By Rachel Cericola
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 available. 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.
Who should get this
Water sensors are small devices that can alert you whenever water is present around the refrigerator, the washing machine, sinks, and toilets—even in the basement. If you've got a leaky basement or appliances of a certain age, a smart water sensor makes for a strategic addition to your home.
Some smart water sensors work alone via Wi-Fi, and others connect to a smart-home hub; when wetness occurs, both can send a message to your phone so you can respond with a towel or a plumber. The units we're talking about here can't actually shut off the water; they simply alert you to the danger so you can respond quickly.
Though you can get a leak sensor that will set off an eardrum-piercing tone for as little as $10, if you want to get alerts and remote access, be prepared to pay a bit more: Our recommendations hover around the $60 mark.
How we picked
We tested a variety of smart water sensors, including Wi-Fi models and those that work with Z-Wave smart-home hubs. Photo: Rachel Cericola
We compiled a list of smart water sensors by doing a Google search for reviews and roundups; once we had a list, we looked for feedback on Amazon and Google. Although we found a million different leak sensors, when you factor in the smart aspects, the list of what's out there is much smaller. We narrowed that list further using features, availability, and price. The average cost for a smart water sensor that fit our criteria is about $60; you really shouldn't pay more than that. That narrowed our list down to seven products to submit to our water-torture tests—each product is easy to set up, works with an app, and can be used almost anywhere you expect water to make an appearance.
How we tested
We used a spray bottle to determine how little water would trigger an alert. Photo: Rachel Cericola
For each of our tests, we used apps on an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. 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.
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, finally, by completely submerging each unit in a bowl of water.
The main purpose of these devices is to alert you to water, whether you're at home or away, so we made sure each detector delivered those alerts to a mobile device from afar. Anything beyond their basic features was considered a bonus—for instance, quite a few of the devices on our list allowed you to check on room temperature and even battery life.
The D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor. Photo: Rachel Cericola
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—not coincidentally, it's also one of the few models that doesn't need a smart-home hub. Instead, it uses Wi-Fi to deliver water alerts through the mydlink Home app (available for iOS and Android devices) 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.
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 you can hear from about 35 feet away, though that sound doesn't travel as well through floors.
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 offers options to change the device's name, add in a personal photo, and create rules. For instance, we set the device to send both push notifications as well as an email whenever water was present; texting is not an option here.
For a stand-alone device, it 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.
A pick for smart-hub users
If you don't have access to an electrical outlet, and don't mind using a Z-Wave hub, the Fibaro Flood Sensor is a great choice. Photo: Rachel Cericola
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, a requirement that kept it from being our top pick.