Changing behaviour: water meter taps

Three student projects on show at Made in Brunel earlier this month took the idea of moving the function of a water meter to the tap (faucet) itself, to act as a ‘speedometer‘ and thus encourage users to reduce their water usage (or wastage). The three projects, while similar, have slightly different emphases:

Tap Meter, by Henry Ellis-Paul

Henry Ellis-Paul’s Tap Meter, above, which was also exhbited at the Ideal Home Show, shows the user the amount of water used in that particular instance. As he says, “this information changes the user’s habits and behaviour through involvement and emotional attachment to the product” – it could also presumably be used to measure out the amount of water used for recipes or to ensure that we each drink the right amount each day.

Water & Energy Saving Tap, by Stefan Grosvenor

Stefan Grosvenor’s Water and energy saving tap (above) additionally addresses electricity usage due to hot water, combining both water and electricity usage in an ‘equation’ to make users more aware of the total impact they have each time they turn the tap. The project was intended as a future concept for the Red Cross, to be used as part of a campaign which would “both help others less fortunate, as well as educating users with their potential.”

Squirt, by Meghana Vaidyanathan

Meghana Vaidyanathan’s Squirt (above) is specifically intended for children, hence the bright colours and anthropomorphism of the design:

At our current consumption rate, it is predicted that we could use up to 40% more water in the next 20 years. Squirt is an awareness-based water meter designed for children aged 3 to 6 and aims to instil conservational etiquette in the mind of a child. Squirt has a child-friendly interface and displays the amount of water consumed over a period of time from the tap to which it is attached.

The term “conservational etiquette” is interesting – how easy is it to instil a social constraint of this kind in western societies where the resource is (apparently, at least) in abundance? Most of us have a conservational etiquette regarding money, and thus many ‘speedometer’-type devices – such as Wattson – incorporate a display translating the energy usage into its financial consequences.

This could, of course, go further – as Crosbie Fitch comments,

[Car] fuel economy would probably be greatly improved if there was a UI that could simulate the consumptive clink of a particular denomination of coin (at the users’ choice).

and:

I’m not sure how many owners of gas guzzlers would like to enable the sounding of a cash register ding each time 10 pence worth of fuel had been consumed.

Just imagine the cacophony whenever the Chelsea tractor driver uses kick-down.

19 thoughts on “Changing behaviour: water meter taps”

  1. Rather than the disproportionate expense of consumption awareness by metering tapwater it seems more could be saved by incenvising grey water systems, i.e. to stop people flushing colossal amounts of drinking water down the loo.

    So, make the water bill attract a discount according to the proportion of toilets you have supplied with grey water (as opposed to fresh water).

    All loos fresh (none grey) = 0% discount
    Half loos gey = 25% discount
    All loos grey = 50% discount

    As the cost of water increases, people will twig when the installation of grey water systems are worth the halving of the water bill (subject to inspection at householder’s expense).

    As for a point-of-use, consumption awareness meter, a better place where this should be installed is at the outside tap (which could also be counted as a toilet cistern).

  2. Crosbie Fitch: If you want to be really environmentally aware, change to a toilet that sends urine and solid waste to different holding cans, then sell both of them as fertilizer.

  3. hej, well, I was addressing the issue of reducing water consumption, but as you say, if the objective is ecological friendliness then composting toilets would be better still.

    I’m just not entirely convinced that persuading people to think twice before pouring themselves another glass of water is a better way to persuade them to convert to grey-water toilets and rain-water butts than good old fashioned economic incentives.

    This is why water is tricky. It’s not the small quantities that people are most aware of consuming that need moderating, but the large quantities that get flushed down the drain unnoticed (using toilets like litter bins).

    Why do hotel rooms make a big deal in their bathrooms affixing signs exhorting the reuse of towels, rather than encourage showers over baths or economical use of their duo-flush toilets? I suspect it has something to do with the higher cost of laundry labour (than water) rather than concern about impact on the environment.

  4. This is a great example of how often design over-complicates a solution by misunderstanding the problem.

    These meters seek to control the user, when it would be much simpler to control the the water flow instead. And given the kids of tasks people perform with running water, they won’t reduce use–they just increase guilt.

    The problem is that your hands can’t both control the flow of water *and* perform that task for which the water is running in the first place.

    The simple solution is allow another body part to control water flow. So for example, water flow could be controlled by a pedal. You need water to rinse a plate, no problem. Hold the plate, step on the pedal, and then release it the instant your plate it done. Your still using water, but you’re not wasting any of it.

  5. Some very good points – thanks everyone for the comments.

    I think, as Crosbie says, that sensible redesign of bulk users/wasters of water such as toilets to make use of grey water or rainwater is more likely to reduce water consumption significantly than monitoring usage at the tap itself. Do building regulations mean that all new houses are built with two water ‘circuits’? If not, why not? Can the problem be solved by putting the economic onus on householders, or should it be on the water companies themselves?

    However, if usage meters/displays really do have an impact on changing user behaviour, then they perhaps ought to be fitted to toilets, garden hoses, etc as well.

    As Niblettes says, these meters could well be replaced by systems which actually help the user use only an appropriate amount of water rather than ‘increasing guilt’. The Eco Kettle, for example, takes this attitude, as would the pedal-operated tap Niblettes suggests.

    We might also think of taps with sensors as used in some hotel bathrooms, so that the tap will only run when there is something under it, and cannot be left running – better than a timer, but more complex than a sprung/damped slow-return valve as used in lots of public toilets.

    I know in the UK a certain percentage of people resent the water companies, which are in effect privatised monopolies (you cannot choose your water supplier) and which often seem to be rather hypocritical in the way that they exhort customers to save water whilst failing to keep their own houses in order in that regard.

    The resentment means that some people do not willingly reduce their water usage, since a) it seems as thought it will make no difference compared to the vast other wastage, and b) if not on a meter, they will still pay the same rates. I would think that discounts such as Crosbie suggests in his first post would have a positive effect here, since householders would genuinely feel they were ‘getting one over’ on the water companies.

    The economic ‘waters’ are also muddied (greyed, perhaps) by the tension between metered customers who will be less profitable for the water company if they actually do save water, and people whose bill is determined purely by the rateable status of their house and is unlinked to their actual water usage. I don’t know which group is actually more profitable for the water companies: it would be interesting to see an analysis.

  6. As usual, we can learn a lot about the way to solve problems from people and countries who have to solve them. Simon Crilley notes the ‘Melbourne nappy’, designed to collect grey water that can then be used in the garden:

    The Melbourne nappy is a basin liner that catches the waste water from teeth brushing or hand washing.

    Granted, this doesn’t prevent over-use of water in the first place, but it’s a clever way of making some grey water usable without alterations to the plumbing.

  7. This reminds me of a project that some classmates of mine did this past semester, though theirs involved energy consumption. They wired up a house to constantly monitor energy consumption in real time to increase awareness. The comments in this thread so far highlight the fact that no one knows how users might respond unless the concepts are tried out and feedback is gathered. What my classmates found when they prototyped their system was that the housemates (who are concerned about sustainability if not acutely aware of their impact) ended up turning the system into a game. “How low can we get the number to go?” Not sure how such a game would work for long term behavior change yet, but who knows. If it’s fun, it might work.

    If you’re interested, you can find more info at http://jordanfischer.com/energy_awareness.htm

  8. Hey, I was in that house and participated in the experiment. One thing that I never expected was that I tried a couple of time to see not only how low we could get the number, but also how high. I am not sure either what the more long term effects of such a game might have been, but thinking back, as with these water meters, it is difficult to improve your consumption habits once the obvious sources of waste are eliminated. Or, if it is a game, are we trying to beat our own averages those of our friends or neighbors or some ideal rate? What are we to compare to, A Bill McDonough Zero Waste standard or incremental improvement?

  9. I am an American student at the University of Delaware working on something very similar and would like to talk to any one of the three of you! Please give me a call at 717-368-5941.

    Thanks,
    Sean Darras

  10. Hi,

    I firmly believe that a meter attached to a faucet (an amalgamation between the first and the second example) will help people (small and big) identify waste and conservation potential.

    I certainly would buy these meters for faucets in my household and give them as gifts to my family and friends. Is anyone making them?

    Kind regards,
    Katherine

  11. I’m just wondering if anyone is making these for outdoor use. That is where a lot of water is wasted here in Seattle. – Thanks.

  12. Where can I buy this, and if not make my own??? I would love to market a product similar to this and think it could go very far with the right direction.

  13. I like the device. As a matter of fact I was trying to find something that I could attach to my faucet.

    The point of the device is awareness. You don’t realize what you are wasting when you can’t quanitify it. My mother and I go back and forth when she visits about her washing the dishes by hand. If I had the quantifyable evidence to use th dishwasher, she would change her behavior, but I don’t have it. Some of use do change our behavior when evidence is presented.

  14. Dear Sir,

    We are looking tap Meter for our building & also we wants to introduce in the Saudi Arabian market, so please send me the best price & shortest delivery time for 20 pcs.

    Your earliest response will be highly appreciated

    Thanks.

    With best Regards

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