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Hi-tech ideas that help you save water – and the planet

Innovative products – a voice-controlled tap, water-efficient dishwasher, smart shower and pipe-leaking sensor – will cut down on wastage and shortages

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 11:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 11:28am

A 2017 report by the Civic Exchange – the Hong Kong public policy think tank – calls it “the illusion of plenty” – the idea that the city is awash with water.

That notion is based on the city having abundant rainfall, large reservoirs, and a water supply from mainland China that has remained largely uninterrupted for more than 30 years.

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In reality, the 2017 report shows that the city is more naturally water scarce than parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Perhaps because of flawed perception – or the convenience of being able to turn on a tap – it’s estimated that Hongkongers use twice as much water per capita than the global average.

Given that water security has been identified by the World Economic Forum as one of the top risks in global crisis standings, reducing the city’s water footprint has become as important as its emissions targets.

In the connected home, smart water features are here to help householders wise up to water wastage.

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Among this year’s new products is Kohler’s Sensate tap, which responds to your voice commands to turn water on and off and even dispense water in the required measured amounts.

This happens thanks to Kohler Konnect technology, but the tap also responds to a wave of the hand – apparently at a speed of 20 milliseconds – because of its state-of-the-art motion sensor.

The Sensate is also a water monitor: it lets you track usage via a mobile phone app, which will alert the home owner if an unusual level of usage is detected.

Dishwasher manufacturers have long claimed that their appliances are more water-efficient than hand washing.

Now, the Tetra-connected countertop dishwasher, announced by Heatworks in January, aims to drives the point home.

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The company said if a household comprising two people switched from hand washing to a dishwasher for one meal a day, the occupants could save 1,500 gallons (6.82 cubic metres) of water a year.

Designed for small households and smaller flats, the Tetra requires no plumbing (so, it is portable if you move), uses less than two litres per load, and washes a full place setting for two in just 10 minutes. It should be available to buy in late 2018.

Intelligent showers save water by starting the flow at the preferred temperature.

You can step into a “just right” shower, without watching too-cold water go straight down the plughole.

Moen does just this with its U by Moen shower system, which uses a Wi-fi-connected digital controller that provides feedback on its status through on-screen messaging and notifications.

Users can also preprogramme settings by using an app, or ask Siri or Alexa to prepare the shower for them.

Japanese brand Toto has thought about pampering people with an in-home day spa, without the associated guilt about the high level of water usage.

The company has said all of its showers are equipped with a waterflow limiter to ensure that they use considerably less water than conventional shower heads.

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Its latest DaySpa series not only limits the flow of water but also produces “a completely restorative spa experience”, Toto says.

Despite the reduced amount of water that is used, the spray is designed to feel as if it is releasing a full stream of water; the relaxing Warm Spa feature even promises to help promote sleep.

A new innovative device by Belkin gets to the heart of a lot of water wastage – the plumbing.

Leaky pipes not only cause significant damage to buildings, but also contribute to the 32 per cent of total production – or 321 million cubic metres – estimated to be lost to water leakage and theft in Hong Kong every year, at an annual cost of HK$35 billion (US$17.2 billion).

Householders may not know there’s a problem until the damage becomes obvious, but Belkin’s Phyn Plus will alert them – and stop the leakage - the moment it occurs.

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The device works by monitoring and measuring tiny fluctuations in water pressure, mitigating costly home repairs through an automatic shut-off.

It can also diagnose potential problems in plumbing systems before they become an issue.

Phyn’s groundbreaking, water-sensing technology was initially conceived at the University of Washington and acquired by Belkin almost a decade ago.

Since then, the company says it has spent countless hours and millions of dollars on the development, testing and refinement of the Phyn Plus solution.

The technology was refined in the lab, and perfected in hundreds of homes, before its 2018 launch in the US market.

Another water innovator to watch for is Zero Mass Water.

The US start-up claims its new environmental technology can harvest clean drinking water from thin air.

The secret is in its hydropowered solar panel, which when installed on rooftops, uses the natural elements of sunshine and air to extract moisture and produce as much as one case of drinking water per day.

Launched last November, the system’s naturally harvested water is not only a free and sustainable resource, but also its taste is reportedly similar to the best bottled water brands.

While the system is available only in the US now, the company’s founders have a vision to “democratise water” for everyone, everywhere, using the future smart home as the platform.