Water Efficiency in Buildings Research Network

27/09/2012 | The Bathroom Manufacturers Association The BMA is the trade association for bathroom manufacturers operating in the UK. It is the principal ‘Voice of the Bathroom Industry’ and acts as an information highway between industry, government and the consumer on issues that affect the bathroom business. The BMA represents, through its technical, marketing and management committees, the interests of over 40 major bathroom manufacturing groups with over 75 well-known brands in the market place. The manufacturing base directly employs 8,000+ people at over 60 sites in the UK ________________________________________ There is one topic above all others which has relevance in any country of the world. In some areas it is a key priority and in others it is less so. It is sustainability. This topic - the delicate balance between people and their environment – is more critical than ever to our survival. In history, where sustainability failed, the consequences were devastating. The UK Bathroom Industry has recognised for a long time that it has a responsibility to ensure that its products are the most water and energy efficient and in less than a decade the product portfolios of members of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) have been completely overhauled. Bathroom products are now more sustainable than ever. We have seen some interesting and quite major breakthroughs recently and many of the products installed in today’s bathroom have come under scrutiny. WCs, with super-efficient flush, are now common place. Taps with built in eco-click and thermo regulating valves are freely available. Eco-friendly shower controls and shower heads have enjoyed massive growth and these, like click-taps, show huge savings in both water and energy consumption. And today, comfortable baths with a capacity of just 130 litres (compared with the former standard of 200 litres) are readily available. But how would a prospective bathroom buyer, whether a consumer or a construction industry professional, choose the very best bathroom to suit their requirements? With this question in mind, members of the BMA set about designing and launching its breakthrough Water Labelling Scheme in 2006. The Water Label grew rapidly from a germ of an idea into today’s benchmark scheme which has been copied across the world. It has been the catalyst for innovation and competition and has spawned the development of the Water Calculator. Today the Water Label’s web-enabled database holds the details of over 2000 water efficient bathroom products which, by default, have the lowest carbon footprint. Around 1000 stockists have registered their details with the scheme which continues to grow, is recognised by government and yet remains entirely voluntary. Water and energy are inextricably linked The UK’s population of 61 million is demanding more and more water. It is well known that water consumption has risen by 70% over the last 30 years and the government is concerned that this level of growth cannot be sustained. Domestic water use is around 150 litres per person per day and the government has set a target to reduce this to 130 litres per day by 2030. Reducing the water consumption of every UK household is thus a priority and water efficiency is at the very top of the bathroom designers’ agenda. But they know that if they can design ground-breaking water efficient products then they will also be creating bathrooms which save energy. Water efficiency means that not only water will be saved but also the carbon required in delivering and using it. We consume huge quantities of energy in purifying, transporting, and delivering water. We then consume equally huge quantities of energy to take away the waste and purify it once more. The latest statistics show that an average UK family emits the equivalent of two transatlantic air flights in carbon through its water consumption every year and, according Waterwise, pumping both clean water and waste water to and from homes and then treating it accounts for 1% of the UK’s total energy consumption. Water efficiency and energy efficiency are therefore inextricably linked. Water and energy efficient bathroom products The message seems to be hitting home. More and more people are becoming aware of the need to conserve our precious resources. The man in the street is realising that water is not as cheap as it once was. Nor is gas or electricity. Energy costs have rocketed and since a significant part of the household spend is in producing hot water the consumer is actively searching for ways to reduce utility bills. Water saving is being recognised. Bathroom manufacturers are responding vigorously to the drive for sustainability and they are playing an increasingly important role in designing and developing eco-friendly products. There is a determined and relentless drive for water and energy efficiency by their designers. Drawing boards are full of ideas and virtually every new product brought to market today has water efficiency embedded into its ‘DNA’. WCs For years the WC has been regarded as the bathroom’s bad boy because of its water guzzling characteristics. Around 30% of the water consumption in an average UK home was, until very recently, attributed to flushing the toilet. Water supply companies in the UK are doing a lot to highlight the need to reduce water consumption and have rightly targeted the domestic WC. Some companies give away cistern displacement devices to reduce the flush volume in WC suites. These freebies are an excellent method for highlighting the need for water conservation. But members of the BMA are constantly frustrated by the complaints they receive from consumers who have used these devices but have then found that their bathroom products don’t perform as they should. Of course, it is not the original product which is at fault but the incorrect use of the water saving device which has caused the problem. Bricks, bags and bottles are called cistern displacement devices and the idea is to place one of these in the cistern and immediately save water by reducing the flush volume. But these devices can cause problems if used in a cistern which has been installed within the last decade. Modern low volume WCs - some are already down to 2.6 litres, short flush - are carefully designed to clear and cleanse the bowl. Using a displacement device will stop the WC working correctly and more water, not less, is inevitably used. Additionally, some plastic devices will deteriorate over a period of time and when they crumble they can block the drains. The only real way to save flush water is to install a modern WC which has water efficiency built in. Carefully designed, developed and manufactured WCs, with super-efficient flush, are now common. They no longer grace only the portfolios of a select few top-end manufacturers. They are widespread, and reliable branded products, which conform with the regulations and are guaranteed to actually work, are here to stay. Effective average flush volumes of 3 litres (2.6 litre short flush and 4 litre full flush) are available at realistic prices and are no longer ‘special.’ At least one innovative product is now available which combines the function of the washbasin with the WC. Waste from the basin is diverted, disinfected and stored in the cistern prior to being used to flush the toilet. This type of breakthrough thinking is both surprising and effective. The move to low volume flushing has also given manufacturers the chance to re-visit the fundamental design of the WC suite. Low volume flush has given designers the opportunity to create ‘rimless’ or ‘rimfree’ pans. Clever design of the rim without the usual invert or box section is now possible since lower volume flushing is more easily controlled and has a lesser tendency to splashing or overflow. The resulting improvement in hygiene and ‘cleanability’ has been jumped upon by busy and careful householders. Commercial versions have also started appearing in hospital and care establishments. Rimfree designs have been the stars of the current crop of trade exhibitions. TAPS Taps (faucets) with built-in click-stop technology and hot water temperature regulation have become freely available within the last decade. These not only save water but save energy since less hot water is wasted. They are also ultra-safe in the family bathroom. These hi-tech taps have seen steady growth in the UK as a result of changes to household plumbing systems and water pressure. The internal valve mechanisms, made from technical ceramics, usually have very small water passages but high pressure water allows designers to create sufficient water flow for satisfactory use. The styling and functionality of these new taps is blossoming and the choice is greater than ever before. Specialist manufactures have invested heavily in designing products which are both eco-friendly and easy to install. Low flow units with click stop functionality give both a tactile and an audible click so that the user can easily tell when the tap is on full flow or half flow. The more advanced units control the temperature – safety and energy saving being in the minds of the designers. For gadget-lovers taps with built-in temperature sensitive LEDs glow red or blue depending on the temperature of the flow. Additionally gorgeously curvaceous models have arrived and so too have simple joystick controls. Aerated-spray taps are particularly useful in the cloakroom or ensuite rooms for simple hand washing. These achieve a minimal flow rate, way below the taps from decades ago, but still maintain satisfying use and an effective wash. SHOWERS High-tech is also available in eco shower controls and shower heads which have enjoyed massive growth. These, like click-stop taps, show huge savings in both water and energy consumption. Digital shower technology has advanced to such a degree that its precise temperature control can be accurately set to a safe maximum and play an important part in reducing utility bills by ensuing hot and cold water is not wasted. Energy and water supply costs are kept to a minimum. Reducing water consumption with retro-fitted flow restrictors seems to be an easy solution to improved water efficiency but manufacturers know that users don’t want a dribble of a shower. They want a shower to give a refreshing drench, and a tap to fill the washbasin or bath quickly. Contemporary products meet that demand but also contribute greatly to the push for sustainability. Some members of the BMA now produce shower units with special showerheads which cleverly blend air with water. The result is a satisfying and refreshing shower which uses less water than ever before. These eco-friendly showerheads can save as much as 75% of the water used compared with a traditional handset, even at the same water pressure. Thermostatic mixer showers ensure that hot water is not wasted since the temperature of the water flow can be set to suit the individual. Some digital showers can even be set to switch off after a set period. Instantaneous electric showers have eco credentials too. They are great water and energy savers. They heat water as it is required and a typical 9.8 kW shower uses around 10 litres per minute maximum. BATHS It was not so long ago when the average new bath needed to be filled with more than 200 litres. Today, without much effort, a consumer can find a really comfortable bath with a capacity of just 120 litres. It’s all in the design. Manufacturers of steel or acrylic baths responded quickly to the need for low capacity baths. There have been two solutions to the design requirements. The first and easiest has been the lowering of the overflow hole. But how far can the overflow be lowered without affecting user satisfaction? A good long soak in a bath cannot be achieved in a couple of inches of water! BMA members realise that baths will be considered more favourably if they use less water but at the same time meet customer expectations of a good deep soak. The other solution has come from clever internal shaping which reduces capacity. Shapely designs are now appearing which have a total volume as low as 120 litres - way below the current allowed legal maximum of 230 litres. GREYWATER RECYCLING The requirements of both the Code for Sustainable Homes and Approved Document G of the Building Regulations are encouraging housing developers to install greywater recycling. One definition of greywater is that it is the wastewater from showers, baths, washbasins, washing machines and kitchen sinks which can be collected and, after basic and minimal treatment, be used for other purposes around the home such as flushing the toilet or watering the garden. These are uses which don’t require perfectly good drinking water. Typically, a basic simple domestic system will collect greywater and store it before reusing it to flush the toilet or divert it to the garden. A more complex system treats the greywater to a standard that can be used in washing machines. Note that care must be taken not to use dirty water to irrigate crops. Systems for flushing the toilet can save around a third of the daily household water demand. A trial by the Environment Agency showed a range of water savings from about 5 per cent to 36 per cent. As newer properties tend to have lower toilet flush consumption, the maximum savings in a new build might be closer to 20 per cent. The cost-effectiveness of greywater recycling is as variable as the systems themselves. The amount saved will depend on volume of water saved, the price of the mains water it replaced and the cost of installing, running and maintaining the system. Overcoming the reluctance to change There remains a reluctance by the public to embrace the new water efficient technologies. They are wary and seem to prefer water guzzlers, fearing that a product labeled ‘ECO’ won’t do the job. This is, of course, an urban myth. All in the bathroom industry have a part to play to drive home the message that eco bathrooms do perform well and do provide the bathing experience we have become used to. The challenge is to bring all parts of the bathroom industry together in the drive for sustainability. The industry is playing a major role in the quest for a more sustainable future. The Water Label How does a prospective bathroom buyer, whether a trade professional or a man in the street, choose the very best bathroom to suit their requirements? The Water Label has grown rapidly from a germ of an idea to a benchmark scheme which shows the user the water consumption details of bathroom and kitchen products. A web-enabled database holds the details of over 2000 water efficient bathroom products which, by default, have the lowest carbon footprint. The scheme is increasingly recognised by consumers and professionals alike and from the government’s point of view it is now an important tool in their drive to meet the Green Agenda. Over 1000 stockists have registered their details with the scheme. The key to The Water Label is the design of the product label itself which is similar to the familiar energy label found on white goods. It clearly shows the volume of water that the product will consume if installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In a recent statement Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA, praised and supported the scheme. He said “Water is an invaluable resource which needs to be managed responsibly. Whilst Government and industry can help make it easier to save water, taking personal responsibility is at the heart of water conservation. People need access to clear advice on how they can save water so I am pleased to support the Bathroom Manufacturers Association in their work to develop a labeling scheme which provides people with an easy means to identify water efficient products.” The statement from the DEFRA Minister shows that he and his department fully support the work of the BMA in driving the quest for water and energy efficient bathroom products. The Water Calculator The product data stored in the Water Label database has been put to good use in the accompanying Water Calculator which is designed to make it easier to meet the new water-efficiency requirements. This web-based tool is designed for and targeted at building industry professionals. It is now used by architects, planners, specifiers, contractors, installers and anyone who is affected by the rules laid down in the Building Regulations Approved Document G and The Code for Sustainable Homes. Both of these regulations give strict rules about water usage in a new home. The calculator makes it easier for the professional, at the planning stage, to calculate how much water is theoretically consumed in the new property based on the products which have been chosen. When users start a calculation users have a choice. They may register to save all their work or they may remain anonymous and print off their results as they go along. They should also have a good idea of the products they want to use in the calculation. They should already know their preferred bathroom brands, products and product numbers. The Calculator updates itself in real time and produces water usage figures as the user progresses. The Water Calculator is the first of its kind and includes water-consumption information so users can simply select from a drop-down menu of products to calculate the water consumption of a property. As with all new software a little time is required to explore its power but after a couple of sample tests the results which the calculator produces for the user are quick and accurate. The tool auto-completes the calculations enabling quick and easy specification without the hassle of gathering data from product manufacturers. When printed off they can be submitted to the planning authorities and Building Control inspectors as proof of a building’s water consumption. It is entirely free.

◄ Back to the List of News Items