It is every homeowner’s nightmare: You go out of town for a day and return home to a damaged house because a pipe burst or a faucet was left on.
Uponor North America, through a joint venture named Phyn, might have come up with the solution. The Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant debuted last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the International Builders Show in Florida and is one of the latest entries into the “internet of Things” category.
The device is a leak detection and automatic water shut-off system controlled with an app that should help to halt the millions in property damage each year caused by unknown water leaks and pipe bursts.
“We are really excited,” said Bill Gray, president of Uponor North America. “There is a lot of positive energy and thinking that this is a really good thing that Phyn has developed for homeowners.”
The new device is the result of the 21-month-old joint venture between Uponor in Apple Valley and Belkin International in California.
Uponor invested about $15 million in Phyn and now owns 37.5 percent of the joint venture. Eventually, Uponor expects to own 50 percent of the venture, Gray said.
Phyn Plus lets “homeowners manage their water throughout the entire home, even when they’re away,” said Cassie Schmid, Uponor’s strategic marketing manager.
The system can be programmed to automatically shut off water once a problem is detected. Or homeowners can program the corresponding app to alert them via text of the problem and press a button to shut off the water at the home.
The high-tech monitor, which costs about $850 plus plumber installation fees, uses an ultrasonic flow meter, pressure sensors and LED display-panel that are installed near the homeowners’ regular water meter.
The technology is designed to catch a wide range of plumbing problems from a faucet drip to a frozen pipe issue. The entire system tracks the real-time temperature, pressure and flow rate of water in a house.
The system can detect the differences between the normal flushing of a toilet vs. what happens when there is a leak or a crack in pipes or the valves that connect toilets, washers, washing machines or sinks to the house’s main water system.
The device — about the size of a 2-liter soda bottle — took Uponor and Belkin more than 18 months to develop with the help of about 100 engineers, plumbers and marketers.
The pilot test for the Phyn Plus took 18 months, with it installed in 300 homes in 18 U.S. markets.
Gray said he was excited by the prospects of a joint venture that attempted to blend the rapidly changing world of consumer electronics with the staid, 25-year warranty-world of heating and plumbing systems.
“We have obviously hit on something that [addresses] a deferred need,” Gray said.
Future marketing efforts for Phyn will include social media, traditional media and home insurance companies, the latter being entities that foot the bill when disaster strikes, he said.
U.S. insurance companies pay an average $8,861 per water damage claim, said Schmid, who oversees Uponor’s Intelligent Water Marketing division.
About one in every 37 homeowners has suffered some type of water damage, often because of plumbing woes, she said.
Phyn marks Uponor’s first entrance into the intelligent water market, Schmid said.
The Phyn device measures a home’s water data every 240 seconds and relies on patented algorithms to determine the difference between normal faucet use and real signs of trouble, she said.
Phyn’s tracking of temperature, flow and pressure “is not standard when we look at the competitive landscape in the residential marketplace,” Schmid said. “The device is truly stunning.”
Competing leak-monitoring systems do not check as many factors as the Phyn Plus does, she said.
Officials aren’t sure how to estimate the market for the Phyn Plus and products like it.
Two factors, however, sweeten expectations, they said.
For one, Uponor officials said reaction at the CES show was very strong.
How strong? Of all the thousands of products on display, it was Phyn that was named one of CES’ top-five new products.
The company also said that as smart devices gain traction, the overall market is about 120 million condos, apartments and single family houses in the United States alone.
“And most are over 50 years old. So that tells you that you [could have leaks],” Gray said. “This market is emerging, and that offers a huge opportunity.”