July 27, 2021

The best thing you can do right now to keep your home safe is probably not what you think

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Does your home have an automatic water shutoff valve?

If not, the few minutes you spend arranging for a plumber to install one may be the single best thing you can do to protect your home and family.

If this surprises you, think how safe you’d feel if your home lacked smoke detectors and a security system. 

Not very, we’d guess.

But there are far more cases of serious water damage in homes than there are fires and burglaries combined.

And the culprit need not be the burst pipe of nightmares. Even a small drip—say, from a loose washing machine hose—can cause big problems. 

“Even a little leak can spread through floors and walls,” explains Wardell Johnson, a claims adjuster at Vault Insurance. “Pretty soon you have mold throughout the house. You’ll have to rip out the walls, flooring, electrical fixtures. Then you’ll have to replace and repaint everything. Your home will be disrupted for months.”

That’s the bad news. The good news: Silicon Valley’s march to computerize even the most mundane parts of our lives has created a device that can radically reduce the risk from plumbing leaks: “smart” automatic shutoff valves.  

These gadgets combine a short stretch of pipe with internet-connected electronics. You put them right where the water main enters your home. The devices spend a week or two monitoring the water flowing into your home to determine your normal patterns. After that, if they detect anything unusual—whether a gusher or a trickle—they can notify you through a mobile app and, if appropriate, shut off the water to your home so you can investigate.

Better still, some automatic shutoff valves add a second ring of protection: small detectors that you can place under sinks and next to appliances that will send a wireless alert at the first sign of moisture where it’s not supposed to be. If you buy one of these models, Johnson advises putting a water detector next to any air handlers—the pumps for your HVAC system often hidden in closets. These, he says, have a nasty habit of overflowing their drip pans.

Another option Johnson recommends for any automatic shutoff valve: battery backup. That way, you won’t have to deal with a flood in the middle of a blackout.

If you want to learn more about smart water detection equipment, you can read reviews at Consumer Reports and PC Magazine. (These don’t cover some models sold only through plumbers, but they provide a good idea of what’s available.)

It’s also worth checking with your insurance company. You may qualify for a discount if you install an automatic water shutoff valve. And for more tips on how to prevent water damage check out this article by Johnson.  

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