are from plumbing problems. How can you reduce the risk of such damage and perhaps totally avoid insurance claims and expensive clean-up?
Pressure Reducing Valves
If you live in an area that has high water pressure from the city, or frequent surges of pressure, you should install Pressure Reducing Valves that won’t allow those high pressures to enter your household piping. This is especially important if you have plastic piping in the house.
Many flood alarms exist, usually wire sensors that you put on the floor around danger areas, like the laundry room, the hot water tank or even under sinks and tubs. They can be battery operated, although you will eventually go crazy keeping the batteries alive. They can be wired into the household power supply and even connected to your home alarm system. The alarm central may just call you to tell you there is water on the floor someplace in your house. Probably the most useful of these is the Zircon Leak Alert WiFi because it is autonomous, connects to your standard WiFi hub and will send alerts to up to 5 e-mail addresses or the Zircon app on your cell phone. It even floats, still working even if you have a real flood. For those of you who live with a cell phone, you will always know when there is trouble back home.
One of these battery operated flood alarms has a particularly useful sensor wire, much like an old TV antenna wire, which can be bent into any shape. I have tried to convince this company to lower the sound of the alarm (I put tape over the speaker hole) and change their marketing to call it a “Fill Alarm”. My wife uses ours several times a week, draped over the side of the bathtub, to call us back when the tub is full. We no longer worry about forgetting. Click here for details, even a little under water video.
Some flood alarms are connected to electric valves that can simply shut down your home’s water supply. But they only react to water if it reaches one of their multiple sensors scattered around the house.
Note that in 2021 AquaTrip (from Australia) has lost its distribution in Canada. I am leaving my full description here because it tells the story well, and describes my own experience with this control valve. Water-ProTec Series F is a good Quebec based replacement for the AquaTrip and the DIY Flow-by-Moen has similar functions - see below.
There is a new kid on the block, up from years of proof in the field in Australia, called AquaTrip. This is an electronic shut-off valve on your main water line with an incredible sensor to identify water flow and a computer chip that analyses: “is this normal water use or is this a problem”. If it decides it is a problem, it turns off all the water to the house and on the control panel, perhaps installed at the front door, it signals that the water is off, and allows you to turn it back on with the touch of a button.
But it does much more than that. A timer can be easily programmed to ignore the automatic sprinkler system watering the grass at night; with the touch of a button, the control system can be put to sleep the time you take to fill the hot tub or swimming pool. It judges events differently during bathroom rush hour traffic in the morning and evening, than during the day. It turns down then back up the water after a 15 minute shower to warn that at 20 minutes it will turn off the water. You can finish your slow shower within 5 minutes, or turn off the shower for a few seconds to reset the timer and spoil yourself with another 20 minutes. All of these time settings are adjustable of course. It has a whole other set of settings if you touch the “away” button, like when you leave for a trip, take an extended vacation or even just go to work leaving the house empty. Water can still be used in the house, like to water the plants, but you won’t get away with a shower unless you push the “home” button to change the sensitivity.
The standard valve is a reliable plastic one; such as you see in the photo taken at my house but you can get them in stainless steel as well. It can be hard wired or wireless or even simply manual. You can have wireless floor sensors for sensitive places like under the dishwasher. It can be connected to a 3rd party house alarm monitoring system. Essentially the models range from a reliable shut-off valve to a fully functional Smart House device -- most of that based on high-tech measuring of water flow, not floor sensors. By the way, an onboard battery keeps it working during power failures. They really do have all the bases covered.
It is sensitive enough to signal a leaking toilet that is just wasting water, or a faucet not quite turned off. In my tests it doesn’t catch that annoying one drop at a time in an old faucet – but that one isn’t going to create a lot of damage either. If you are on metered water, you will know if a hidden slow leak, like outdoor piping or a leaking toilet, is costing you money, showing you how much your water costs each day -- of course if that hidden leak is large enough to cause damage or soil erosion, it will shut down your system alerting you to the need to identify the problem.
You need to have it installed by a plumber, but it is not usually a long job. You will probably get the valve and installation for $400 tor $600 – not a lot to pay for peace of mind at home and away and never think about draining your whole plumbing system again for that winter vacation. In my case we don't like wireless devices in our home so I saved some money by running the wire from the plumbing to the front door myself - a long and slow job that is not a plumber's speciality. He made all the connections and stopped his taxi meter sooner. You could simply get the wireless module.
Other professional valve systems available
As I mentioned above, Water-Protec.com provides commercial, industrial and residential shut-off control systems as well. Their sensors work on RF frequencies, or hard wired, they have a cell phone interface as well. Their new F Series of devices have the same flow control features and more as the AquaTrip with the advantage that they are a Canadian company working in industrial, commercial and residential, usually high end houses. I have not tested their system but have had long discussions with the company and they appear to be a very good replacement for the Australian system. I will soon replace my AquaTrip system with this just to get some first hand experience with it. They are good enough to be endorsed by several insurance companies, giving you a good reduction on your homeowner insurance premium.
Flo by Moen
Moen has brought out a DIY competitor, which I have not tested: Flow by Moen. It will work automatically if you program it to do so but its standard configuration is to notify you by cell phone that there is a problem, and you can turn the water off from there. It has a number of interesting features worth looking into. This device does require a Wi-Fi connection and as such is designed to work with smart house configurations. Sold at Home Depot for about $700.
Many homeowners are finding that if you have an insurance problem because of previous water damage claims, or the presence of plastic piping that makes the insurance company nervous, with an automatic shut off valve they can get insurance again. The reputation of these valves are growing in Canada and more and more insurance companies are recognizing their value. Talk to you home insurance company about them.