Fast detection of pipe burst in water distribution systems (WDSs) could improve customer satisfaction, increase the profits of water supply and more importantly reduce the loss of water resources. Therefore, sensor placement for pipe burst detection in WDSs has been a crucial issue for researchers and practitioners. This paper presents an economic evaluation indicator named as net cost based on cost–benefit analysis to solve the optimal pressure sensor placement problem. The net cost is defined as the sum of the normalized optimal detection uncovering rate and investment cost of sensors. The optimal detection uncovering rate and the optimal set of sensor locations are determined through a single-objective optimization model that maximizes the detection coverage rate under a fixed number of sensors. The optimal number of sensors is then determined by analyzing the relationship between the net cost and the number of sensors. The proposed method is demonstrated to be effective in determining both the optimal number of sensors and their locations on a benchmark network Net3. Moreover, the sensor accuracy and pipe burst flow magnitude are shown to be key uncertainties in determining the optimal number of sensors.