Homeowners have a lot to worry about. Water—whether it’s a flooded basement, an overflowing toilet, leaky pipes, or the mold and mildew that can follow such mishaps—seems to be an ever-present part of these anxieties.
A new product called Wally promises to help mitigate at least some of those fears. Wally is a sensor network you install yourself. It can detect water leaks, small changes in moisture, and temperature fluctuations anywhere in the immediate vicinity of one of its sensors. It’s supposed to give you a heads-up about everything moisture-related, from the severe (water emergencies) to the slow creep (mold build-up on floors, on walls, and in rooms where dampness lays dormant).
The sensors use your web browser as a central monitoring station, but there are also free iOS and Android apps that you can use to set up and manage your sensors. The kit comes with six individual sensors. Each one looks like a lump of soap, and there are small perforations near the bottom where moisture levels and temperature changes are measured. You don’t plug the sensors in. They run on ten-year batteries—like the kind in your wristwatch—so you set each one down in a spot you want to monitor.
A hub connects to your Wi-Fi router, but is only used to communicate with the Internet and your mobile devices. The sensors themselves stay connected by talking to each other over the copper wiring in your walls. They transmit and receive signals wirelessly, basically treating the copper in your home like a giant antenna. During setup, you simply press a button on each sensor and it connects to the other sensors in your home.
Watching the Water
I placed a sensor by the toilet in my bathroom, another under my kitchen sink, and a third near my sump pump in the basement. I also identified a few places in the home where mold has been a problem. In the web-based admin, I labeled the location of each sensor (“Bathroom,” “Kitchen”), then entered my e-mail address and phone number so I could get the alerts. The WallyHome interface on the web is clear and helpful, and the entire install process took less than 15 minutes. It’s amazingly simple, and the instructional materials in the packaging make it perfectly clear about what you are supposed to do.
Finally, I installed the Wally app on my iPhone 5s, which showed all of my sensor locations and the status of each unit.
Then, I started pouring cups of water on the floor. Not directly on the sensors, but near them. Within about five minutes, a text message popped up that the bathroom sensor had detected moisture. Another alert showed up a few seconds later for the kitchen sink. I poured water on a napkin on plate, then slid the wet mess under the sensor on the floor of the laundry room. I got an alert within a few minutes. All of the alerts appeared with no problems when I did these controlled tests. I was impressed.
Once, an alert told me the connection to my sump pump sensor had failed. I trekked downstairs, hit the button again on the sensor, and it reconnected. There were no other problems. The sensors are supposed to last ten years on the included batteries, and seem durable enough.
Living in the Future
Connected-home devices are still rather new, and there are few standards, so devices can’t easily talk to each other yet. Furthermore, most of the moisture-alert devices are too expensive for households on a budget. I’ve also tested the Vivint Flood and Freeze Sensor, which installs next to your sump pump and detects water build-up. That sensor costs $120 but requires pro install, and the Vivint service costs about $50 per month. Another product called the WaterCop goes a step further: the sensor can send a wireless signal to a valve controller that shuts off the main water line. The cheapest version (as in, the one that fits the smallest pipe) costs a little under $400; that price includes only one sensor.
But Wally is within reach of most homeowners. A relatively modest $300 gets you the kit with six sensors, and you can buy more for $35 each. There are no monthly charges, plus you get free tech support and install it yourself. Even compared to a packaged connected home system like Vivint, it’s well worth the expense if it saves you from a flood, the dangers of mold, or a leak in the biffy.
The company behind Wally claims to be working on new machine-learning tech that could sense temperature changes, humidity trends, and other factors that could help with home maintenance and could be used for early mold detection. Eventually, its plans to release more products that tap into the same central hub and apps, all communicating over copper wiring. Your walls, talkin’ to ya. Imagine that.