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This $799 water monitor tracks how long you've been in the shower

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Buoy water monitor Photo: Buoy Labs

A new company named Buoy Labs is trying to make it easy for homeowners to monitor and cut down on their water usage. The company is releasing its debut product today, a big buoy-shaped device named Buoy, that attaches to a home’s water line and measures how much water is going through it. Using that data, Buoy can tell homeowners how much water they’re using for showers, doing dishes, cleaning laundry, and flushing toilets. It can also tell if there’s a leak.

Keri Waters, Buoy’s co-founder and CEO, lives in Santa Cruz, California, and became interested in finding ways to reduce water usage a little over two years ago, while her city and state were requiring homeowners to lessen their usage amid an ongoing drought. The drought in California, Waters says, “is a canary in the coal mine of what's coming for the whole country.”

So Waters and what’s become a team of 17 people came together to build Buoy, a device that’s meant to make cutting down your water usage a bit easier. Waters says that most people assume cutting down on water usage means taking shorter showers, but homeowners can also cut down by fixing invisible leaks or using efficient appliances, like a dishwasher, instead of doing dishes by hand with a running faucet. The EPA, Waters points out, also says that 10 percent of homes have wasteful leaks and that correcting them could cut down their water usage by 10 percent. For homes that can identify and fix a leak, it could be a big gain toward mandatory water reductions targeted at 20 percent or more.

Buoy app Image: Buoy Labs

To do all this, Buoy watches the rate at which water flows through your home’s pipes, then using a Wi-Fi connection, uploads it to the company’s servers, which use machine learning to categorize water usage. Based on flow rate, it’s supposed to be able to automatically pick apart showers, running faucets, flushed toilets, and so on. It’s even supposed to be able to tell when multiple things are being use simultaneously — say, when one person is showering and another person flushes a toilet, because it’ll identify the spike in water usage and separate it out.

In a companion app, Buoy will then be able to show a home’s water usage throughout the day and overall water usage by category. It’ll also be able to tell if there’s a leak and in certain cases even identify what the problem is. Beyond that, it’ll still be up to homeowners to figure out exactly how they want to cut down on their water usage, but getting a clear picture of what they’re currently using might make it easier to figure out the best course forward.

Buoy also offers a handful of other smart features. It can send notifications about water usage and, more importantly, about leaks. And it’ll also allow homeowners to shut off their water line in the event that it detects a leak. That could make the device useful not just for homeowners trying to reduce their daily usage, but also for people who own properties they don’t live in year round, as it could potentially stop leaks from leading to water damage.

Buoy water monitor Photo: Buoy Labs

Waters’ company isn’t the first to come up with a device like this. Over the past few years, several other companies have put out (or tried to put out) smart water monitors that connect to apps, to help people get a sense of their water usage. But those haven’t automatically characterized water usage the way that Buoy does (or they never managed to ship).

Buoy Labs, on the other hand, begins shipping its debut product today. The Buoy sells for $799 — much more expensive than other water monitors — and includes installation by a plumber. That price includes lifetime usage of Buoy’s current app features, meaning you won’t need to pay for an additional subscription. Waters says the device should be compatible with any single-family home and newer multi-family buildings — anywhere the water line is divided up per residential unit.