At CES earlier this year, I noted the rising number of smart plumbing products that promise to monitor for problems with your pipes, including ones that will automatically shut your water off in the event of a leak. The category features established options from major manufacturers that have been on the market for multiple years at this point — but compared to more popular smart home categories such as lights, locks and thermostats, the devices have struggled to break through with consumers.
Now, one of those manufacturers is turning to the research community to help bolster the pitch. Specifically, the makers of the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff, teamed with an analytics team at LexisNexis Risk Solutions to participate in research studying what sort of economic impact the device can make for homeowners, as well as its potential for insurers. Now, you can read the full findings here.
Meet the smart plumbing products coming for your pipes at CES 2020
“Our results were very enlightening,” the report’s summary reads. “They point to a strong correlation between the installation of Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoffs with fewer and lower-severity claims. They also support the broader benefits of smart home technology and smart home insurance programs, for both carriers and consumers.”
A spokesperson for the Flo by Moen brand tells CNET that the study was initiated by LexisNexis as part of its effort to research potential loss-prevention strategies for insurers. The numbers are interesting for consumers, too, and worth a look for anyone who’s considering the investment.
An ounce of prevention
The report examined 2,306 households that installed the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff, looking specifically at the one-year period after the device was installed and the two-year period before, when the homes weren’t equipped with any smart leak detectors at all. In that last year with the device installed, the homes saw a 96% reduction in the number of paid water claims.
From there, the study compared the data to a control group of 1.3 million homes of a similar size and value that didn’t add in any smart plumbing products at all during that same time frame. The number of paid water claims during the third year was 10% higher than the first two years.
That supports a fairly obvious conclusion: The smart plumbing tech was doing its job and preventing major leaks from wreaking havoc in the test homes.
The average severity of the control group’s claims also remained relatively steady over the pre- and post-installation periods. But among the Flo-equipped test homes, claim severity decreased 72% in the year following installation of the device. That’s another strong statistic, especially given that the cost of dealing with a leak and associated damages like mold can easily hit thousands of dollars.
Smart plumbing, smarter insurers?
The report notes that leak damage is one of the highest “loss costs” carriers face, and that the insurance industry spent more than $2 billion on claims for non-weather-related water damage in 2019 alone. The average payment in the US: $9,700.
That’s why the report encourages insurers to offer rate discounts or other incentives for customers willing to install smart leak detection products in their homes. Some carriers already do so, though the discounts aren’t widespread.
“For carriers, including water leak mitigation and shutoff devices as part of smart home strategies could drive adoption of these devices, leading not only to improved customer experience but also reduced loss costs,” LexisNexis says, adding that the company’s prior internet-of-things research indicates that consumers who own one or more smart home devices are willing to purchase additional devices if they’re offered an insurance discount.
Another key insight from the report is that homes with a Flo shutoff device had an average claim severity prior to installation that was, on average, three times higher than the control group. That makes sense when you think about it — the people with the most to lose from a leak were the ones more likely to invest in preventing those leaks from happening in the first place.
LexisNexis calls that “a high-cost claim tipping point,” and suggests that insurers who help spur adoption of the tech even before customers reach it could help bring the number and severity of paid water claims down even further.
“Our research suggests that industry assumptions about the potential benefits of smart home technology have merit,” the report goes on to say. “By gleaning insights from data generated by smart home technology, carriers can gain a more complete understanding of the risk they are underwriting and how that risk might change over time.”
Plumb with potential
The report also notes that Flo by Moen isn’t the only player in the smart plumbing market. Competing systems from names such as Phyn and Govee offer varying levels of functionality ranging from push alerts whenever water is detected to fixture-specific water pressure and usage readings to automatic shutoff, or all of the above.
“The right device for a home will depend on a homeowner’s conscientiousness, budget and individual needs,” the report says.
In the Flo’s case, the automatic shutoff valve currently costs about $400 on Amazon, and the wireless pucks that detect the leaks are sold separately, so it isn’t an inexpensive investment. Phyn’s automatic shutoff system costs even more, at $700. Other systems that notify you when a leak is detected without automatically shutting the water off will cost a lot less — and you’ve got plenty of options to choose from.
There’s good reason for that competition, says Blake Kozak, a senior principal analyst with Omdia who studies appliances and smart home tech.
“Water leak detectors are forecast to be one of the fastest growing categories for the smart home in 2020, with a 47% growth over 2019 in the North American region,” Kozak tells CNET. “The installed base in 2020 is expected to reach about 6.5 million, expanding to about 28 million by the end of 2023.”
Kozak also points to the boom in smart home security products, suggesting that the path to customers is clear for this kind of preventative tech.
“Unlike smart lighting and similar convenience devices, water leak detection holds a similar potential as security devices (camera and intruder alarms), where consumers see a material return on the device installations,” he writes.
As for insurers, Kozak agrees that there’s also room for them to help spur adoption by offering discounts, though he cautions that Omdia has yet to see large-scale efforts on that front just yet. At any rate, we’ll keep an ear to the ground as the leak detection landscape continues to take shape.
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Correction, May 9: This story has been updated to clarify that the LexisNexis report was independent research, and not a paid study.