Prevent THOUSANDS in damages with these smart water monitors.September 9, 2021
Are you considering buying a whole home water monitor and leak detector? Well, today on the hookup I’ve got all the top brands and best sellers from Moen, Flume, Streamlabs, and Phyn, and I’m going to walk you through the pros and cons of each of them to help you pick the one that’s right for you.
There are two main types of leak detectors: cheap wireless ones that detect a puddle of water in a specific area, and whole home monitoring solutions that track your water usage and look for unusual patterns that could indicate a leak in your plumbing like a burst pipe, or broken fixture. We’re going to cover the latter in this video, but if your interested in the small wireless type check out my other video specifically on that subject.
If you’re thinking about installing a whole home monitor, you’re probably trying to accomplish one of three goals. You want to monitor your water usage to try to reduce your monthly water bill, you want to check your plumbing for leaks and other potential problems, or you want to protect your property from significant water damage by installing a monitor that will detect unusual patterns and automatically shut off your water to prevent catastrophic damage, or maybe you want to do all those things.
To test their ability to accomplish each of those goals, I ran a series of tests. To determine how well these monitors can track your water usage I ran two tests to determine the accuracy of each meter: First, a whole day test where I took a reading from my city water meter in the morning, and screenshotted the usage in each monitor’s app. Then at the end of the day I took another reading from my water meter which I called my actual water usage, and then I determined the variance in each app’s reported usage vs my actual usage. To minimize the effect of an inaccurate city water meter I also did a small scale test by filling a 5 gallon bucket 4 times and recording the amount of water reported by each app. Fun fact: A 5 gallon bucket from home depot doesn’t actually hold 5 gallons, which I figured out after running these tests and being confused by the data. When I measured the actual volume of the 5 gallon bucket with a kitchen measuring cup I was I learned that they actually hold 5.6 gallons which made the test results significantly better.
To test the monitors abilities to find leaks in your plumbing I determined the minimum flow rate that could be detected by each system by slowly turning on a faucet until real time flow was detected in the app, and I also tested their ability to detect a microleak by turning a faucet on to the point where it was only dripping and then ran a drip test in each app, if available.
To test their behavior during a large leak like a pipe burst I ran my garden hose into my pool for 30 minutes at a rate of 3.5 gallons per minute, which would be a relatively small pipe burst, but over 100 gallons of water, so plenty to ruin your floors or cabinets.
The 5 monitors that I installed and tested vary significantly in price, ease of installation, and functionality, so lets see how they did in my tests.
Starting with the easiest to install, which is the streamlabs monitor, or what I think they have recently rebranded as the streamlabs surface. This new name makes sense because it installs on top of your existing pipe without any tools at all. You’ll need to have access to your main water supply before any branches, and preferably after your main water shut off valve. The streamlabs monitor needs to be indoors, or inside a waterproof enclosure, and you’ll need to have nearby power also in a waterproof enclosure.
The streamlabs monitor works using an ultrasonic transit time sensor, which basically means it shoots soundwaves into your pipes and measures the difference in how long the upstream waves take to receive compared to the downstream waves. When no water is running, the times are the same, but when water is flowing the upstream wave will be slower than the downstream wave and the flow rate can be calculated from that difference.
As I said, the streamlabs monitor installs without any tools, but you do need to be sure that your pipe is clean and free of debris that may prevent good contact of the ultrasonic transducers with the pipe, and you also need to make sure that you don’t slide or rotate the monitor on the pipe since that could damage the delicate transducer pads. Once you’ve found and acceptable spot and cleaned the pipe you just ziptie the ends, plug it in, and your install is done. The app will run you through wifi connection, and in my case auto detected my pipe size and type before walking me through the rest of the calibration steps. The entire installation and calibration took less than 10 minutes, zero tools, and made no changes to my existing plumbing.
In the usage accuracy test the streamlabs monitor over reported my daily usage by 7% on the large scale test and also over reported usage by 7% on the bucket test. The minimum flow rate that could be detected by the streamlabs monitor was 0.3 gallons per minute, and it predictably over reported realtime usage by around 5-10% which is consistent with the overall usage accuracy that I saw. The streamlabs isn’t plumbed in to your house, so it can’t do a microleak pressure test, and therefore can’t be used to detect small leaks.
During the large leak test the streamlabs monitor alerted me to the leak after the 3.5 gallon per minute hose had been running for 20 minutes, and since it lacks an automated shutoff valve, I would need to be at the house to fix the issues that it reported.
What I liked about the streamlabs monitor is that At around $170 it’s the least expensive option and easiest to install. It has a great looking app with a quick overview that shows you if there is any water running through your pipes and your current daily usage. Clicking in for more details shows your hourly water usage breakdown as well as a day to day, week to week and month to month comparison. After learning your water usage patterns the streamlabs can alert you via push notifications to any unusual water flow that could indicate a leak, and setting it to away mode will increase the sensitivity of those alerts.
What I don’t love about the streamlabs monitor is that a 7% over reporting of water usage is pretty high when monitoring is the main purpose of the product. I did find that the streamlabs app would fail to start occasionally and needed to be force closed to function properly. It’s also unfortunate that some features like email and text alerts are only available if you pay the $5.99 per month streamlabs plus subscription which is also necessary to access their API for integration with smart home platforms like home assistant. Like all of the devices in this video, there’s no local access to your data, so continued functionality is reliant on the streamlabs cloud. Streamlabs is owned by the multinational insurance company Chubb.
Next on the ease of installation continuum is the Flume 2 water monitor that clips onto your home’s existing water meter and instead of trying to monitor the water in the pipe it instead monitors your water meter, which should theoretically be very accurate. By using the magnetic field created by your meter’s internal mechanical components the Flume 2 can act like a mechanical water meter without having to be installed inside your pipes. Because your water meter is usually located outside your house and away from power the Flume 2 is weather resistant and runs off battery power. Thankfully the monitoring technology is fairly simple and low energy so the Flume 2 can run for two years between battery changes. The Flume 2 also has an indoor component that plugs into an electrical outlet and acts as the bridge between your Flume 2 sensor and the internet.
Because there’s no modification of your plumbing and no electrical involved the Flume 2 install should take less than 20 minutes, and the only tool required in my case was a small shovel to excavate 8 years of dirt and sand out of my city water meter housing.
In the usage accuracy test the Flume 2 was predictably very accurate to my water meter and showed less than 1% variance in my whole day test. In the small scale bucket test the Flume 2 also performed very well with just a 2% variance that can probably be attributed to rounding errors in the overall usage category in the app. The minimum flow rate that the Flume 2 was able to measure was 0.1 gallons per minute, so it should be able to find a significantly smaller leak than the streamlabs monitor, but still won’t be able to see a dripping faucet or leaky toilet.
During the large leak test the Flume 2 didn’t alert me because the default settings are to only alert on a flow rate over 5 gallons per minute, or a water flow that lasts for over 4 hours and 10 minutes. These values are adjustable in the app.
One major difference between the Flume water sensor and streamlabs in my house is that since the Flume is installed at the water meter, and the streamlabs is in my garage, the Flume will monitor both my irrigation system and my household usage, while the streamlabs will only see water that goes into the house. Again, this is specific to my plumbing, and you may have a separate irrigation meter, or a branch after your main water shutoff valve, but it’s something to keep in mind when selecting your system.
I like that at around $200 the Flume 2 is relatively cheap, easy to install, as accurate as your water meter and has integrations with smartthings, home assistant, and even irrigation systems like orbit bhyve. The Flume app shows daily water usage broken down by hour and attempts to determine how much of that water usage was for inside use and how much was for your irrigation if you have it. It also lets you view weekly breakdowns of your water usage and allows you to compare with similar households to get an idea for how well you are controlling your water usage.
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What I don’t love about the Flume is that they recently added a subscription service to access their most useful features. My app says that since I was an early customer I have access to real time water usage, detailed history, and custom leak detection, but new customers will need to pay a $49 per year subscription to get those same features, which would be a dealbreaker for me. The Flume is also unfortunately not compatible with every water meter, so it may not even be an option for you and you’ll need to check your meter’s compatibility on their website before purchasing.
Next, not as easy to install as the streamlabs monitor or the Flume 2, but definitely doable for most home owners is the Phyn smart water assistant. The Phyn installs anywhere in your house that has a hot and cold water supply and an unswitched outlet, which for me was under my kitchen sink. All you have to do is shut off the water at your sink, then unscrew the water lines and attach the Phyn pressure sensors in between the water supply and sink lines. This install took me roughly 30 minutes including removing all the cleaning supplies from under the sink and putting them back afterwards.
Even though it’s only hooked up to a single faucet the Phyn can monitor your entire home’s plumbing by measuring the water pressure in each line. The general idea is that when water is used by another faucet the pressure will drop in all the pipes and the Phyn can use that information, as well as the ratio of water usage on the hot and cold lines to make an educated guess not only about how much water was being used, but also which fixture is using it. In practice the Phyn didn’t classify every water usage correctly, but it wasn’t terrible.
In the usage accuracy test the Phyn smart water assistant underreported my total water usage by 5% in the all day test, but was off by a staggering 69% in the small scale bucket test, reporting 38 gallons of water usage instead of the 22.4 gallons of actual usage. This could be because I was using and outdoor fixture, or because the flow rate was higher than most other faucets in my house. The Phyn doesn’t show realtime usage, so I wasn’t able to measure the smallest flow possible. The Phyn CAN perform a micro leak test since unlike the Flume 2 and streamlabs monitor, the Phyn is plumbed into your home. By manually shutting off your main water supply the plumbing inside your house should theoretically be a completely sealed system and maintain the same pressure indefinitely. Using the plumbing health check the Phyn was able to easily detect drop in pressure and diagnose the dripping faucet as well as give troubleshooting next steps within the app.
During the large leak test the Phyn alerted me after 20 minutes via push notification and text message and noted when the leak started, and then also gave me an alert when the leak was resolved.
At an MSRP of $300 the Phyn is more expensive than the Flume and streamlabs monitor, but it is the cheapest device to offer micro leak detection. The Phyn app did a decent job tracking water usage throughout the day and the categorization of water usage by fixture worked acceptably well. Interestingly, even though the Phyn smart water assistant is installed inside my house under a sink, it was still able to detect and relatively accurately monitor the water used by my irrigation system, which is neat, but actually might not be a good thing.
The downside to the Phyn is that to perform at its best it needs a plumbing system that doesn’t experience too many variations in pressure throughout the day. This means you’ll need all the bells and whistles on your plumbing system, including an expansion bladder for your hot water heater, a backflow preventor and a pressure regulating valve. Without these things it becomes much more difficult to monitor the pressure of your water line because it can be affected by things like your neighbors water usage, the temperature of your water heater, and normal variations in supply pressure. In my case, I don’t have a pressure regulating valve, so the water going to my irrigation system causes a significant pressure drop in my house, even though the split is very close to my water meter. If you live in an area where your neighbors water usage reduces the pressure in your house then the Phyn will register that as usage in your house.
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In my opinion the Phyn also has the least intuitive app. There’s no main dashboard or control panel for at-a-glance viewing, and the visualizations of water usage aren’t as helpful as the other apps I tested. To navigate to a microleak test you use what they call the smart water assistant to walk you through the process, but again, it just feels clunky and not very well thought out. The Phyn also has limited smart home connectivity and relies on IFTTT for integrations, which at this point is just about the least reliable and most inconvenient way to connect your smart devices. Still, if your goal is to be able to detect micro leaks in your plumbing and measure usage, then the Phyn is the cheapest option and the only one that can accomplish those goals without making permanent changes to your plumbing. Phyn is also backed by Belkin, which means they aren’t likely to go out of business any time soon.
And that leaves us with the last two options the Moen Flow and the streamlabs control which both need to be plumbed into your main water line and therefore should be installed by a professional. These devices get installed in your plumbing directly after your main water shutoff but before any branches for hot or cold water. In addition to highly accurate water monitoring, they also include a motorized water shut off valve that can automatically turn off your water in the event of a leak. Both of these devices also offer automated micro leak detection where they will shut their internal valves and measure for any pressure losses, you just tell them how frequently you want them to test and give them a time of day when you aren’t likely to be using your water and the rest is taken care of automatically.
Between the two, the streamlabs feels like it has a much higher build quality and has primarily metal parts compared to the moen Flo which is mostly plastic. The Moen Flo uses a mechanical impeller inside the pipe to measure water flow while the streamlabs control uses the same type of ultrasonic detection as the streamlabs monitor. Impellers are generally very accurate but can wear out over time while ultrasonic metering has no moving parts and therefore shouldn’t wear out, but may be less precise.
Both devices are available with different installation options to be compatible with your plumbing, but I used the 1” sharkbite fittings for the streamlabs and the female pipe thread fittings for the moen Flo. As I said, it’s recommended that both of these products are installed by a licensed plumber, but I called in a favor to a friend in the profession to look over my shoulder on a Saturday to make sure I didn’t screw anything up.
Lets start with the Moen Flo, which is the slightly less expensive option at $450 for the ¾” version or $550 for the 1” pipe version. I have pex plumbing and a loop directly after my shutoff, so I was able to easily install the Moen Flo into that loop using PEX male pipe thread fittings. I installed the Flo and the streamlabs at the same time, but the overall install took a little less than an hour.
In the usage accuracy test the Moen Flo was very accurate, overrepoting my total usage by about 1.5% compared to my water meter, and in my small scale bucket test the Flo was off by around 2.5%. The minimum flow that the Moen Flo was able to detect was 0.2 gallons per minute, and the microleak drip test worked very well. You can schedule these leak tests as often as you’d like or run them on demand and the Moen Flo will automatically close your water main and monitor pressure to look for leaks.
During the large leak test the Moen Flo didn’t alert me to the leak, but that’s to be expected since it clearly states in the app that it is in learning mode for the first 7 to 10 days training itself to look for unusual water patterns. Like the rest of the monitors, setting them to away mode will increase the sensitivity of the alerts.
In my opinion the Moen Flo had the best app interface by a significant margin, and has all kinds of great analytics like pressure, temperature, daily usage, water goals, and AI fixture detection to determine which categories use the most water. The Flo app was also the most responsive, quickest to load and showed the most accurate updates for real time water usage. Another huge advantage to the Moen Flo is that as of August 17th 2021, Moen no longer requires a subscription for any of their advanced features. You can still choose to join the Moen Flo Protect subscription plan, but it only adds insurance deductible reimbursement and an extended warranty on your device and isn’t needed to get all of the features from the smart water monitor.
The Flo web API has also been scraped by the home assistant team so you can use the complete feature set of the Moen Flo from within home assistant. Keep in mind though that this wasn’t a publicly documented API released by Moen, so this compatibility could go away at any time. As I said, none of these monitors offer a local connection to the device, so continued functionality is dependent on the parent company staying in business. Moen is a huge name in plumbing, so I don’t see them going out of business any time soon, and hopefully that will include keeping the Flo cloud service online for the foreseeable future.
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Last is the most expensive monitor that I tested, the streamlabs control. The control feels like a premium product with heavy duty metal construction that made me confident about installing it onto my main water line, but it also comes at a premium price of $599. The sharkbite fittings made it relatively easy to install, but again, streamlabs recommends it be installed by a licensed plumber, so I’m not sure how important ease of installation is.
In the usage accuracy test the streamlabs control under reported my total usage by 7.7% in the all day test, and underreported by 10% in the bucket test. The minimum flow that the streamlabs control was able to detect was 0.2 gallons per minute, and the microleak test worked well, easily identifying the dripping faucet. Just like with the Moen Flo, you can schedule these leak tests as often as you’d like or run them on demand and the streamlabs control will take care of the rest.
During the large leak test the streamlabs control alerted me at the same 20 minute mark as the streamlabs monitor, which represents about 70 gallons of water, but the difference between the streamlabs monitor and the control is that I would then have the option of shutting off my water to prevent any further damage. The streamlabs control also has an away mode to increase sensitivity, and it has an auto shut off feature that will turn the water off without your input if you want it to.
After opening the package I really wanted to love the streamlabs control because it looks like it was built to last, which is important for something that I’m going to be installing in my home’s main water supply. I do like the streamlabs app, but I can’t help but think it’s just not quite as good as the Moen Flo app, and also hangs too often. As I mentioned there is a monthly fee to fully unlock the features of the app and be able to use their API to add your streamlabs devices to your smart home hub, but with the streamlabs control there is an option of getting it installed by a streamlabs certified plumber which then gives you a longer warranty and a lifetime subscription. Unfortunately at the time of filming this video there weren’t any streamlabs certified plumbers in my area. I did ask streamlabs if they were considering a change to their subscription structure in response to Moen’s recent changes, and they said that was something they were considering, but no concrete plans yet.
So after all this testing I’d like to say it was a close race, but looking at the data the Moen Flo seems like the obvious choice. Not only was it very accurate with less than a 1.5% deviation from my water meter, but it also has automatic shut off, microleak detection, AI fixture detection, the most feature rich and responsive app, doesn’t require any monthly fees, and is backed by a huge plumbing focused company, so the cloud service isn’t likely to stop working any time soon.
The plastic construction of the Moen Flo did give me a little bit of pause, but then I realized that a significant portion of my plumbing is already made of plastic joints and fittings that I never worry about. In my research I read a lot of reviews from people who experienced failures when installing the moen Flo outside, mostly related to water intrusion around the power plug, but none of the other monitors except the Flume are rated for outdoor use, so this is kind of a moot point in my opinion.
If your only option is an outdoor installation the Flume water meter also looked good to me until I learned about the new subscription plan, which in my opinion makes it a significantly worse option since most of the important features are behind that subscription wall, and a yearly subscription is 25% of the over price of the monitor.
The Phyn smart water monitor seems useful as a tool that could be moved around to different houses to test for small leaks. Since no permanent changes need to be made to the plumbing you could use it at multiple properties, or loan it to friends to test their plumbing systems, but in all honesty a $10 water pressure gauge like plumbers use would do the same thing without the hassle of setting up wifi or using the app.
The streamlabs monitor and control seemed promising, but between the two there was a 15% variation in water usage per day, which is significantly too much for me to be able to recommend them. I did try the recalibration process several times, unfortunately with no change in accuracy.
I’ve got links down in the description for all of the monitors that I tested, as well as to my other video on the other type of leak detector. Thank you so much to my awesome patrons over at patreon for your continued support of my channel, if you’re interested in supporting my channel please check out the links in the description. If you enjoyed this video please hit that thumbs up button and consider subscribing and as always thanks for watching the hookup.