When you imagine the worst things that could happen to your home, do you envision water damage? Insurance companies certainly do, as water damage from broken home appliances or burst pipes is 10 times more likely than a fire, according to Travelers Insurance Company. It’s the second most common homeowners insurance claim (wind and hail ranked first), according to the Insurance Information Institute, causing billions of dollars in damage a year.

Fortunately, water leak detectors offer some protection against this type of damage.

“Water sensors, also known as water leak detectors, can help reduce property loss because when water leaks happen and you’re not home or in the vicinity of the appliance, it can create a lot of damage very quickly,” explains Neil Lakomiak, business development director for UL’s Building & Life Safety Technologies division. “Water leaks can also lead to mold growth, presenting a whole new series of costly and dangerous issues.”

Water leak detectors typically use two metal contacts or another type of device to sense water that is flowing where it shouldn’t be. In addition to sounding an alarm, some devices can also text and/or email you an alert. Some can even automatically shut off water to the appliance or house.

“There are lots of options for various budgets, starting with the sensor that simply sounds an alarm, which runs about $10-15. You must be home for those to be helpful, otherwise you won't be able to hear them,” Lakomiak says. “On the other end of the spectrum: using water sensors as part of a fully connected smart home is another option.”

Insurance companies consider the new gadgets so worthy that some offer homeowners a discount for using certain types of water leak detectors.

How to Use Them

You need to place sensors in various locations on the floor where water could leak. Some ideas: around the water heater, toilet, dishwasher, refrigerator, sink, and pipes in cold areas like basements or attics.

Lakomiak advises to definitely place them near the water heater and the washing machine. “Those are the two main appliances. Perhaps under the kitchen sink and near a sump pump, too.”

How to Choose a Water Sensor

UL recently developed UL 3225, Outline for Water Leak Detection Systems, specific to water sensors. This means a series of tests are conducted to address performance, reliability and safety, including:

  • Performance under various environmental conditions
  • Wireless performance (if applicable)
  • Interoperability and compatibility, observing how the product functions together with other devices
  • Cycles of operation to evaluate reliability
  • Fire, shock and casualty hazards

“We run the sensors through the paces,” says Lakomiak. “For instance, for wireless performance, we test that the wireless communication technology works as intended, so if you run multiple different wireless devices, the signals don’t clash, and the associated software can sort out the data. This tests that the device won’t lose the signal and that the data doesn’t get corrupted.”

Since the Standard was recently released, manufacturers are in the process of getting their products UL certified, and Lakomiak expects more to bear the UL Mark soon.

“We believe that if someone invests in these products and systems, they should get some level of assurance that they work as intended,” Lakomiak says. “Looking for products that comply with UL 3225 will help people make informed decisions.”