Issue: 7/02

Over the past year, in-line, whole-house water monitors and shut-off devices have been winning their place in America's buildings and in the hearts of insurance companies nationwide. These devices can be programmed to turn off a building's water supply when flow parameters are exceeded, for instance, in the event of a ruptured water line, an unusually long-running plumbing appliance, or even the small leakage caused by a ruptured ice maker supply line.

What's the Big Deal?

To give you an idea of the magnitude of damage even a small leak can cause, let's look at just one example. A cracked ice maker supply line left unattended for three hours will dump over 175 gallons of water into the walls of a building, where it will be wicked up into the walls, carpets, and framing, potentially setting the stage for the growth of mold or rot and structural degradation of the building materials. A three-hour ice maker supply line leak is the equivalent of dumping three 55-gallon drums of water on a kitchen floor. Though catastrophic leaks and plumbing failures can usually be addressed with the naked eye, it is the insidious small leaks like the one mentioned above that can be more damaging and harder if not impossible to notice before major damage has been done.

Insurance Companies Are Taking Notice

According to insurance industry reports, property damage in the U.S. resulting from plumbing leaks is second only to hurricanes as the most costly insurance claim. Burst washing machine hoses constitute one of the most common sources of residential water damage, accounting for more than $150 million in claims each year in the U.S. Frozen water pipes contribute an estimated $400-500 million a year.

Mold: A Growing Concern

Insurance companies are also concerned about mold. Many types of household molds--including mycotoxins like stachybotrys (a.k.a. "Killer Mold" or "Toxic Mold")--can thrive where building materials that contain cellulose mix with water from leaky or broken pipes and faulty plumbing fittings (building materials that contain cellulose include ceiling tiles, wood and wood products, wallpaper, insulation materials, and drywall). In many cases, toxic mold can be completely prevented by depriving it of water, and the most common source of water in households is leaky pipes/water damage or problems with "building envelope" design. In-line, whole-house water monitors and shut-off devices can detect leaks or catastrophic failure, mitigate most if not all of the conditions that give rise to these insurance claims, and entirely prevent one of the two conditions that allow mold to thrive.

How Flow Detection Works

To show how whole-house water monitors and shut-off devices work, let's take a look at the FloLogic System 2000, a product invented, patented, manufactured and sold by Raleigh, N.C.-based FloLogic, Inc. When installed in the main water line, whole-house shut-off devices like the FloLogic System 2000 monitor water flow continuously, are capable of detecting water flow down to ounces per minute, and even can trigger the automatic shut-off of the main line water flow. The FloLogic System 2000 consists of a water flow sensor and motor-driven ball valve that is installed in the building's water supply, monitored by an LCD controller. The sensor inside the flow path tells the controller when water is flowing into the building from the street or well at any given moment. Alphanumeric LCD displays similar to those found on electronic thermostats and security systems, allow these devices to be programmed very simply with a keypad for certain flow parameters and tolerances, based on water volume or time. Units normally come with a battery backup, which provides power for many hours of continuous operations in the event of a power outage.

Programming the Device

Security systems that employ contact closures can normally be wired to whole-house water monitors. The FloLogic System 2000 takes advantage of the programmable LCD pad to provide "Home" and "Away" modes. In the "Home" mode, the system can be programmed to allow up to 30 minutes of continuous water flow before the valve shuts off the water to the entire building. In the "Away" mode, the system can be programmed to allow up to 30 seconds of continuous water flow before it shuts off the water to a home or commercial building. Each time a water faucet is opened, the monitor's flow mechanism senses the water flowing into the building and initiates a timer at the LCD wall controller. Once the programmed time is elapsed, the water to the building is shut off and a low decibel alarm sounds at the LCD controller. With most monitors on the market today, both the "Home" and "Away" modes can be easily re-programmed to fit any water use patterns. With the FloLogic System 2000, the device automatically switches to "Away" mode after 18 hours of no water flow and allows for manual water shut-off upon demand at the LCD pad. If the building has a "nuisance" leak, or a dripping faucet which exceeds 4 ounces per minute, FloLogic will keep shutting water off every 30 minutes, unless the leak is fixed or FloLogic's leak detection volume is adjusted to a setting higher than the leak volume. This will allow the minor leak to go "undetected" until such time as the situation can be corrected.

General Installation Information

Most in-line, whole-house water monitors and shut-off devices are composed of an automatic water shut-off valve, a wall-mounted control panel, a Power Supply and 50 feet of communication cable to connect the valve to the control panel. To assure that every water line inside the home is monitored, the valve must be installed in the cold water service line before any distribution or branch lines are taken off. Fire sprinkler service lines and lawn irrigation service lines must be taken off the front of the valve. The valve must be installed inside the house, usually in a crawl space or an enclosed area, after the water meter and water pressure-reducing valve. Depending on the building's existing plumbing system, additional fittings may need to be purchased to transition from dissimilar materials (e.g. copper to CPVC, or PEX to CPVC). These fittings are readily available through plumbing supply houses. The valve unit must also be installed within 15 feet of a 120-volt alternating current (VAC) power outlet, and the outlet must be oriented vertically (e.g. not facing downward), so that there is no chance of the Power Supply falling out of the power outlet.

Plumbing Code Acceptance

Most jurisdictions across the nation adopt a model plumbing code to regulate the installation of plumbing systems and to achieve uniformity in plumbing materials and practices. The Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) developed by the International Association of Plumbers and Mechanical Operators (IAPMO) is the most widely accepted model plumbing code in the United States, and it has classified and accepted the FloLogic System 2000, along with the National Sanitary Foundation (NSF). Additionally, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), well recognized for their testing of products providing for consumer safety, has issued its listing as well.

Looking for Solutions

With property damage in the U.S. resulting from home plumbing leaks second only to hurricanes as the most costly insurance claim, and insurance companies capping their mold remediation claim amounts, the logical answer to controlling water damage and mold growth today is prevention of plumbing water leakage. In-line, automatic water monitors and shut-off devices offer the solution, by controlling the main water supply and shutting off uncontrolled water flow at the source.