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Inside the water-saving bathroom of the future

Australian bathrooms are ready for the next phase of water conservation: ‘smart’ fixtures that use data to help manage and drive efficient behaviour.

Innovations like dual-flush toilets and more efficient showerheads have already helped reduce water use in Australian bathrooms, as have initiatives such as the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme.

WELS was introduced during the Millennium Drought and uses a mandatory labelling system to provide information about a product’s water use. One study estimated the WELS scheme would save more than 200GL of water per year by 2030.

According to a new report from the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), the next step in bathroom water conservation will be implementing fixtures that let users monitor and control water use in real time.

“[A] history of plumbing product innovation and a familiarity with digital metering, together with the push for sustainable urban water management, primes Australia for the next generation of fixture-driven water efficiency,” the report states.

“Future strategies to reduce water demand will require accurate and reliable data that can be meaningfully interpreted to enable utilities and building operators to improve customer services, reduce water losses and manage demand.”

Bathrooms get smart

Smart fixtures have already been shown to increase efficiency in lighting and irrigation. For example, lights equipped with sensors can be programmed to only light areas that are being used, while integrating data such as soil moisture and weather reports can increase the effectiveness of irrigation.

The ISF collaborated with Australian bathroom brand Caroma on its report, entitled The Bathroom of the Future, using data collected from Caroma’s Smart Command system to analyse how people use commercial bathrooms.

Smart Command is an ecosystem of products including taps, urinals and flush panels connected by the Internet of Things (IoT) that collect data about water consumption, water pressure, usage and maintenance. This information can be used by building managers to immediately detect and repair faults, which minimises water leakage.

Other applications for the data include analysing usage patterns to optimise cleaning schedules; water pressure management; and saving energy through hot water optimisation.

Caroma Innovation Director and inventor of the Smart Command system Dr Stephen Cummings said innovation in the commercial water sector has traditionally lagged behind other building areas.

“While advancements in smart technology have transformed our ability to monitor and manage other critical resources and functions in digital buildings, such as power, lighting and ventilation, similar opportunities in commercial water management have yet to be unlocked until now,” Cummings said.

Drivers to digital

While smart fixtures represent the next phase of water conservation, Australian water businesses are already investing in smart metering to save water.

According to the ISF report, there are five main drivers for utilities to implement IoT-connected systems. These are: improving end-use analysis and efficiency; improving customer service and stimulating behaviour change; implementing pricing reform to manage peak demand; improving network efficiency; and enabling remote accessibility.

“Water utilities are increasingly considering intelligent metering as a way to enhance water supply security, minimise waste and control costs, as well as transform the customer-utility relationship,” the report states.

Sydney Water Head of Customer Direction and Experience Sally Armstrong said research conducted by the utility in September this year found customers were interested in smart meters.

More than half of customers (59%) said they would use digital meters to help them improve water conservation, and 44% said they would use notification and application features, particularly to receive leak alerts or high-use notifications.

“We’ve been working to help our customers use water more efficiently, especially during this drought,” Armstrong said.

“We’re looking at innovative solutions like digital meters, water-wise home designs and new highly water-efficient devices to allow our customers to proactively control their use … We know digital meters can help us better predict and respond to issues with the water network, as well as giving customers a way to better understand and interact with the water they use at home.”