Water is a precious and expensive resource, but it can be a pernicious threat if it shows up in the wrong places in your home, especially in an uncontrolled fashion. I’ve been testing the Flo Water Damage Prevention System for the past several months and can say it would have saved me a lot of time and money had I installed it several years ago. But it’s not perfect. And it’s certainly not cheap.

At its most basic, Flo will detect and warn you about a water leak. It will also shut off your main water supply in the event of a catastrophic event, such as a burst pipe. That’s a scenario I’ve experienced personally. A pipe in my garage ceiling froze and burst one winter while my wife and I were traveling. We returned several days later to find the interior of our entire garage destroyed, with water still spewing from a less-than-one-inch-long split in a copper pipe in the ceiling.

Every square inch of drywall was soaking wet, with so much water in the ceiling that it looked as though it was raining inside (see photo, below). Most everything we had stored in the garage, including some antique furniture, power woodworking tools, and gardening equipment, was ruined. The garage-door openers and all the lighting fixtures had to be replaced, too. Our final insurance claim exceeded $28,000, and it took months to get everything dried out and replaced. If we’d had a smart valve installed then, there would have been much less damage.

garage flood damage 3 Michael Brown / IDG

A water pipe that froze and then burst while the author was away from home for several days resulted in more than $28,000 in damage to the structure and its contents.

What Flo is

Flo consists of a motorized valve that you install on the main water supply line (1.25-inches or smaller) coming into your home. You can do this yourself, if you’re comfortable cutting the pipe that supplies your home with water, but Flo recommends professional installation. I didn’t want to take any chances, so Flo sent out a professional plumber for the job (installation is not included in the $499 price of the product).

Flo has a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi adapter onboard, so it’s essential that you have a strong wireless router that can extend your network outdoors. In my case, I have a three-node Linksys Velop mesh Wi-Fi system, with an access point in the master bedroom. The main water supply line is on the other side of one of the bedroom walls, so my Wi-Fi signal was plenty strong to service the valve (there is no hardwired ethernet option).

You’ll also need an AC outlet near your supply line to power Flo’s motorized valve and its Wi-Fi adapter. The Flo smart valve is fully weatherized, and it has an inline power brick, so the electrical plug at the end will easily fit inside a bubble-type outdoor receptacle cover. I elected to plug it into an outlet inside the exterior closet where my tankless water heater is installed.

If your home doesn’t have an outdoor outlet nearby, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll power the valve. If you decide to install an outlet, be sure to use a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) model for your own protection. Alternatively, Flo offers a certified 25-foot extension cord for $12 (you can use up to four of these together if you really need to).

Flo 25-foot extension cordFlo

If your water line is far from an electrical outlet, you can connect up to three of these 25-foot extension cords to reach an outlet.

What Flo does

Sensors inside the Flo valve measure water pressure, water temperature, and—while water is flowing through the valve—the rate at which water is flowing (measured in gallons per minute). The valve will also perform a daily “health test,” during which it shuts off your home’s water supply and then monitors for any drop in water pressure that would indicate water is leaving your pipes somewhere beyond the valve. The test is typically performed in the middle of the night or some other time when Flo’s algorithms have learned that you don’t typically run water. If you do turn on a faucet, flush a toilet, or what have you while the test is underway, the test will stop and the valve will reopen, so you’re not inconvenienced.

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