If there’s one thing homeowners know, it’s that water is the enemy. From ice dams to pin-hole pipe leaks, roof leaks to failed angle stops – a little water leak can do a LOT of damage to a home. The ideal of course is to avoid potential water damage by correcting issues before they become a major problem. Unfortunately, proactive measures aren’t always enough to impede the cruel aquatic tricks our homes play on us. When the leak can’t be predicted, the next best bet is to catch a leak before it causes major damage. The search for an easy to install, reliable water leak detector eventually led us to the Flume entire property water monitor, which does a whole lot more than just water leak detection. Before I dive into the Flume water leak detector review, I’ll share a couple painful incidents that could have been mitigated with a Flume water monitor installed.
Editor’s Note: Please see updated coverage of the Flume 2 at the end of the article
A Few Recent Water Leak Cautionary Tales
My desire to explore water leak detector options further came after some firsthand experience. I recently was helping a client sell a home. The property was large, and during the sale it was vacant. Naturally, a low pressure fire sprinkler line sprang a leak. It was caught within a day, but not before destroying the ceiling below the room. After we got the leak fixed, the ceiling opened and dried out, and the everything replaced and painted, the problem was resolved (albeit after much time and expense).
It was resolved, that is, until a home inspector thought he had shut off the water to an upstairs shower. In fact, the valve was sticking and when we left the property the shower’s hot water managed to turn on full blast. . . for 12+ hours! Thanks to a commercial-grade water heating system that never runs out of hot water, the pipe below the tub started leaking. We don’t know if the hours of hot water caused the leak, or if it was there before. Either way, the water filled THE SAME ceiling cavity in the room we had just repaired. Cue up another week of repairs, expense and time wasted.
As if those two incidents weren’t enough motivation to explore water leak detectors and water monitoring systems, I also randomly woke up one night around 2:00 in our home to discover one of our angle stops had started leaking. Thanks to my homeowner spidey sense, I managed to catch it right before the water started flooding out of the bathroom and onto our hardwood floors. There was some minor damage, but if the leak had not been caught at 2:00 am, the damage would have been in the thousands of dollars and would have taken weeks to remediate. After this trifecta of water mishaps, I felt like there had to be a reliable and more foolproof way to catch water leaks early.
I have played around with individual water leak detectors and have found them to be unreliable long-term (usually because the batteries die and no one notices). In fact, the bathroom that flooded in our home had a leak detector that failed to notify due to a dead battery. I have also looked at whole-house water monitors, but most of them are a pain to install. Most homeowners, myself included, simply don’t want to pay a plumber to come out and install a special in-line water valve/sensor that may or may not be operational in 5-10 years.
Introducing the Flume Water Monitor and Leak Detector
After hunting high and low for options, I stumbled across the Flume Water Monitor and Leak Detector. Flume sent us one of their units to review, and we’ve had it in place for almost two months now. What sets Flume apart from many other water monitoring and water leak detection systems is its ease of installation, reliable setup, and insightful reporting. Here’s a quick video intro from Flume:
Before you get too excited and skip to the buy now button below, make sure you meet Flume’s basic requirements:
You must have a 2.4GHz WiFi Network in your home.
An iOS (Apple) or Android Device is required.
A Positive Displacement Water Meter is required and must be within 1000 feet of your home. Flume is compatible with 98% of water meters. If you would like to confirm compatibility before purchasing, please click here.
Assuming you meet those requirements, you’re ready to start monitoring your water like a safety tech at the Hoover Dam.
Installing the Flume Water Monitor and Leak Detector
Flume has a very straight-forward installation. For most homeowners, locating the water meter might be the hardest part of the installation. If you’re in a home with basement, there’s a good chance the water meter is in your basement – in an exposed location. Here in California, almost none of us have basements (cue the violins), and the water meter can usually be found in a small pit with a hatch on it. In our neighborhood, the meters are under a hatch located in the sidewalk in front of each residence.
Assuming you know where the water meter is, your first step is to install the Flume Water app on your phone. They have versions for iOS (via the Apple App Store) and Android (via Google Play). You then sign up for a free account, and the app will hold your hands and walk you through the installation. You will be asked to create a profile for your home including information like irrigation type, bathroom count, number of residents, etc. This data is used when Flume’s app provides information on your usage relative to similar households.
If you have ever installed a Nest smoke detector, thermostat or camera, the installation and setup process will seem very familiar. Scanning a barcode on Flume Bridge and then on the water sensor is all it takes to get the setup process rolling. No hunting for serial numbers or complicated 30 digit codes needed.
The next step is to connect the bridge to your wifi network. We had some issues with this portion of the setup until we moved the bridge much closer to our wifi router. Once we got them close to each other, things sync’d right up.
You will also be asked to temporarily place the bridge and sensor next to each other. After the bridge and sensor are given a chance to get to know each other, you’re ready to head to your water meter.
Locate and open the water meter hatch first. Flume even includes a small “key” designed to lift the hatch. You’ll be asked to enter the water meter brand/model in the app. This only takes a few seconds – most water meters have their brand and model pretty clearly identified (once you wipe the dirt and spider webs away). I was pleased no black widows jumped onto my hand during this step.
The final step is to strap the sensor to the meter. The app will ask you to run some water to calibrate the unit. Just don’t forget to turn it back off, ok? That’s it, you’re ready to start monitoring water use and detecting water leaks!
Going with the Flow – Checking Your Data Via App or Web Portal
As you might expect from any good husband, my first mission was to confirm my wife uses way more water than I do while showering. Flume provides both live water status (indicating whether or not water is running), as well as historical data. You can see usage for the day, week, month or year. You can even look at a graph of your usage and compare that to an average usage from similar households. I was pleased to discover we are not the massive water wasters I thought we were. But my wife does use a lot of water showering (sorry honey, you’ve been outed)!
You can access Flume’s information via the App or web portal. I found the app to be most useful. From the App you can quickly see the status of both the Bridge and the Water Sensor. A green icon for each means all is well. If you see a red icon with exclamation point, either your bridge or sensor needs attention. Flume’s data presentation is very clean and flexible. Graphs are clearly labeled and you don’t need to be a math wizard to review your water use.
The “detailed” view in the app lets you look at usage hour-by-hour on any day you select. I found this to provide the most insight into our usage. I could quickly evaluate how much water was being used at the time our sprinklers and drip irrigation turns on, usage during showers, and even how much water our dishwasher uses (we run it at after midnight).
Flume As a Leak Detector
The app also lets you set and customize “Leak Rules” for both low flow and high flow leak scenarios. Each has time parameters you can adjust to control how quickly a notification is triggered and the intervals for any repeat alerts. By default the low flow leak detector is on, probably to minimize false alarms from high flow usage like showers, irrigation, etc. However, the customizable nature of the water leak detection settings lets you dial in the settings to avoid false alarms but still hopefully alert you promptly when there is a leak.
Ours hasn’t saved us yet, but I will circle back to report any successful leaks detected in the future. Having the Flume system in place definitely provides some peace of mind. One limitation of the Flume system is that if it does detect a leak, you can’t remotely shut off the water to the home. This is a downside to the easy installation process for Flume. Some competing devices that need to be installed by a plumber have remote shutoff capability, which could be very valuable if a leak is detected and you’re not close to home. So if you install a Flume, have a neighbor or two you can call on for help if you need the water shut off.
One of the things that drew us to the Flume system is that there is only one battery that needs replacement. Flume estimates battery life at 1.5 to 2 years. To our surprise, we got an email from Flume advising us there was an issue with our water sensor that would result in dramatically shorter battery life. I checked the app, and it was still recording data, so I was a little skeptical. I have never had a company call me and tell me there’s an issue with their device and my battery is running low. They then offered to swap out the sensor at no charge. I asked why they reached out and they advised:
“As far as the reason for the device’s replacement, we noticed that your battery level fell significantly within a few days. We expect batteries to last between 1.5-2 years, so when the battery level drops so suddenly and at such a high amount (as your device did), we suspect that some water damage may have occurred within the device. The good news is that we have made improvements to address this, so you shouldn’t run into this problem again.”
Sure enough, a few days later our app showed the sensor wasn’t connected. Flume promptly scheduled shipment of a replacement water sensor right after we confirmed our address. This was a pretty stunning example of a company proactively looking out for their customers. Even so, it made me a little uncertain about battery life moving forward. I also would have liked to see an alert in the app notify me when the battery is running low, and another alert once the battery was completely dead. Flume does include battery status in it’s monthly email summaries though. Since this battery failed after just a couple months, I can’t speak to the expected 1.5-2 year battery life expectancy yet. I did ask how common this scenario is, and my Flume contact replied, “While it doesn’t happen frequently, we try to keep an eye on any devices that seem to be acting out of the ordinary, so that we can intervene and assist our users as necessary.”
While the ideal would have been no battery issue at all, this was some of the most proactive customer service I have ever seen. Imagine ANY company reaching out to you to offer a replacement on a product before you realized it had an issue. I will try to post a long-term update here after more time has passed with the replacement water sensor. Our hope is that whatever glitch caused the very short battery life on the first unit is indeed fully addressed.
Flume Long-term Update
Well, almost exactly a year later, I got a notification that our batteries on the sensor were running low. Actually, I got both a notification in the app, and a nice email giving me a heads-up on the battery situation. I followed the steps outlined in the video below and replacement was pretty straight forward. However, because a dozen screws stand between you and the batteries, and because the unit is attached to your water meter, battery replacement isn’t the fastest process in the world. It took me around fifteen minutes. I also found that the rubber bungee strap that was holding the sensor to the meter was starting to deteriorate. I had a spare from Flume which I used to replace the old one. Thankfully this is only a once a year event, but I wished there was simply a waterproof latch rather than 12 screws providing access to the battery compartment. (See updated on the Flume 2 at the end of this article).
Flume Battery Replacement
For when you do need to do a battery replacement:
A Nudge to Conserve Water?
One byproduct of looking at your water usage is the realization that we all use enormous amounts of water. It’s hard to ignore water usage when you see your household is using thousands of gallons of water per month. According to the USGS, “Estimates vary, but each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day.” Our family of four was typically around 150-300 gallons a day (total), so we seem to be doing better than the average. However, if we reassess in mid summer, I suspect we won’t look as good due to increased landscape watering. Whether you rank above or below average, seeing your usage and tracking it over time can be a very useful tool to encourage conservation.
If you compare yourself to similar households in the app or web portal and find your usage is high, your competitive nature might also help you conserve. The app even enables you to set up daily, weekly and monthly goals and budgets to help you manage your conservation efforts. These customizable budgets have alerts to notify you when you hit multiple thresholds. I haven’t figured out how to set mine broadcast a loud warning to certain family members when they’re showering too long. Flume, consider that a feature request.
Flume Pricing and Value
Some of the water monitoring and leak detection systems I looked at had price tags close to $500, and that did NOT include professional installation which would add upwards of several hundred dollars more. I think the combination of product price and the reluctance of most homeowners to hire a plumber to install a device like this make many of the competing options to Flume undesirable. At the other end of the spectrum, there are many leak sensors or leak alarms that you install throughout the home. I consider these less practical because you have to install so many sensors, and even with a bunch of sensors, your home might still spring a leak in an area not protected by a sensor. Furthermore, batteries failing in the various sensors means many will go without any protection even when they think they have it.
Flume’s simple DIY installation, insightful data presentation, app integration, whole-house monitoring, and customizable alerts make it an excellent way to monitor your water usage and keep tabs on potential plumbing leaks. Some insurance companies will even give you a break on your homeowner’s insurance with a device like Flume in place (check with your agent). My only hesitation with Flume is not having experienced the 1.5 to 2 year battery life expectancy of the water sensor yet. Assuming battery life on the sensors is over a year, I think installing a Flume water monitor and leak detector is money very well spent. It can easily pay for itself just in water conservation efforts, and if it alerts you to a leak you might avoid thousands of dollars in water damage. Plus it can finally settle the “who wastes more water showering debate” in your household. Pick up your Flume water monitoring and leak detection system straight from the friendly folks at Flume for just $199.
The Flume 2
Flume reached out to us recently with an opportunity to review their updated product cleverly named the Flume 2. First a word from Flume on the new product, followed by a few thoughts based on our experience with both the original Flume and the Flume 2.
The upgraded Flume device builds on the exceptional benefits provided by the first generation product, including real-time water use monitoring and 24/7 leak detection through smartphone alerts. These benefits, paired with even greater capacity and granularity of insights, enable a faster read on water use and, as a result, more precise data and the ability to identify and separate indoor and outdoor water use. This delineation of end-use will better enable customers to identify the source of leaks and pinpoint opportunities for water savings. This will also enable improved insight into past and current water use, helping customers save water and save money. Even more, the company will be releasing a software update for Flume 2 in early 2021 that breaks down water use by appliance and fixture. Other benefits include better battery life, a stronger and more reliable connection, and an improved and more durable design.
I added the bold type above because one of the things we were NOT fans of in the original FLume were the 12 micro-sized screws you had to remove and replace with each battery change. Thankfully, Flume 2’s design addresses this with a simple latch. Yay Flume! Opening the latch reveals the brains of the device along with a battery holder. We’re not sure why the batter holder isn’t a molded battery compartment like most electronic device’s have, but it is still FAR easier to replace batteries in the Flume 2. A nicely protected o-ring appears to give the Flume 2 a more water resistant design than the 12 screw Flume 1. A big thumbs up from us for the redesign.
Setup on the Flume 2 was simple and straight forward – much like it was on the original Flume. We are also enticed by Flume’s tease of a software update that can actually break down water usage by appliance and fixture. In terms of performance, I had a surprise test case right after I installed the Flume 2. I hopped in the shower one morning and heard an alert come through the app. It was the Flume 2 alerting me to a high-flow leak. I looked around the house briefly and saw that our lawn sprinklers had been running. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that my showering at the same time our sprinklers were running caused the alert. Turns out the Flume 2 is smarter than that. I walked around the back of the house to inspect a trench our plumber dug up to address a faulty natural gas line. In the digging process, he managed to nick one of our irrigation lines. Flume was smart enough to distinguish that leg of our irrigation system leaking vs its usual operation. I was super impressed!
In short, the Flume 2 offers a welcome improvement in user friendliness and durability with its new design, all while continuing to deliver an incredibly useful product for monitoring water use and detecting leaks. I recommend it even more highly now!
Flume 2 Long-term Update
Overall, I have continued to enjoy using the Flume 2 water monitor. The app recently alerted me to the sensor batteries running low. Thanks to the improved battery compartment design of the Flume 2, changing out the batteries is drama free and quick. Although you might be tempted to swap out the AA batteries for your own replacement, Flume recommends using their packs. Per Flume, “Our hardware engineers designed the battery casing specifically for increased battery life and to protect the internal integrity of the Water Sensor. We discourage our customers from replacing the battery with anything other than a Flume battery pack.” For around $20 and a request made via their app, Flume will ship you a fresh battery pack. The simple latch access (vs a dozen screws on the Flume 1), make it easy to make the change.
While swapping batteries in the Flume 2, we discovered that our rubber strap had again deteriorated to the point it was barely holding the sensor on the meter. This was the second time we had seen a strap visibly degrade. I asked Flume’s team about this and they advised,
The weather extremes that outdoor meter pits endure may lead to natural wear and tear on the rubber strap, though it’s uncommon for our customers to experience serious strap degradation. We offer free meter strap replacements for all our customers if they experience an issue with their Water Sensor strap.
The Flume 2 water monitor continues to provide insights into our water usage while also delivering significant peace of mind.