Nobody wants to come home to a flooded home. It can happen at so many failure points, such as your water heater, sinks, tubs, laundry area, or from random pipes within the walls wearing down. Thankfully, you don’t always have to run into something terrible if you have a smart home watching things for you while you’re away. Today, we are going to discuss a way to prevent a leaking washing machine from causing major flood damage.
The solution is finding a way to prevent a small leak from turning into something worse. You do this by making use of flood/leak sensors that can communicate with other devices. These devices, in turn, do something that puts a stop to the problem.
You have the option of putting an auto-shutoff device on your water main that can respond by turning off the main valve to your home. This makes for a great “solve-all” solution, but it doesn’t always work out. The valve has to be relatively easy to open/close, else it puts strain on the motor of these devices and they can’t always complete the job. Or, your pipe configuration may not be compatible with the device’s clamp setup.
So we decided to take a different approach in this walkthrough. If the leak is coming from an appliance (in this case, a washing machine), why not just cut power to that appliance so it stops filling with water?
There are also many ways to do this via smart home, using Z-Wave, Zigbee, or various proprietary smart home ecosystems. We decide to go with Z-Wave this round since it opens you to multiple hubs and devices to pick from that all work with each other (versus locking you down to a specific brand).
What we used
- Zooz Zen15 Z-Wave Plus Power Switch (Amazon / Smartest House)
- Zooz ZSE42 Z-Wave Plus Leak Sensor (Amazon / Smartest House)
- any Z-Wave hub (user’s preference)
What we did
The process is quite easy. Smart Home solutions have gotten so incredibly user-friendly over the years. Hub solutions like SmartThings and Vera make it simple to create various scenes (or automations) that can accomplish every task your heart could desire (with compatible devices).
We took the Zooz Zen15 Z-Wave Plus Power Switch and connected it in-line between a washing machine and the wall. This adds a smart plug to the washing machine that has access to killing power. We added it to one of the Z-Wave compatible hubs (you can use SmartThings, Hubitat, Vera hubs, Ezlo hubs, or anything else that supports Z-Wave).
Then, we added the Zooz ZSE42 Z-Wave Plus Leak Sensor to the same hub and placed it on the ground next to the washing machine making sure it was as close as possible while still being able to get to it. This is one of the smallest leak sensors we have made use of, making it easy to place it just about anywhere, including underneath the machine if we wanted to (assuming that doesn’t have an effect on wireless connectivity to the sensor).
With both devices added to the hub, we can set up a scene or automation (terminology depends on the hub you are using) that links these two devices together. Basically, if the leak sensor detects water, turn off the switch (this is what you are telling it to do). This cuts power to the washing machine and the water stops filling, preventing further damage.
Worst-case scenario, if the machine is partially filled, some of that water may find its way out. However, you won’t have a pool of water soaking into the walls, damaging carpet, or anything else nearby. Instead, you might just have a puddle of variable size.
Did it work?
Yes. In most situations, something like this is going to work just fine. However, sometimes you run into a leak sensor that isn’t so good at maintaining a connection to the hub. This is usually because they try to maintain a low power profile to maximize battery life.
The Zooz sensor did a fantastic job at maintaining a connection to the hub while we also didn’t see any noticeable drops in battery life. This means you should actually get a good number of months from a single battery. Sadly, we couldn’t guestimate how many months since there is no mention of this anywhere outside of “long-lasting battery”, so time will tell. It does, thankfully, make use of a common button cell battery. Many of the others make use of an odd battery most go through life without even know exists. However, button cell batteries can commonly be found at many retailers like Walmart, Target, Amazon, and so on.
We caused the sensor to trip using a number of methods, like sitting it in a dish that had a thin layer of water or pouring a small bit of water to the side of it, letting the water slowly puddle and inch toward the sensor. Each time, the sensor responded near immediately and the power switch cut off power. The exact result you’d be hoping for.
We even attempted to add it to a Home Assistant server that has a Z-Wave gateway installed, making use of the Zooz ZST10 USB Stick. Everything operated perfectly. Of course, Home Assistant is recommended for advanced users as this requires knowing how to setup a Linux server and installing everything yourself. Basically, a build-your-own-hub solution vs using a consumer-friendly hub.
None of this comes as a surprise since we have had great luck with Zooz products in the past. The company has a number of quality products within its portfolio.
You gain a number of other benefits from this as well. If you plan on leaving the house for a long vacation or need to cut power to major appliances for any other reason (not that many people do this anymore for vacations), you can do so easily from your mobile device or through automations/scenes.
One other scenario that came up for us was that one of our staff had a washing machine that has a bad PCB (power control board). It still worked during normal operation, but it would stop responding after each finished load (the machine wouldn’t power on). They had to unplug it from the wall, wait 10 seconds, and plug it back on to bring the interface back up for the next load. They did this for so long before taking it apart and finally replacing the board inside (and eventually replacing the whole washer). However, with a setup like this, they could have scheduled to have the power automatically cycled overnight (every night) so that the next person to use it is ready to go the next day.
In some cases, the plug you choose may also support energy monitoring. Allowing you to measure the amount of power used by the connected appliance(s). In our case, the plug we used (Zooz Zen15 Z-Wave Plus Power Switch), does offer this. So you can monitor your power consumption and track your averages. We found this plug to be very informative, especially when paired with Home Assistant.
The one we used also has a manual switch on it, so you can easily turn it on and off by hand without having to unplug anything. In most situations, smart plugs and outlets will always have this.
That is the fun part of setting up a smart home. Your options are endless as long as you have a little imagination. Now, imagine what you could do with other leak sensors throughout the home.