After spending over 10 hours pouring water, mopping it up, and changing wet socks to test the performance of seven DIY leak detectors, we’ve decided that the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor is the best smart water sensor currently on the market. It’s one of the few options that doesn’t need a smart-home hub, making it a more affordable solution than the competition because it can work with your existing Wi-Fi network. It can, like the rest of the units we tested, deliver alerts whenever water is present, but it also throws in a few perks that aren’t available on any other smart water sensor at this price.
Every one of the smart water sensors we tested could detect water. However, the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor can deliver those alerts using just your existing Wi-Fi network and a nearby electrical outlet. It even includes an audible alarm and an extension cord to let you monitor some of those hard-to-reach places. And even though it’s one of the few models on our list that doesn’t use a smart-home hub, the D-Link Wi-Fi Water Sensor still offers a lot of options for smart-home integration.
The Fibaro Flood Sensor features an audible alarm that also triggers when someone tilts or tampers with the device in any way. It has a temperature sensor and a visual “drop” display that can change color based on if there’s water, weird temperatures, or bad network connections. As an added bonus, this little circular device can actually float—which can end up being a huge bonus if a leak turns into a flood. However, unlike the D-Link, it requires a smart hub, which kept it from our top spot.
I’ve written about consumer electronics for over 15 years and have tested smart-home products from remotes and security cameras to AV receivers and speakers. As an editor for Electronic House and Big Picture Big Sound, I’ve written buyer’s guides for multiple consumer-electronics products. I’ve even done tech-related work for Wired, Woman’s Day, GeekMom, Men’s Health, and others. I also live in an area where my backyard completely disappears underwater multiple times a year.
Water sensors are probably the least “sexy” smart devices you can own. These are small devices that can alert you whenever water is present around the refrigerator, the washing machine, sinks, and toilets. It can even let you know when water is threatening all of the precious memories you’ve stuffed into the basement. If you’ve got a leaky basement or appliances of a certain age, a smart water sensor makes for a smart addition to your home.
Some smart water sensors work alone via Wi-Fi, and others connect to a smart-home hub using wireless technologies such as Z-Wave or ZigBee. When wetness occurs, both types can send a message to your phone so you can respond with a towel or a plumber. You’ll have to act fast if you want to save those baby pictures from getting waterlogged, though, because the units we’re talking about here can’t actually shut off the water.
However, there are smart-home systems that can turn off the water once danger is detected. But these systems are more complicated, can cost hundreds of dollars, and typically require a visit from a professional installer and/or plumber. The smart water sensors we’re talking about here simply alert you to the danger. If you’re upstairs or have a neighbor with a key, one of these detectors should be all you need to save your home and its contents from financial and emotional disaster.
Though some people may question the cost of these smart water sensors, know that the cost to replace furniture, rugs, and memories is much higher. The sensors we picked all hover around the $60 mark. Yes, you can get a leak sensor that will set off an eardrum-piercing tone for as little as $10, but if you want to get alerts and remote access, be prepared to pay a bit more.
We started compiling a list of smart water sensors by doing a Google search mainly looking for reviews and roundups. We found lists of likely devices on sites such as Electronic House and GearBrain. Once we had a list, we went through Amazon and Google to see what kind of feedback was available, and found a few additional selections in the process.
During our research, we found a million different leak sensors. However, most of those didn’t have “smart” features. A good smart water sensor is compact and will alert your smartphone or tablet whenever water is present. And it delivers those mobile alerts regardless of if you’re inside the house or on the other side of the world. When you factor in the smart aspects, the list of what’s out there is much smaller—but still too lengthy for our mission. So we narrowed the list using price, features, and availability. Also, we were specifically looking for smart leak sensors that you could easily install yourself. That narrowed our list down to seven products to submit to our water-torture tests.
We focused on models that connect to a smart-home hub (although two will work alone via Wi-Fi), but we avoided those that were proprietary to one specific platform. For instance, the Insteon Leak Sensor works only with the Insteon Hub—which made it ineligible for our list. In addition, each of our choices is easy to set up, works with an app, and can be used almost anywhere you expect water to make an appearance.
The average price for a smart water sensor that fit our criteria is about $60; you really shouldn’t pay more than that. You could probably justify the most-expensive model on our list, the Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector, by saying that it works alone, without the need for a smart hub. However, D-Link does the same thing for $20 cheaper.
Most of the water sensors on our list required some sort of smart hub. We used hubs from SmartThings and Wink, currently two of the most popular options available. Also, with the exception of D-Link’s DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor, all of the devices we tested also needed batteries.
Once a smart water sensor has power, it should be easy to connect, whether you opt to make that connection via a smart-home hub or direct to your home’s existing Wi-Fi. If you’re using a hub, the water detector will deliver alerts and monitoring through that hub’s app, which may require some configuration within the app.
At bare minimum, you should be able to peek at the app and determine if the sensor is wet or dry. It should also alert you to when wetness is present. For our testing, anything beyond those basic features were considered bonuses, especially if they proved useful. For instance, quite a few of the devices on our list allowed you to check on room temperature and even battery life.
For each of our tests, we used apps on an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. As mentioned, most of the devices used either the SmartThings or Wink hub, so we used the applicable app; when the device connected via Wi-Fi, we used that device’s specific app. We did most of the testing in our kitchen, because testing with water can be a messy business. When dousing each smart water sensor, we used four different amounts of water to see if it would react—and how quickly. We used measuring cups to douse each sensor with one-quarter cup of water, as well as a full cup. We also measured sensitivity using a spray bottle and finished things up by completely submerging each unit in a bowl of water.
Also, the main purpose of these devices is to alert you to water—most likely, you’re not going to be home when that happens. We made sure each detector delivered those alerts to a mobile device from afar.
The D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor is a reliable smart water sensor that’s also affordable. It’s actually the least expensive option we tested. That’s because it’s one of the few models that doesn’t need a smart-home hub. Instead, it uses Wi-Fi to deliver water alerts and integrate with other smart devices in the home. It’s also the only model on our list that relies on power from the wall rather than a battery.
Not everyone has a smart-home hub, so the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor uses your home’s existing Wi-Fi to deliver alerts through the mydlink Home app, which is available for iOS and Android devices. On the other hand, if you want to integrate the sensor with devices from other manufacturers you’ll have to do it via IFTTT (“if this, then that”) because it isn’t compatible with any available hub.
The D-Link device performed well throughout our testing, sending out alerts about six to 10 seconds after the sensors first touched water. It also features an audible alarm that can be heard about 35 feet away. However, that sound doesn’t travel as well through floors, so you might not be able to hear it from a basement.
Like most water sensors, the app associated with the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor—mydlink Home—is pretty basic. Other than a record of when water was present, it doesn’t offer a whole lot to look at. But it does offer options to change the device’s name, add in a personal photo (a neat feature, and perhaps useful if you have a lot of sensors you want to keep track of at a glance, but beyond that we weren’t clear on the utility), and create rules. For instance, we set the device to send both push notifications as well as email whenever water was present. Texting is not an option with this device (we were able to set up text alerts with the SmartThings app using the Fibaro sensor).
For a stand-alone device, the D-Link Wi-Fi Water Sensor does offer a few integration options as well. If you search the D-Link Water Sensor channel on IFTTT, there are ways to get phone calls, post to Slack, trigger the Nest thermostat, and more. It also works with other D-Link Connected Home devices, which you can control and set up integrations for from the same app. We tested this out by rigging the sensor so that when water was present it would trigger the D-Link Smart Plug to turn on a light.
The D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor is the only model on our list that doesn’t use batteries, which is a good and bad thing. Unlike every other model we tested, this unit plugs right into the wall. It’s nice that you won’t ever have to worry about changing dead batteries, but the fact that it needs an outlet could limit where you can place it. To combat some of those limitations, D-Link includes a pretty sensitive 1.6-foot water-sensor cable, as well as a 3.3-foot extension cable.
Also, even though the audible alarm is a bonus, it would be nice if it were a little louder. Its sound traveled as far as 35 feet indoors, but we had problems hearing it in the room right above, which was only about 15 feet away. If you’re upstairs and this thing starts squealing in the basement, you may have problems hearing it.
Fibaro actually makes its own Z-Wave-based smart-home system that includes the Home Center 2 hub, as well as the Flood Sensor, a motion sensor, and other add-ons. However, the Fibaro Flood Sensor is also certified to work with the SmartThings Hub, our recommended smart-home hub. When you pair the two, you can monitor the Fibaro Flood Sensor through the SmartThings app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices. You can even integrate it with other smart-home devices that connect to the hub. (Note: You can use other Z-Wave hubs; we focused on testing with the SmartThings hub because it’s our top pick and easily available.)
Connecting the sensor to the SmartThings Hub was a breeze. Once we paired the two, the sensor performed as advertised, delivering both push notifications and text alerts within five seconds or less.
Because the Fibaro Flood Sensor works with a smart-home hub, it means you can integrate it with other smart-home devices. For instance, we linked the sensor to a pair of Belkin’s WeMo switches so that lights would turn on whenever water was present. The Fibaro Flood Sensor even has an input terminal for connecting an external probe or connecting it to a wired alarm system.
Also worth mentioning is that the Fibaro Flood Sensor does have a temperature sensor that can trigger custom alerts within the SmartThings app. We set up a rule that when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees, the system would send a text. Then, we threw the device into the freezer. Sure enough, the temperature on the device dropped pretty quickly and we got our message.
The Fibaro Flood Sensor also stands out because of its slick, compact enclosure, which is also functional. David Priest at CNET also praises the design, saying that, “The Fibaro Flood Sensor’s design is by far its strongest element. The shape, cleverly modeled after a water droplet, is simple and unobtrusive. Some flood sensors, like the one from SmartThings, have plastic legs and two separate probes emerging from the bottom of the sensor body. As a result, these probes are suspended above the surface upon which the sensor rests and can miss dampness.”
If you don’t already have a smart-home hub, keep in mind that getting one will add about $50 to $100 to the total cost of using the Fibaro Flood Sensor. Also, we couldn’t get it to pair with the Wink Hub, so be advised that it doesn’t work with every hub out there. Fibaro manufactures its own hub, the Home Center 2, though it’s quite expensive and isn’t sold direct to the public. In addition to SmartThings, the Fibaro sensor is certified to work with hubs made by AT&T Digital Life, Nexia, Vera, Piper, URC, Clare Controls, and HomeSeer.
The LeakSMART Detection Sensor is slightly more expensive than the other models that we tested, but doesn’t offer more for those few extra bucks. It’s typically found as part of the LeakSMART Complete Home Water Protection System, a (currently) $400 package that includes LeakSMART’s hub and a shut-off valve. When purchased separately, you can pair the LeakSMART sensor with the Wink Hub. This sensor has a lot of the same features as the Fibaro, including an audible alarm, a temperature sensor, and a floatable chassis. This sensor claims to get a year’s worth of use on three AAA batteries, but after a week’s worth of use, we noticed the battery life had dropped about 5 percent. When paired with the Wink Hub, the sensor reacted within 10 seconds on all of our tests, sending out both notifications and emails. However, the Wink system lacks the ability to send text alerts. One bonus of the LeakSMART is that you can pair it with other devices connected to the Wink Hub. For instance, we set up the system to turn on a light connected to the Lutron Caséta Plug-In Lamp Dimmer whenever the LeakSMART detected water.
The least expensive model on our list is part of the SmartThings family, so it’s made to be paired with that company’s hub. It’s sturdy and small and uses a single CR2 battery, so you can easily place it anywhere. That battery is pretty sturdy as well, because it didn’t seem to wither at all during our testing period. The sensor doesn’t have an audible alarm, but triggered mobile alerts from a spray bottle (when the device was upside-down) and alerted us to various leaks and spills within five seconds or less via notifications and texts. However, when completely submerged, it gave off some wacky temperature readings for a day or two, including one that read –557. The temperature reading was fine about 24 hours later, so the sensor apparently just needed time to dry out.
The newest entry on the list is the most expensive, though it doesn’t require a hub (it works via Wi-Fi just like the D-Link sensor, which is less expensive). It does have temperature and humidity sensors and offers alerts for both of those as well. However, it doesn’t have the same integration perks as the D-Link, as the only other option in the app is the Honeywell Lyric. It did offer the loudest alarm of the bunch, but took the longest time to deliver it (almost 20 seconds after water exposure). One nice perk is that you can opt to place the device on the floor or connect the included 4-foot cable. That cable would probably be the way to go, though; this was the only device that didn’t survive the submerged portion of our testing.
The Utilitech sensor detected water within four seconds or less, but isn’t as sensitive as we expected it to be, failing our spray bottle test. This model looks a little like another model out now, made by Everspring. That’s because Everspring manufactures it for the Lowe’s Iris Smart Home Management System. That said, the Utilitech sensor works with the SmartThings Hub as well. It’s sturdy, but a lot bulkier than the other models we tested. The brain of the device is a transceiver that holds three AAA batteries and mounts to the wall. From there, a 9-foot-10-inch sensor cable droops down to detect moisture. And although it can tie into other SmartThings-connected devices and didn’t eat up any of the battery during our test period, it’s only other feature is a faint audible alarm.
The Aeotec performed very well throughout our testing, routinely triggering alerts within seven seconds or less. However, this compact model isn’t as sturdy or feature-rich as the other devices we tested. The battery compartment didn’t seem too reliable and even fell open once or twice while we were handling it. Luckily, that portion doesn’t come anywhere near water because the device has a permanent cable that measures a little over 3 feet. It doesn’t have an audible alarm or other extras. Also worth mentioning is that the receiver portion uses two AAA batteries, which lost about 5 percent of juice during our testing period.
Several new leak detectors will be coming out later this year, and they all look interesting. This fall, Roost, maker of a Wi-Fi–enabled 9-volt battery that turns a dumb smoke detector into a smart one, will offer a combination water and freeze detector that runs on AA batteries and works without a hub. Meanwhile, iHome will offer the iSS50 5 in 1 SmartMonitor, which detects water, temperature, light, sound, and motion. The iSS50 works with other HomeKit-enabled products, and you can configure it to trigger actions based on sensor alerts, such as turning on a light if a sound is detected. iHome says the iSS50 will work with Amazon’s Alexa as well as with SmartThings and Wink. Finally, a Delta-branded detector from iDevices, the Delta Leak Detection sensor, can detect both drips hitting it from above and water pooling underneath. The battery-powered Delta unit works over Wi-Fi and doesn’t require a hub. In addition to smartphone notifications, it includes an audible siren and flashing LED lights. We’ll test all of these new sensors as soon as they become available.
After soaking a lot of counters, floors, and towels, we’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to invest in a smart water sensor, the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor will be your best buy. It doesn’t need a smart hub, is a reliable performer, and offers a few extra perks that you can’t find in other sensors at the same price. If you have a smart hub and want to incorporate a water sensor into the mix, the Fibaro Flood Sensor should keep you pretty happy—or at least dry.
(Photos by Rachel Cericola.)
Originally published: June 27, 2016