New gadget helps find household leaks, save water & money

H2Know App

H2Know is a smart water meter that connects to an app on your mobile device. (Photo courtesy of H2Know)

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Past Storyfest Entries, Water

Did you know that U.S. households produce 2 trillion gallons of preventable water loss per year? That’s equal to 3.7 million metric tons of carbon emissions — the equivalent of the carbon emissions of the entire country of Mexico.

In fact, water conveyance — the transportation of water — is one of the largest energy consumers, accounting for about 8% of the entire country’s energy usage. And it turns out that we are conveying a lot more water than we need.

According to Mark Kovscek, founder and CEO of Conservation Labs, most of the infrastructure supporting water transportation is more than 50 years old, and faulty.

“Most of our infrastructure was built in 1970 or earlier and needs to be replaced or repaired,” he said. “That cost in the next 10 plus years will be about 4.7 trillion dollars.”

Water leaks generally account for about 15% of your monthly water bill. Kovscek’s newest product, H2know, helps find those leaks to fix them. H2know is a smart water meter that connects to an app on your mobile device and saves you about $250 annually in water bills.

Water pipes
Data from the H2know app locates and notifies users of leaks in faulty pipes to conserve water. (Pixabay

How H2know works

You can install H2know in less than 10 minutes to your own main pipeline, where the device takes live readings, thousands of measurements per second, of the pipe’s water flow.

Every water-using device: washing machines, faucets, toilets, and even leaks, have a unique water signature, meaning that the rate of water flowing through the main pipeline changes according to which device is being used, and through advanced data analytics and machine learning algorithms, these measurements are converted into useful information for homeowners. This data will tell you exactly which device is using water and when, and also identify leaks as they happen. The real-time response is important, according to Kovscek, because otherwise homeowners tend to ignore problems like these.

The example Kovscek gives is of a homeowner with a leaky toilet. The homeowner notices a leak from the toilet’s connecting pipe after a few days, but puts a container under it and decides to take care of it later. After three consecutive months of a water bill $30 higher than usual, she finally calls a plumber. By that time she already has lost $90, plus the cost of the plumber.

An H2know device would have notified the homeowner as soon as the leak started and also offered her the contact information for a local plumber, and DIY instructions on how to stop the leak.

H2know encourages the behavior of taking care of problems as they happen, resulting in less water loss and money down the drain.

According to Kovscek, the app “casually reminds folks that there is this broader issue that’s out there of conservation.”

The app part of H2know aims to “gamify conservation,” Kovscek says. It aims to compare a homeowner’s water usage to an average, or to a household with a same number of people living in it. This makes it a competition to conserve water. In other words, it provides incentive for people to begin changing their water use habits. The app also provides suggestions for ways to cut back on water usage.

Kovscek’s Conservation Labs recently won one of the Eureka Parks Climate Change Innovator awards at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — the first year they’ve given this environmental award — for its H2know, and the company has an Indiegogo campaign running in order to bring their product to market.

H2know market projections 

According to Kovscek, Hexa Research estimates the smart water meter market space to be about $2 billion. His own estimations came in at about $1.5 billion, although this market analysis was made before the smart water meter existed at all. Kovscek explains that this projection is driven primarily by four factors:

The first is homeowners’ adoption of connected smart home devices. Markets and Markets estimates the smart-home industry will be worth $137.91 billion by 2023.

The second factor is increasing water rates. Circle of Blue estimates that in the past five years, water rates have increased by 40% in 30 major U.S. cities. Kovscek says that his own bill is projected to rise 17% in the next year. These rising rates are due to old infrastructure being used to transport water, an estimated $4.7 trillion job for repairs and replacements that citizens are seeing in the form of rising water rates and taxes.

The third market-driving factor is climate change. Citizens in California were mandated to reduce their water consumption by 20% during the most recent drought, a feat determined by habit and identifying leaks, both things which H2know addresses. Similarly, extreme weather events and temperatures cause pipes to freeze and unfreeze at unprecedented rates, causing decaying pipes and water damage.

Folsom Lake in California is shown here with record low water levels due to the drought. (Vince Mig)

The fourth factor is the increasing public awareness of sustainability and environmental issues. People want to buy the most sustainable product and are becoming more conscious of consumer responsibility and dollar voting. All of these factors are driving a $2 billion product market, fit for H2know.

What sets H2know apart from its competitors is its lower price point — and its potential for investment returns for the homeowner. The appliance and app cost less than $100, and could save the homeowner as much as $250 a year. Kovscek also estimates his product has a shelf life of 10-plus years, so customers don’t have to spend money replacing or repairing the device on a routine basis.

Kovscek said H2know is able to operate at such an affordable price due to the research and care that the team at Conservation Labs put into it. Kovscek himself has an impressive background in data analytics, with a degree in mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University, and having worked for a long time solving big problems using advanced mathematic techniques. He is a numbers guy at heart, and sees what he does as “fun exercises in data science” that he is passionate and excited about, rather than as work.

With his expertise, Conservation Labs has invested the time and money into machine learning in order to sift through the messy and complicated data that their low cost sensor produces. Kovscek said this is different from other products on the market that use expensive sensors, which need to be installed by a plumber, and are invasive to the water infrastructure design. While some of these other products are fitted with an application that is capable of directly turning off the water supply as soon as a leak is detected, these technologies are entering the market at about $500. Products at this price might save water, but probably won’t save much money. 

The future of water conservation

In the future, Kovscek hopes to produce a product that works in tandem with H2know and will directly turn off the water supply when a leak is detected. He hopes to customize one of these products that already is on the market to work compatibly with H2know and provide homeowners with this additional feature.

While the primary focus of Conservation Labs right now is on homeowners, and shipping out the first 1,000 H2know devices by the end of the year, Kovscek sees the possibility of bringing H2know to commercial spaces in the future.

There is a “need and market with commercial places too,” he says, but “it is hard to scale with Wi-Fi being the primary communication protocol.” It would be hard to have a Wi-Fi network responsible for reaching the area included within a city’s limits, not to mention the problems associated with Wi-Fi security, passwords, and privacy protection.

In order to bring H2know to universities, towns, and cities, they would need to use a different communication platform. However, it is doable, and would help to identify leaks and trouble spots in city infrastructures that need replacement, ultimately saving tax dollars and increasing water rates.

Conservation Labs is still looking for partners with similar values with whom they can go to market, and is looking forward to having many of those conversations this year.

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