The Bathroom Takes A Step Change

27/09/2010 | The bathroom has come in for a lot of scrutiny recently with both government departments and eco-savvy consumers demanding water and energy efficient bathroom products. Yvonne Orgill, CEO of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, looks at the fast pace of change taking place in the British bathroom, and explains the labelling scheme which gives consumers the choice. ________________________________________ Massive changes in the portfolio The British bathroom is going places. Fast. Bathrooms have seen major changes in style and functionality in a relatively short period of time. Designers have raised the (creative) bar to respond to the market's increasing demand for bathroom products which are, at the same time, gorgeous to look at, easy to install and very very water efficient. Manufacturing members of the BMA have been spurred on by changes in legislation and by consumers demanding reduced utility bills. Their portfolios have changed rapidly and, to some, unbelievably. Just two years ago the flush volume of a new regular UK toilet was ticking along nicely at a steady 4.5 litres, average, dual flush. By law it could flush no more than 6 litres and in a dual flush suite a short flush of 4 litres was common. Today an average flush of 3 litres is becoming the norm. 4 and 2.6 litre flushes are freely available and all of these new super-low-flush WCs fully conform with the current legislation. Experts in the industry now believe that the technical limit on flush volumes has been reached. These new WCs with a short flush of 2.6 litres, compared with the UK average of 9 litres, save huge amounts of water over a year. It's been estimated, using government figures, that an average household could save as much as 50,000 litres of good fresh drinking water every year if it changed its old water guzzler for new eco pan. That's good for the householder, good for the nation and good for the planet – a win-win-win situation if there ever was one. Not so long ago the average bath in the average new dwelling was being filled with a volume to the overflow of around 200 litres and the average shower may have been consuming around 12 or more litres a minute. Today, an eco warrior can find baths designed with clever internal shaping having a capacity of just 130 litres. And thanks to major changes in shower head design, and advances in digital technology, a good satisfying and drenching shower can readily be found on the showroom shelves at 6 litres per minute. Recycling on the up Designers have also created innovative rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling products. These systems are now increasingly common. Technically advanced systems for saving and storing rainwater from the roof or greywater from the bath are available to developers who are quickly taking up these devices to meet the requirements of the latest regulations. Systems are also available to householders who want to maximise their eco credentials. In-room recycling has also arrived with Washbasin-and-WC combos hitting the market. These stylish suites are designed to maximize space and conserve water and are a genuine step change in reusing water. Waste water from the washbasin is used to fill the cistern. Included in the suite is a filtration system to trap unwanted particle debris and chemically treat the grey water before being used to flush the WC. The manufacturer claims water usage is reduced by up to 25% compared with a standard 6 and 3 litre dual-flush WC. What has been the catalyst for change? Legislation has played a major part in persuading manufacturers to go back to the drawing board. The launch of the Code for Sustainable Homes has had a major influence on product design. House developers are keen to be leading the eco-pack and have been striving to build houses with as close to the maximum level (Level 6 - zero carbon) as they can get. They want to differentiate themselves from their competitors and bathroom manufacturers have been willing to help them, introducing technically advanced products which help reduce the overall water consumption. Then, the widely publicised revision of Building Regulations Approved Document G has had its influence. OK it was delayed for a few months until April 2010 but members of the BMA were well in advance of the legislation and had products in their catalogues ready to supply builders who were now required, by law, to construct houses which consumed no more than 125 litres of water per person per day. Additionally the new regulations allow the use of recycled grey water and stored rainwater to flush the WC. Well known and reputable manufacturers – members of the BMA – are able to guarantee that their products are compliant and lawful. Unfortunately, and regrettably, there are now some concerns, amongst those who know, that the quality and reliability of cheap and unbranded products from low cost sources just don't hit the mark and are possibly illegal. Installers should be aware of these failings since it is they who will be charged if a non-conforming product is installed. Architects, installers and consumers have also influenced manufacturers. Their demands for good quality stylish goods which save money in the long run have encouraged the changes. Architects want to be able to choose bathroom and washroom products which not only look great but do what they are claimed to do. Installers want to know that the products they are using are legal and easy and quick to install. They also want to know that they won't be called back to rectify manufacturing defects or poor performance. And consumers want the very best in style and the very best bathing experience whilst still meeting their eco-sensitive demands. Responsible bathroom manufacturers have responded to these demands. Those who have done it well have survived the recession and have even blossomed. Those who have not responded have been seen falling by the wayside. It's all about choice But how do architects, developers and consumers choose the very best bathrooms to suit their needs? "This is where the BMA's Water Efficient Product Labelling Scheme (WEPLS) comes into its own," says Yvonne Orgill, chief executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association. "We honestly believe that 2010 will be the year when water efficiency really takes off. There is a growing momentum behind it and merchants, retailers and big DIY stores are seeing the value in providing the consumer with sufficient product detail to make an informed choice." The product labelling scheme was launched almost three years ago and was thoroughly upgraded in September 2009. Around 800 water saving products are listed in the easily accessible web-enabled database. The scheme covers categories such as WCs, showers, taps and recycling products, amongst others and visitors to the site can search for their favoured products from the lists provided. Users of the new website can look for their dream bathroom, create a shopping list and then search for their local stockist, on line. Downloadable fact sheets and technical details and an on-line water consumption calculator enhance the scheme's usability. Links to manufacturers' websites, scheme partners and government sites add to the knowledge base which the website creates. A key to the scheme is the product label itself. The label, which is similar in design to the familiar energy label found on white goods, shows quite clearly the volume of water that the product will consume if installed according to the manufacturer's instructions by a competent installer. In showrooms products are being displayed together with the label. Consumers have more choice than ever before and those with eco tendencies will obviously home in on those goods with the best rating. "WEPLS is now recognised by the major government departments of DEFRA, CLG, and the Environment Agency," says Orgill. "It is also highly regarded by The Energy Saving Trust, Water Wise and CC WATER. We are also pleased to see that the scheme's business model is being adopted in other countries too, China being one of them." She went on to say "Modern bathroom suites have come a long way in recent years and the latest designs have water and energy efficiency built in. This scheme shows only products which meet the strict eco criteria laid down by industry experts. There is now a great opportunity for bathroom installers to show their eco credentials, to use the scheme and to get ahead of their competition installing only products with the WEPLS label." WEPLS was spotlighted at the 'eco-build' exhibition in March. Meanwhile readers can catch up with what's hot in eco technology at www.water-efficiencylabel.org.uk/. Further Information For further information please email info@bathroom-association.org.uk or telephone 01782 747123 and visit www.bathroom-association.org/

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