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Smart showers, smart toilets and smart sinks: Should you put your plumbing online?

Are smart plumbing systems worth it? We take a look at smartening the running water in your home.

By now, there are connected products for nearly every corner of your smart home. Security, lighting, cooking, cleaning and entertainment are all voice-enabled, if you're willing to spend the money and swap out your dumb systems. Smart plumbing isn't any different. 

There's a steady stream of products that aim to smarten your water supply from all angles, but which ones are worth it? Are they all luxurious add-ons or ways to truly improve your home's efficiency and convenience? It might depend on the category. Let's take a look at where smart plumbing products might show up in your home and what they offer. 

Kitchen

Smart water in the kitchen is centered around the kitchen sink. Kohler and Delta both offer smart faucets that connect to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice commands. Kohler's Sensate Faucet comes with voice commands and Delta's VoiceIQ Module smartens up compatible Touch2O faucets.

You can do things like ask your faucet to dispense a specific amount of water or turn the faucet on or off. With both models, you'll need an always-on power supply and you'll need to put the handle in the "On" position and then turn off the water with motion sensing in order to enable voice commands. Both models are expensive, too.   

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The Kohler Sensate faucet with voice commands works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Once you've installed your faucet and connected it to your voice assistant, there are some handy functions. You can ask for 12 ounces of water, ask your voice assistant to turn the faucet on or in Delta's case, ask it to heat up your water.

These faucets aren't perfect, though. You'll need to use a clunky command like "Hey, Google, ask Kohler to dispense 8 ounces of water," and the custom commands for things like "fill spaghetti pot" can be tricky to get just right. However, if you're already in the market for a high-end Delta or Kohler faucet, getting a model with these smarts won't add much, if any, extra cost. 

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Phyn's new Smart Water Assistant attaches to the water lines beneath your sink. 

Phyn

There are other options for monitoring water in your kitchen. Phyn's latest water monitor, the $299 Phyn Smart Water Assistant, attaches to the hot/cold water lines under your sink and doesn't require professional installation. It can let you know if you pipes are beginning to freeze, monitor your home's water pressure and show your water consumption all through the Phyn app on your mobile device. We haven't tested this system yet, but it seems to toe the line between leak detector and whole-home water monitor. 

Bathroom

Smartening the water in your bathroom can take several forms. Let's start with shower systems. A smart shower could mean an entire system or just a connected shower head. Prices range from less than $100 to several thousands.

The U by Moen Smart Shower system has a $1,225 MSRP and can create profiles for individuals in your household with specifics for temperature. It can warm up your shower, then pause the water flow until you're ready to step inside. That's one way to potentially reduce your water consumption, but installation does require a professional and that high price tag doesn't include any special shower heads or premium hardware, only the thermostatic digital shower valve and control panel. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Kohler has a similar DTV+ shower system that works with the Kohler Konnect app. You can create presets for sound, water, steam and special lighting if you have that installed. Smart commands with Kohler's shower also work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Smart showers like these are largely luxurious and not focused on water savings. While there are some economical aspects, your'e paying mostly for the convenience of getting your shower up and running at the sound of your voice. 

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French company Smart and Blue's Hydrao range of showerheads are kitted out with LED lights that change color, from green to blue to purple to red, based on how long you've been showering.

Of course, there are more affordable ways to smarten your shower, like Kickstarter's Livin shower head, a gadget that monitors water consumption and allows you to press a button that pauses water flow.

That one hasn't hit retail yet, but you can buy models under $70 from WaterHawk and DreamSpa with integrated LEDs that change colors corresponding to temperature. The Hydrao Smart Shower System is powered entirely by the water flowing through it and lights up with different colors to indicate how much water you've used. These easy-to-install, affordable alternatives are a great way to get into smart showering. 

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Kohler's Numi Smart toilet works with the Kohler Konnect app. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Then, there are toilets. Yes, smart toilets are a thing. Not only does Kohler make a smart toilet, but it's made multiple versions. The newest, $9,000 mega toilet can play music, heat the seat, heat the floor below it, put on a light show, raise and lower the lid and of course, flush automatically. It can save presets for up to six people for custom experiences. 

We've had the Numi Smart Toilet in the CNET Smart Home for a while, and though it can do a lot, I've never felt like I've had a $9,000 experience. Numi isn't doing anything to save you water beyond the 1.28-gallons-per-flush rate either, so if water-saving tech is your goal, this toilet isn't going to do much. 

Leak detectors

Among all the smart water products out there, leak detectors are the most affordable and most portable. Put them anywhere you're concerned about leaks. 

They're great for basements, underneath kitchen or bathroom sinks or behind toilets. These battery-powered, small devices connect to a mobile app through a smart home hub or Wi-Fi to warn you if water touches the sensor. You'll get a push notifications to straight your phone. 

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You've got a lot of options when it comes to these handy water watchers. SmartThings, iHome, Honeywell, Fibaro and Roost all make a version of a water sensor. 

These are great for monitoring places that are prone to water, but they can't tell you much about what's happening inside your pipes. For a more thorough look at the temperatures, pressures and flow rates in your home's water supply, you'll need a whole-home system. 

Whole-home water monitoring systems

There are systems that can monitor your entire home's water supply. Some can even shut off the water in a catastrophic failure event. These typically install at your water meter or you home's main water supply and require a Wi-Fi connection and app.

Some can be DIY, but most at least recommend a professional consultation. With these systems in place, you can see all kinds of stats from your daily, weekly and monthly consumption to water pressure, temperature and flow rate. 

Moen recently partnered with Flo, a whole-home startup that does just that. You can install Flo yourself, but it's recommended that a Flo professional comes out to your home. You'll need to be pretty comfortable working with your own water pipes if you want to install this $500 system yourself. 

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Once Flo is installed, it can monitor the water pressure and water flow throughout your home. It can also remotely shut off your water if something goes wrong. Of course, you'll get notifications on everything Flo is doing as well as the option to perform health tests on your system. 

A similar system, Flume, straps around your home's existing water meter and connects via a bridge to your Wi-Fi. Unlike Flo, it is intended to be self-installed. Once it's set up, you'll get information on water consumption, pressure and any problems it detects within your home. That system costs $200, but it can't shut off your water in an emergency like Flo can. 

For most people, these pricey systems are on the overkill side, but if you live in an area prone to freezing pipes, or you're trying to keep an eye on a plumbing system that isn't reliable, whole-home systems could save you from a lot of damage. When it comes to smart water, these are probably the most practical and data-driven devices. 

Is any of this stuff worth it? 

Monitoring your water isn't the most luxurious of smart home capabilities. It's not the cool, connected thing you'll show your friends when they come over. However, if you have consistent leak worries in your home or you're frequently traveling, having at least a leak detector can offer a lot of peace of mind. 

Smart water value really depends on the category. Sensors, especially the more affordable and portable options are a worthy return on a relatively small investment. However, a $9,000 toilet or $1,200 shower system? Those luxury goods, and they're obviously not for everyone. The concept behind smart kitchen faucets is intriguing and useful in some cases, but it hasn't been perfected and is still pricey.

That doesn't mean the average consumer will be locked out of smart water forever. This corner of smart home tech continues to expand and does seem to be working toward real innovation and usefulness. It has the potential to increase our homes' efficiency and solve problems before they start, and for that reason, it's worth keeping an eye on. 

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