Banging the drum for water efficiency

16/02/2012 | Banging the drum for water efficiency – the BMA plays a major role The BMA’s Water Efficient Product Labelling Scheme and The Water Label, is playing their part in the drive for a more sustainable future. Yvonne Orgill, chief executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, takes a look at the UK’s ambitions to become more water efficient and delves into the latest product designs which have been successful in saving water, energy and those ever-increasing utility bills. ________________________________________ “I make no apology for keeping on, keeping on,” says Yvonne Orgill chief executive of the BMA. “I’m banging the drum again about Water Efficiency. In fact members of the BMA have been banging the same drum for decades and have been proud to do so. We are now beginning to see the fruits of the huge investments made by bathroom manufacturers in product design. All good-quality and branded water efficient products have water-saving embedded into their soul and carry The Water Label. This web-based Water Efficient Product Labelling Scheme is fast approaching the 2000 product mark and is creating considerable interest in Government circles at home and abroad.” There is absolutely no doubt, and everyone agrees, that there is a shortage of water in the UK. And it is gradually getting worse. Although there as been some recent winter rain and a flurry or two of snow there is still a desperate shortage. The relationship between water supply and demand is completely out of sync. Latest figures from The Environment Agency (their Briefing Document 10 Feb 2012) show that drought still persists in major parts of the Midlands and East Anglia and that groundwater levels remain exceptionally low. Helen Vale, National Drought Coordinator, says “Northamptonshire has seen the driest 16 months since records began. Pressure on water resources looks set to increase over the next few months, so it is more important than ever that consumers, businesses and water-abstractors use water wisely.” The Agency goes on to report that half of all households in Britain could face water usage restrictions unless exceptionally heavy and prolonged rain falls by April. The environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, has been meeting water companies, wildlife groups and other river users after the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology reported that average rainfall during the winter months was the lowest since 1972, and the Midlands and Anglian regions had their second driest years in nearly a century. Spelman also brought the news to the Radio 4 Today programme on 16th February 2012. It is good to see that the issue is gaining a higher profile. “I think we have to use a three-pronged approach to become more aware and considerate of our water resources,” comments Orgill. “The first approach should be through legislation and our Government has done well in bringing changes to the Building Regulations and Code for Sustainable Homes to deliver new water-efficient buildings. Perhaps the government should now go a stage further and develop a ‘Bathroom Scrappage Scheme’ which would help get rid of the water guzzlers of yesteryear. Secondly (and Helen Vale of the Environment Agency is absolutely right in this) we all have to change our behaviour and start using water wisely. Old habits are difficult to change but it can be done. Just look how changes in attitudes to smoking, drink driving, or the use of seat belts has been brought about. And thirdly we have to encourage the installation of more water efficient bathroom fittings. There is an amazing choice available to us and it is here that installers can play a major role. They can show consumers how they can save energy and reduce utility bills by imparting the latest information and product knowledge. They can have a major influence on the choice of the most sustainable products” Bathroom breakthroughs The bathroom industry has long recognised that it has a responsibility to ensure that its products are truly sustainable. In less than a decade the portfolios of BMA members have been completely overhauled. Bathroom fittings are now more eco-friendly than ever. We have seen some interesting and quite major breakthroughs in design and technology and many of the products installed in today’s bathroom are at the cutting edge. WCs, with super-efficient flush, are now quite common. Flush volumes have been halved from the current mandatory maximum of 6 litres to the latest effective-average of 3 litres. These suites are required, by law, to perform and conform, and they do. And they are marketed through both luxury boutiques and DIY stores at affordable prices. These WCs are leading the way in modern bathroom water saving. The move to low volume flush 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 on 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 with built-in click-stop and thermo regulators are freely available. 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 in household plumbing and available 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. High-tech is also available in eco shower controls and shower heads which have enjoyed massive growth over the last few years. These, like click-stop taps, show huge savings in both water and energy consumption. Electric showers and digital thermostatic showers save utility bills, by default. And today, baths with a capacity of just 130 litres to the overflow (compared with the former standard of 200 litres) are readily available. Careful shaping of the inside of the bath still allows a comfortable soak for aching bodies but at a lower volume consumption. Sustainability isn’t just about water use Manufacturers are keen to ensure that their factories and processes are also sustainable. Some have implemented major schemes. They are not just recycling waste paper but they have gone the whole hog using every last scrap of waste heat from ceramic sanitaryware kilns, or using every last scrap of metal waste from shower cubicle manufacture. Some leading manufacturers, members of the BMA, are on the brink of claiming that their factories are carbon neutral. Tools to do the job But how do home owners or major commercial concerns choose the most water and energy efficient bathroom to suit their needs? “They need the tools to do the job,” says Orgill, “and our people have worked hard to develop the award winning Water Label. The water labelling scheme has grown and matured to be the benchmark and is being copied in Europe and wider afield. The web-enabled database holds the details of nearly 2000 water efficient bathroom fittings which, by default, have the lowest carbon footprint. Over 1100 stockists have registered with the scheme and its new website address at www.water-label.eu shows its respected credentials. The Water Label clearly shows the volume of water that the product will consume when installed correctly. Ten categories of product are currently shown and plans for a further five are in hand. The product data stored in the database has been put to good use in the associated Water Calculator which is designed to make it easier for developers, builders and installers to meet the requirements of Approved Document G of the Building Regulations and The Code for Sustainable Homes. The calculator at www.thewatercalculator.org.uk is the first of its kind and allows users to select from drop-down menus to automatically calculate the water consumption of a property. Architects and specifiers are regularly using the system, returning time after time to work on their live projects. Plans have been mooted to create a smart phone app for the system, when budget allows. Members of the BMA have been encouraged by the very positive reaction to their work in developing the latest water saving products, the Water Label and the Water Calculator. The bathroom industry is playing a major role in the quest for a more sustainable future.

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