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How to Protect Your Home from Water Damage with Smart Home Sensors

Like many staples of a pre-smarthome age, the humble leak detector has made the jump to the 21st century. Read on as we show you how to integrate a smarthome leak detecting sensor into your home protection arsenal to receive alerts not just at home but wherever you are.

What Do I Want To Do This?

Water damage is serious and costly. The most common cause of water damage to a home isn’t catastrophic flooding by regular wear and tear induced water problems like leaking pipes, failed coupling on washing machines, flooded utility sinks, and backed up drains. For a fraction of the cost of any water remediation you may have to pay for (or insurance deductible and claim you’ll have to stomach) you can purchase a smart home sensor to monitor any leak or water-damage prone area in your home.

Why smart home? Why not just a regular old traditional $12 leak detector? Recently we had a small leak develop in an old pipe down in our basement. Fortunately the leak was slow and it happened to be in an area we frequently went, but according to the plumber who repaired it the leak would have gone from dripping to spraying very soon (on account of the degree of internal corrosion in the joint). If that had happened while we were home a traditional and inexpensive water sensor and alarm would have alerted us. If it would have happened when we were gone for the weekend (or longer) on vacation, the basement would have flooded and no amount of shrieking alarm would rouse anyone in an empty house.

Enter the smart home sensor. It functions exactly like a traditional water alarm but it is connected to your home network and can issue you an alert no matter where you are in the world. Had our old pipes catastrophically failed while we were away, we could have called a neighbor to go shut our water off and saved ourselves thousands of dollars in water damage remediation.

Contemplating the kind of bill we would have been facing if that pipe had failed while we were away on holiday, we promptly upgraded our water detection system with the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Sensor ($75). In light of the cost of water remediation and the benefit of receiving alerts no matter where you are, the jump from a traditional $12-20 water sensor to a $75 smart home sensor was more than tolerable.

Let’s take a look at how to set the system up.

What’s In The Kit?

The kit itself is pretty simple and looks, more or less at first glance, like a plug-in version of many traditional water sensors. The kit includes one plug-in unit with a WPS quick networking button on the side and a RJ11 phone jack in the bottom, one extension cable (3.3 feet long), and one water-sensing conductive cable (1.6 feet long). In addition, but not pictured here, are three mounting clips to help cable manage the extension cable and/or sensor cable, and a quick start card.

While we’ll get into the software setup side of things in a moment, let’s talk about the physical setup. Once you’ve configured the device you simply plug the extension cable into the RJ11 jack (if you need the extension) and then the actual sensor cable into the either the main unit or the end of the extension cable.

Unlike “spot” style detectors that consist of two contact pads an inch so apart (thus named spot sensors because they detect water only in the exact spot they are sitting), the D-Link unit comes with a cable-style sensor, seen closer up in the photo below.

The cable doesn’t have solid sheathing, it has a spiral cut in it with a wire exposed in the cut. When water touches the wire it triggers the sensor; the design is more effective because you can place the wire in a circle around something you want to monitor for leaks or along a baseboard or ledge.

Speaking of the cables and placement, we were a bit apprehensive about the length of the cables. Collectively they are just shy of 4 feet long which would seem to mean that you need an outlet placed right by where you’re doing your water sensing. Fortunately you can use any old RJ11 phone extension cord to extend the reach of the unit and, furthermore and usefully, the sensor cable is actually a standard (in so far as the water sensing industry has standards for such matters) design. As such you can not only use a plain old phone cord extension cable to extend the sensor cable but you should, in theory, even be able to use a longer RJ11-based sensor cable like this 8-foot Honeywell model.

A final note on the physical side of things: while the D-Link sensor has digital alerts (that’s its finest selling point) it also has a traditional 70dB alarm built in so if you’re home but your smartphone isn’t on hand you’ll hear it beeping in protest when it gets wet.

Installing and Configuring Your Smarthome Water Sensor

The D-Link DCH-S160 is part of the My D-Link stable of smart home products but, don’t worry, it functions completely on its own and doesn’t require a specific auxiliary D-Link product (like a D-Link router, smart hub, or additional products). As long as you have a Wi-Fi router and a free My D-link account you’re good to go.

The first step is to download and install the MyDlink Home app (iOS/Android). Run the app and login with your My D-Link account (or create a new one) and then tap the giant “Add a New Device” + symbol in the middle of the screen. Setup is super easy as the device comes with a QR code you can scan to start the process.

Note: My D-Link, the water sensor alerts, and the entire stable of D-Link smart home product services are free with no subscription charges. 

Even if you’ve misplaced the quick start card you can just manually enter the information off the back of the sensor. From there you pair the device with your router either via pressing the WPS button on the unit or manually entering your Wi-Fi credentials. The final step is to name your sensor. By default it has the model number of the sensor; we changed it to just plain old “water sensor” but you might consider naming it “laundry flood sensor” if you have more than one.

Once paired plug in the extension/sensor cable. In the next step we’ll put it through a test run.

Using the Smarthome Water Sensor

Testing the sensor, once you’ve paired it and added the sensor cable, is as simple as spilling a glass of water. No, for real, go get a glass of water and splash some on the cable to confirm the sensor is working properly.

Now, we’ll tell you right now, we’ve been testing products and smart home devices and sensors for years and we’ve simply gotten used to the inherent delay in such product. It isn’t agonizing or anything but, for example, if you send a command to your smart bulbs from outside your network you can expect at least a five second delay as the commands bounce around the Internet, get processed by the device’s cloud server, and so on.

The response time on the D-Link DCH-S160 was freaky fast. Like so fast it startled us fast. We set everything up, put the wires in place, and then splashed a very small amount of water on the wire. The built-in siren went off which didn’t startle us (as we expected an immediate response) but at almost the exact same time the phone in our pocket vibrated with a notification alert. The time from our simulated water leak to the push notification on the phone was less than one second. (Note the time on the clock, indicative of when we took the screenshot, and the time of the alert.)

Once the water is triggered the physical alarm sounds continuously until you remove the wire from the water or unplug the sensor cable. On the push notification side of things it sends you that first instant alert and then another alert every five minutes for as long as the water source is present.

Not only is D-Link the first major networking/home product vendor to get a Wi-Fi sensor to market but at $75 their product is significantly cheaper than more complex and less user friendly networked solutions. The addition of the standard cabling and the free (and unlimited) monitoring and notifications make the D-Link DCH-S160 the best value in category at the moment.

Image Credit: D-Link.


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