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Q&A: Water conservation comes to the smart home Special

By Tim Sandle     Jun 11, 2018 in Business
Alert Labs produces smart-home technology devices which optimize water use, reduce the costs associated with water damage, and advance conservation efforts in homes and businesses.
To address water conservation with smart home technology, Alert Labs produces two easy-to-install, intelligent smart home devices. The first is a leak detection device called Flowie and a companion sensor, called Floodie.
Examples of application include the cities of Guelph and Welland in Canada. Here hundreds of residents have participated in household water conservation through rebate programs with Alert Labs technology. The partnership helped customers reduce their water use, decreasing utility bills by an average of 18 percent (this is the equivalent of saving two months' worth of water bills per year).
To understand more about how these device work, Digital Journal caught up with George Tsintzouras, who is the CEO and Co-founder, Alert Labs.
DJ: With water conservation and the ‘smart home’ how can technologies help?
George Tsintzouras: As recently as 2016, levels of water stress in Southern Ontario grew so bad that drought warnings were issued across the province (source: Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report - 2016/2017 - Volume One). Technologies that make the consumption of energy and water resources more transparent are transforming usage patterns.
There has been a decrease of an average of 18% in water consumption after real-time water flow monitoring sensors are installed in a home or business. Water consumers are not using less water, per se; they’re wasting less water by being able to detect water inefficient plumbing fixtures and appliances with smart water flow sensors. Sustainability is increasingly top of mind for cities in Canada, too. The City of Guelph and the City of Vancouver have installed smart water flow monitoring sensors at public facilities and have significantly mitigated utility loss.
DJ: How about water damage, what can smart technologies deliver?
Tsintzouras: Water damage is the number one insurance claim in Canada. About one in 50 insured homes has a property damage claim caused by water damage or freezing each year. The average cost of a basement flood is $43,000.
Always-on, cellular-connected leak and flood detectors are saving property owners from the trauma of repairing damaged homes and losing irreplaceable keepsakes such as photos. The longer a property sits in water, the worse the water damage becomes. With instant alerts sent from water sensors to smartphones, property owners can immediately take action to avoid the cost of wasted water and extensive repairs.
DJ: What services do Alert Labs offer?
Tsintzouras: Alert Labs believes tech should be for everyone, which is why it designs and manufacturers smart technology devices that anyone can use, with no technical expertise required. Alert Labs has developed sensors that optimize water use, reduce the costs associated with water damage, and advance conservation efforts in residential and commercial buildings.
In addition to hardware, Alert Labs has developed platforms for computer (Dashboard) and mobile (Alert Labs App) that makes commercial-grade water usage analytics available in real-time. Alert Labs is also a socially conscious organization, recently raising $1000 for the Water First charity to help Indigenous Youth learn valuable water treatment skills to help end the boil water advisory that 40 percent of First Nations communities in Ontario face.
DJ: What does your Flowie device do?
Tsintzouras: Flowie is a smart water flow sensor that uses algorithms to detect the leaks that other water sensors miss. Flowie straps onto a water meter in 8 seconds without tools or the need to cut water pipes. If you can put on a watch, you can install Flowie. The 24/7 monitoring of water usage allows for consumption benchmarking so that property owners receive leak alerts when water usage deviates from the norm.
Flowie is being implemented by over 170 schools across Canada, more than a dozen municipalities including the City of Vancouver and the City of Guelph, and by thousands of residential and multi-residential property owners. Unlike WiFi devices, Flowie continues to send critical alerts during power outages thanks to its backup battery and cellular connection.
In addition to continuous, intermittent, and high flow leak alerts, Flowie also tracks and sends alerts to smartphones for humidity, pipe freezing temperatures, and power outages providing total property protection from water-related damage and costs.
DJ: How about the Floodie sensor?
Tsintzouras: Floodie is an intuitively designed, reusable, and portable smart companion flood sensor. Floodie guards areas at risk for water damage such as under sinks, near sump pits, or around water heater tanks. Flood alerts are sent the instant Floodie detects water. Floodie runs on 2 AA batteries (included in the box), allowing for the freedom to install the device anywhere within 1000 feet (300 m) of the Flowie water flow sensor.
DJ: Are there different needs for homes and businesses?
Tsintzouras: Water damage can completely ruin that finished basement a homeowner invested thousands of dollars in to create a family entertainment room. Water damage can also destroy the priceless family photos or valuable electronics many of us keep in our basements. A sudden increase in a water bill, too, could mean falling behind on other bills and the stress and strain that brings. News outlets are replete with examples of homeowners dealing with the trauma of a surprise high water bill.
Preventing water damage and high water bills is more than just about saving money for homeowners; it’s about achieving real peace of mind — free from worries about water.
The situation for businesses is similar but on a vastly different scale. Approximately 70% of businesses or large residential buildings that have installed real-time water monitoring devices uncovered leaks within the first month.
One example comes from a restaurant that saved $7600 in the year after the Flowie smart water flow sensor detected a leak in an ice machine. Another example comes from a housing charity that saved $10,000 in the first two months after installing smart flood sensors in its housing units. With each additional plumbing fixture or water using appliance, the chances that a business or multi-residential building will have water problems increases exponentially. The need to preserve property and assets with smart water sensors cannot be overstated.
George Tsintzouras also has thoughts on the overall concept of the smart home today and in the future. He shares his thoughts with Digital Journal in a companion article. See: “Interview: What is the future of smart homes in smart cities?
More about Water conservation, Smart home, smart city