Honey, When Did We Get an Indoor Pool?

Is it too much to ask for a home to have a little ‘smart’ built-in? If you’ve ever woken up (or come home) to your dwelling being flooded, you’ll know how terrible it feels, how long it can take to recover from, and how stressful it can be. Yeah, it’s happened to us before, so we really feel for [David Schneider]. He woke up one Sunday morning to a whole lot of water in his house. The inlet valve for his washing machine somehow got stuck in the open position after putting a load of laundry in the previous night.

[David] took progressively complex measures to prevent a broken water feed flood from happening in the future. First, he lined the entire floor of his laundry closet with a steel tray. OK, that’s a good start but won’t prevent another disaster unless it is caught very quickly. How about a simple audible water alarm? That’s good and all if you’re home, but what if you’re not?

Next, he installed a valve with a mechanical timer on the water line for the washing machine which closes automatically after 2 hours of being opened. Much better, but what about all the other thirsty appliances around the house? After searching online a little, he found plenty of whole house systems that would work for him, but there were 2 problems with these. First, most were network-based and he didn’t want to IoT-ify his house’s water system. Second, they were overpriced.

Of course the solution was to put together his own system! First, he purchased a few mostly inexpensive things — a wireless alarm, some water sensors, and a motorized ball valve. Then he collected the last few things he needed from what he had on hand around the house, and got to work connecting the 4 LEDs on the alarm to 4 analog input pins on his Arduino. Next, he added a relay between the Arduino and the motorized ball valve.

If a sensor detects water, it tells the alarm about it (wirelessly), which triggers the Arduino to energize a relay that is connected to the motorized ball valve, causing it to shut off the main water line for the entire house. Disaster averted! Sure, it’s a fairly simple hack, but it works, meets his requirements, and now he sleeps better at night knowing he won’t wake up (or come home) to an indoor swimming pool.

It’s surprising that we haven’t seen more hacks like this given it’s such a common problem. The closest thing we can remember is an overflow sensor for an aquarium. If homes came standard with a water main shutoff system, it would remove a stressful event from our lives and maybe even lower our insurance premium.

47 thoughts on “Honey, When Did We Get an Indoor Pool?

  1. I hade trouble with a stuck check valve and rain, but never from my pipes/appliances… I’ve since added water monitoring with simple wires and screws connected to a raspi… Tested with a cup of water, works great…

  2. Probably would be helpful to also have some sort of output to let the user know which sensor tripped the system, to make finding and fixing the leak easier.

  3. Well I would add sensors at the two ends of the shower curtain at the floor, because millions of dollars of damage happens everyday when the curtain fails to contain all the water that runs off of the intentionally flat rim of the tub. Flat so water will run out of the the tub and wet the wall and floor. If they would just design this to be a non event first then safe the plumbing from true failures, not sloppy design.
    I hope the piano is alright.

  4. How would homeowners insurance handle such a claim exactly (in the US)? Water damage due to appliance failure? Is this a known issue with that brand or make and model of appliance?

    1. Insurance generally pays for the water damage but not the repair to the appliance. Then, a few years later, they seem to find an excuse to tell you to find insurance elsewhere.

  5. The inlet hose for my LG dishwasher runs inside another hose. If it leaks the water will run back into the base-tray of the machine where it will activate a float switch and cut the power to the solenoid valve. If the water flow detector fails and keeps filling, or the tub or pump leaks it will run into the base-tray and activate the float.

      1. My dishwashers turn the taps on and off as required whenever dishes need washing, no electricity required, I have a pair, my wife has a pair but for some reason the ones the kids have don’t seem to be operating properly.
        we turn the water on for the clothes washer as we turn the washer on and off again when it’s finished, I’ve seen just how crappy the plastic valves are,

    1. The system is called “Aqua-stop” and our washer and dishwasher both have it. It may be common in European appliances?

      Of course, then you get the opposite failure mode — the solenoid valve gets calcium deposits over time and sticks shut. Sometimes percussively reparable. Better than a flood.

      The best, failsafe solution? A drain in the basement.

      1. That’s only valid if the washing machine (and the dishwasher :-) ) are located in the basement. In an apartment it is often in the bathroom and the dishwasher mostly in the kitchen.

  6. I am going to read this with great interest. I had a line break at my house recently and although the leak was into the ground outside, it would have been a $2000 water bill (but they gave me a reduction to about $300 as a special act of mercy). But I have been thinking of adding a flow meter and some kind of normally open solenoid valve to the main house supply line. Then it would be a matter of shutting down the water (and sounding an alarm) if “excessive flow” or use was detected, however that would be defined.

      1. +1

        This is something I’ve had in mind as well. The water meter in my home is remotely readable by the water utility, so I want to be able to read it real time over the same RF link. Time for me to do some research …

    1. From a security point of view, I would use a normally close solenoid valve to protect the house in case of power loss or system malfunction, but this is not an energy efficient solution.

  7. Just to let you know: There is a IoT device for this. The “Safe-T Connect” by Syr is made for exactly these cases and has won some award in Germany for smart products. There are even big insurance companies who promote this devices.

    1. Interesting. I wish there was a teardown. The leakbot appear to be a flow switch rather than a flow meter, but the flotechnologies has flow rate output, and adds pressure as well.

      As far as building your own, most don’t use a separate heating element. Rather, one of the two RTD’s is heated by current passing through it (typically heated to a certain temperature above ambient, as measured by the other RTD).

  8. There is standard practice to have washing machine in a bathroom. And floor of our bathroom usually contains a drain. So in case of some failure at least we don’t have flooded other rooms.

      1. I kinda feel like that’s a miss, considering there’s usually piping for it in the first place. Feels like a minor addition to initial construction cost to prevent future expenses.

        Most wet-rooms i’ve been in has a floor drain, i _think_ it’s regionally pretty standard.

        Reading up on it, it seems to be code, where if you don’t have a drain you have to have a solution that’s similarly efficient, whatever that means. I guess in the bigger picture, this brings down insurance premiums.

    1. That is a terrible standard practice. I remember a story of a guy who found his girlfriend to be wife naked and dead in the bathroom, after being electrocuted by the washing machine in the same room. In many countries it is against code.

        1. There are four modes.

          1) A neutral to earth hookup has no effect unless there is a fault with the household earthing system AND a faulty appliance, in this later case, it will kill without throwing the breaker (RCD).
          2) An active to earth hookup will through the breaker, it other wise would have killed you.
          3) An active to neutral hookup will kill you without ever throwing the breaker.
          4) Same as 2) but with a breaker that won’t trip because it’s faulty and hence will kill you.

          So even if all the equipment has *no* faults you still have a 33% chance if a fatal hookup even with a safety breakers.

    1. Ditto but for a different reason. I have repaired enough washing machines (for personal use) to know that this failure mode is inevitable. The most common cause (on uprights) is the water level pressure sensor tube coming off the bowl due to a spin imbalance. Fro front loaders it’s a tear in the entry skirt. Being home (or not) is the difference between a simple splash of water on the floor to a total house floor or even a house burnt down.

      Water is the main cause of house fires, usually when it’s rains. We have a model of washing machine being re-called in my country as it has a bad habit of burning the house down.

      The electrical safety inside a washing machine is *shocking*! My washing machine is plugged into an earth imbalance breaker (commonly called a RCD). It’s the only appliance in my household that is treated with such caution although I do use a RCD when working on electrical / electronic things.

  9. I believe Commercial grade leak detection systems use a wire surrounding the zones to checked. They have a control panel that can control a valve that shuts off the incoming water supply and sets off an alarm.
    There are also flow meters (ultrasonic and mechanical) that detect excess flow and shut off the flow, and toilets often have PIR presence detection that shuts off the water a while after they haven’t been used. (not perfect for keeping water traps full but hey)

    1. That’s the answer for the toilet and wash machine but remind still need to replace the braided lines every several yrs to be sure. There are also rubber hoses inside the washer still so that timer activated shutoff valve they sell is still needed, I still need to get one as the manual one in use now is oft forgotten and left open. Also, did have an event where the plastic whole-house water filter cracked and we woke up to water in the house one morning… Not too bad for 30+ yrs.

  10. An easy fix could be to have your washing machine in something tublike. Even though David did just that, the addition of a water drain/outlet could prevent disaster. The worst that could happen is a large water bill.

  11. Cobbled one together in the early 80’s for the parents after they had a minor basement flood. A Radio Shack NPN darlington with a grid laid out on a small pcb made a reliable water sensor that fired a 12vdc relay to a sonalert and a lawn mower starter motor with some parachute cord around the shaft that pulled the lever of a ball valve to closed. Only hitch was the ball valve could stick, but this was solved by actuating the ball valve a few times every couple times a year. The parts came from https://www.sciplus.com/ which was just a few blocks away. Was still working fine when pulled it before house sold a few years back. It was a sloppy hack, but served well.

    You might enjoy the link for hacking goodies. Gears, wheels, electronics, weather balloons, military surplus, wire, telescopes.

  12. Ahhh, the joys of country living. I have an Arduino Nano on our well pump 240v. It uses an old 5vdc wall wart and the Nano is set to detect the 5vdc State-change. When the pump turns on and off so does the wall-wart. The Nano then alerts my home IoT with every State change. Plus, every ten minutes it sends a status report just so the Base knows it is still alive.

    If the pump is cycling on/off more than every hour, we get alarms beeping everywhere. Cost? Hmmm, about 10-bucks.

    1. Sounds great! I don’t quite understand the 5vdc state change. Can you explain further?
      How does the nano do outside? Is the well within wifi range?

      Very interested in your solution!

    2. After our well pump ran 24/7 for a month, used an ESP8266 to monitor the pump in exactly the same way. We now have a record of usage. The report is emailed daily to each of the 4 users of the shared well and it had the add-on effect that everyone has reduced their water usage. I wrote it up back in 2014: 8266 well power monitor. We use IFTTT for alerts when there is a problem of running too long or not enough.

  13. The valve that was used returns to open on power-loss. So if the power fails, the system will open and let the water flow until power is restored. I used a valve that requires power to open or close and does not open/close with power loss.

  14. I made an iot system to monitor my well water tank. I am mostly interested in learning how hard the well is working to keep up with our demand during drought months. The Tanks might be full, but the well struggling. I developed some heuristics for leak detection, but never really tested them out. Waiting to get burned in an emergency I guess….
    Since im measuring water level, I need a very low pass filter with water injection subtraction…. Or so….

  15. I created something similar this weekend (managing water/leaks). We have a window well at our house that consistently fills with water whenever there is an extended period of rain (builder didnt. So I created a sump pump out of an arduino, a relay, water sensor, and an old fountain pump. No more leaky basement/water logged window well.

  16. I created something similar this weekend (managing water/leaks). We have a window well at our house that consistently fills with water whenever there is an extended period of rain (builder didnt put a drain in the well). So I created a sump pump out of an arduino, a relay, water sensor, and an old fountain pump. No more leaky basement/water logged window well.

  17. Oh I dunno…A &*$%# drain in the floor would go miles to solve that problem. Minus that a simple sump pump into the yard would work fine. Most have a water sensor in them anyway.

  18. I have a couple of dirt cheap water alarms near my washing machine and water heater – the two most likely failure points. If I’m going to be away for a weekend or more, I turn off the main water to the house. I’ve seen the damage it can do and want no part of it. Going full IoT to solve it was too much effort.

  19. Before I had a properly working sump pump, my basement would flood. I had a $15 water alarm. I’d come home, hear the beeping, wade through the 6″ of water, remove the battery and start the process. It was a waste of $15 IMO.

    I want a $20 water sensor that I can check with a web scraper or something similar. I’d put devices in the basement, next to the washer, sump pump, drains, etc.

    Then I can use a computer (RasPi, etc) to poll *multiple* devices. My computer could then send email/text/alarms, close a valve, flash lights, lock the doors, create a log when it happens/stops etc.

    I do not want something explicitly tied to someone else’s infrastructure/external site/internal app in any way. An open protocol that I can poll. I have temperature sensors on 1-wire that work very well.

    Anything out there that I don’t have to design myself? With minimal assembly and all parts under $20?

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