Measure What Matters

Last summer many of you followed the story of my mother’s shocking water bill, commiserating and making suggestions for how to deal with her water provider. I’m happy to report (a bit belatedly!) that the problems were largely resolved and she’s feeling better (not great, but better) about her water utility. Her plumber was able to track down and repair the silent, underground leak in her irrigation system, and her utility knocked about 50% of the leak costs from her account. She’s still irked that the utility only uploads the AMI signal once a month, but at least she’s gotten the frustration off her chest, found that there are friendly people at her water utility, and was able to get a few hundred dollars knocked off her water bill. But what’s happened in the intervening months has been even more interesting.

In response to that blog last summer, the thoughtful people at Flume asked if she’d like a complimentary home monitor to stave off future shocks. Before I responded I checked around a bit to learn more about home water monitors. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t taking her down a technologically complex rabbit hole. I also didn’t want to link her up with anything too “fluffy” or simplistic. Mom probably didn’t want to hire a plumber to install, and she doesn’t need self-evident tips like “turn the tap off while brushing”. In my way of thinking, Mom needed a Goldilocks solution and my sense was that Flume would be “just right” for her. She did some reading up and agreed that it looked like an interesting experiment.

Once the Flume arrived, she and her husband quickly and easily installed it. “Either of us could have done it. The directions were very clear. There’s a little collar that you put around the pipe where your water comes into your property. And then there’s a device you put in a window facing the meter,” she told me. Continuing on, she said “There’s a code that you scan. Then we called Flume so they could open the account.” Somewhere in there she downloaded the Flume app, and soon she was seeing real-time water use on her phone. Mind you, I’m 61 years old, so you can make your own guess about my mother’s age. In other words, you don’t need to be a technology geek to figure this out. Heck, even I could probably do it.

Of course, getting it installed is only half the fun. Checking the app can become an obsession in hunting down where the water is going. In Mom’s case she reported “When we first had Flume operating, we checked daily and could see that we were losing about 2 gallons/hour at night.” They have a landscape irrigation system so one night they turned off the water to the entire house to see if the leak could be isolated to the irrigation system (which was the source of the previous summer’s leak). First thing in the morning they checked the app: no leak. Hmm. It must be coming from the house, a conclusion that they verified the next night by shutting off just the irrigation system. Sure enough, they woke to see the loss of 2 gallons/hour to phantom in-home sources overnight.

Their next step was to shut off water to each of their toilets overnight. The phantom loss was unabated, telling them the toilets were fine. They could see that the sinks weren’t dripping. What else could it be?

Cleverly (I’m not sure I would have thought of this), Mom turned to the Flume “write-in” page. I’m not sure if it was a blog, or in the help center, or (more likely) a page that is only available to registered users, but somewhere she saw people commenting that their water filtration system was a source of water loss. Her home did not have a water filter, but then she realized that her new refrigerator/freezer had an icemaker and water purifier. Even though they were using it only lightly, for just a wee bit of ice each evening (cocktails?), it seemed they were on to a scent.

That night they turned the fridge’s water source off for the evening. Of course, as she told me this, a series of thought bubbles appeared over my head: “How did you get at your fridge’s water source? Did you pull the fridge out from the wall? Is that why you needed shoulder surgery this spring?”, but I let those questions sit so that we could stay on the scent. When they woke, what did they find the next morning? (Drumroll … ) Less than 1/2 gallon/hour of water loss! And after they replaced the filter, the loss was less than a gallon per night.

Of course, there’s still a mystery of where that gallon per night is going, but she rests more easily knowing that most of the phantom use has been tracked down and eliminated. Even the plumber couldn’t figure it out, but he apparently enjoyed the puzzle and perhaps will be suggesting Flume to some of his other curious clients.

Meanwhile, Mom has fun tracking how much her water use shoots up when Gen-Z grandchildren are showering, and being shocked at the realization of how much her irrigation system uses. “Using Flume certainly makes you aware of your water use. We’ve had irrigation issues with new plantings and i now realize how much water it uses…. It hits you in the face when you see 600 gallons per hour!”

In the end, I asked “Would you recommend Flume to others?”. Unlike me, my mother is not one for hyperbole, yet her immediate answer was “Oh yes – I would definitely recommend it!” I guess I know what I’m getting people for Christmas this year, starting with my own household!

p.s. On the Flume website I learned that they have a referral program. if you’re a Flume user you may want to sign up for this yourself. If you’re interested in buying one, please consider using my referral link. I do not in any way need an Amazon gift card, but if any come my way through your purchase I will donate them to River Network, a terrific organization I’ve long been involved with.

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