This Device Tells You If You’re Wasting Water—and a Lot of Money

The Water Hero detects leaky pipes and toilets and sends an alert to your smartphone.
(Photo: Water Hero)
Dec 1, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Padma Nagappan is a multimedia journalist who writes about the environment, renewable energy, sustainability, agriculture, and biotechnology.

Dan Sterling lives in a drafty old Victorian near Boston, and every winter he worried that his pipes would freeze. His anxiety inspired him to develop the Water Hero, a sensor-equipped device that monitors water temperature.

While working on the project, he shut off his water and then heard a gurgling sound, which turned out to be leaks in his toilets.

“I realized my leaks came from two eroded toilet flappers,” said Sterling. “Easy to fix, but I had no idea because they were silently leaking about 15 gallons a day.”

That prompted him to turn the device into a leak detection system. Undetected leaks in a single home can mean 10,000 gallons of wasted water a year. That adds up to 1 trillion gallons nationwide at a time when drought and climate change are straining water supplies.

In some drought-stricken California cities, for instance, residents receive a monthly allotment of water and face steep fines if they exceed their ration. So a leaky toilet isn’t just annoying—it’s expensive.

The Water Hero is strapped to the side of a municipal water meter, and when it detects excess flow, it automatically shuts off the water, preventing flood damage, which costs the country $6 billion in damages annually. He estimates that the $199 Water Hero will save homeowners at least $600 a year, depending on the amount of leakage.

So how does it work? No cutting into pipes or hiring a plumber, unlike other leak detection devices, Sterling said.

“The meter is like a water wheel, so as the water flows, it spins magnets that turn dials, which tells the city how much water you use,” Sterling said. “Our device can read the magnetic field and accurately measure water use, give you real-time data, and detect whether there’s a leak.”

Homeowners can customize settings and specify a threshold level, and if the outflow exceeds that level, it shuts off the water and texts you. So if you are going away for the weekend but the sprinklers and ice maker in your refrigerator will still come on, then you can make allowances for that water use and set a threshold level.

The Water Hero connects to your home Wi-Fi network. Once you download the app, you can get readings from anywhere through your smartphone.

The device will hit the market in 2015, and Sterling’s start-up has launched a fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter. The company recently won a contest, sponsored by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Council, in which entrepreneurs showcased emerging clean technology.

Sterling recounts the story of a man he met at the event who was shocked to receive a $4,000 water bill for the summer months. He didn’t get the bill until September and had no clue that he had a leaking sprinkler.

“So I thought if we could give people 24-7 data on their water use and leaks, they would become a lot more conservation minded,” Sterling said. “A lot of people don’t understand their water bills. With this, you can see someone had a shower that used up X amount of water, which may get you to cut your shower time.”

Dragon Innovation, an independent organization that helps start-ups launch products, reviewed the Water Hero and conducted a thorough analysis of the device, disassembling it and examining it for functionality, reliability, quality, and cost.

“Our engineers performed an in-depth review,” said Beth Macdonald, vice president of marketing at Dragon Innovation. “We can ensure that it can be manufactured and assembled.”

Sterling said the device can be made more useful with add-ons such as a temperature sensor, a moisture and humidity reader, and a sensor that can detect gas leaks. Each add-on costs $29. The company will sell the Water Hero directly to consumers from its website as well as through Amazon and select retailers.