Water efficiency must feature in retrofit planning

Tom Reynolds, Chief Executive of the Bathroom Manufacturers Association, on why water efficiency must feature in retrofit planning.

It is encouraging that government, business and civil society are aligning to place sustainability at the heart of a vision for the UK economy. Much of the collective focus is on the race to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, if not before. While energy efficiency and carbon reduction are rightly prominent within policy-thinking, it is crucial that the threat of climate change to water resources also gets attention.

Due to changing weather patterns and population growth, if there is no action, by 2050 the UK daily water deficit is forecast to be 8.2 billion litres. That is the same as the entire daily consumption of Wales. Civil servants are renowned for their temperate language, but even the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency has described this problem as “the jaws of death”, with an “existential threat” from water shortages in the UK within 25 years. We also need to connect the dots with carbon reduction; it is worth noting that demand-side strategies are a core of the water industry net zero carbon plan.

At present a fifth of all water processed by the water industry is lost through supply pipe leakage. They have committed to halving that loss, but with many leaks deep below heavily developed areas going further may not be viable. Major investment is needed to increase supply including new reservoirs, water transfer and desalination facilities. None of these are included in the National Infrastructure Plan at present.

So, inevitably, a large portion of the water deficit must be corrected by reducing domestic water consumption. Its here that retrofit has a massive role to play, and water interventions must be an integral part of retrofit plans for every home.

Installing efficient water fittings can make a huge difference. Many fittings manufacturers provide information on the performance of their products via the Unified Water Label. There are huge ranges of products that satisfy the 110lpppd lower consumption level required in new build. Yet average household consumption lingers at 142lpppd, demonstrating that retrofitting the UK’s 29 million existing homes with newer fittings has massive potential.

Changing taps, showers, WCs and appliances can only get us so far. Expecting fittings to reduce consumption much below 110lpppd could be to the detriment of product performance and user experience. So, we need to be looking at other interventions and innovation around rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling and behavioural nudges. To start with, let’s at least make sure water is in our retrofit thinking.

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