As a country we have two main issues affecting our water supply. Firstly, population growth means there is more competition for water resources. Secondly, although climate change is giving us wetter winters, we’re also getting drier summers, which means we suffer extremes of flooding and drought. Schools unaffected by flooding in the winter may well be affected by drought in the hotter weather if restrictions are brought in by water companies (although schools are often closed in the summer which does reduce the risk somewhat).
So, to avoid restrictions which can impact supplies, we all need to do our bit to save water now – after all only about 1% of all the water on the planet is drinkable and available, and needs to go a lot further because there are more of us demanding it.
When they have such tight budgets, why should schools opt to spend money on making efficiencies?
Perhaps the biggest reason why schools should worry about water efficiency is that water inefficiency is such a waste of money.
With such tight budgets, we’re sure that schools would rather spend money on books and teaching resources than on water that’s being wasted through leaks, poor or inefficient facilities, or bad behaviours. In fact, you’d probably be surprised by how much your school can save, even if you only spend a small amount of money; and with a bigger investment, there are significant savings to be made.
For example, investing in things like replacement taps and toilets. Spending £10,000 on sinks and toilets might sound like a lot, but if it saves £5,000 in water each and every year, the case for it becomes quite compelling. The same principles apply when it comes to energy efficiency – many schools swap to energy-efficient lighting because they know it pays for itself and then saves money after a few years.
What are the easier and cheaper efficiencies you can implement now?
Schools can be challenging places to save water as washrooms are more likely to be maltreated (or even vandalised!) than washrooms in other environments like offices. Whether it’s students accidentally leaving taps running, or maliciously blocking plugs with toilet paper, by adding push-button, self-closing taps, you will solve the problem as well as save water. Adding flow restrictors or aerators to the taps can also reduce flows by up to 80%, whilst still leaving enough water for students to wash their hands. Adding cistern displacement devices to older toilets will also substantially reduce water use and save money.
Posters and awareness campaigns can change people’s behaviours (staff as well as students!) and are a very low-cost way to save water at the same time as educating young people on the importance of sustainability. It’s important that these posters are targeted at their intended audience. AfB have seen successes in the past where zoo animals have been used on posters aimed at young people for example, take a look at our ‘zoo in the loo’ campaign here.
One of the biggest water wasters in a school are uncontrolled urinals. These can waste litres of water, flushing up to every 10 minutes including times when they are not being used, e.g. overnight, at weekends and during school holidays. Adding a presence detection system, or PIR, is a low-cost way to save a lot of money on water bills by ensuring that urinals only flush when someone has been to the toilet – they could save a massive 80% on water used in urinals. The payback for such a system is usually very quick, meaning you’ll be saving money within the first year and then every year thereafter.
Is installing a smart meter going to end up costing schools more in the long run?
It’s hard to say whether a smart meter will definitively save money for a particular school, but in cases of major leaks, they will definitely pay for themselves many times over.
A recent example is a school that had a leak under their playing field which went undetected and ended up costing them over £10,000 in extra water bills. If they had had a smart meter (also known as Automatic Meter Reading or AMR) installed, and had checked on a regular basis, they would have been alerted to the leak almost immediately. This would have enabled them to quickly take steps to fix the leak without having to pick up such a large bill. Without a smart meter, leaks are only identified when the meter is read and compared against a previous reading – which might only be every few months. Schools who only budget a few hundred to a couple of thousand pounds for water could find themselves in a tricky situation when leaks occur, which is one of the main reasons we recommend smart metering.
Another advantage of smart metering is that if schools can measure their consumption better, they are more likely to take steps to reduce consumption. Smart meters produce fantastic charts and graphs which are great at showing how different measures are making an impact. And because smart meters work in near real-time, you can see the impact of water efficiency actions straight away.
Water efficiency in replacement bathrooms
When it’s time for washrooms to be renovated, we recommend installing self-closing water-efficient taps, ideally dispensing no more than 1.7 litres per minute. Urinals can be swapped for waterless models (though care must be taken on their maintenance), and toilets can be swapped for dual or low-flush models. If your school provides showers, they too can be swapped for low-flow models with self-closing buttons to ensure they can’t be left on.
You may also want to consider installing a rainwater harvesting tank, depending on the nature of your building’s roof. A water tank can be installed above or below ground and be used to provide water for flushing toilets and urinals, as well as water for irrigating gardens or playing fields.
Preventing expensive leaks
A good tip to keep in mind, is when your school is shut for the holidays, if possible, it’s worth shutting off the water supply. This will prevent water being wasted when there is nobody there and will also significantly reduce the risk of an internal water leak.
With a smart meter, it would be good to get into the habit of reading the meter at the start and end of a weekend or holiday to see if any water has been used. If the meter shows an increase even when the school has been empty, this might indicate a leak or inefficient water use – the most common of these are urinals which flush 24/7.
So, if schools want to save money on water bills by taking even small steps, our advice is to begin with a smart meter and use it to highlight areas where water is being wasted.
Think you may have a leak?
If your water bill seems to be higher than usual and nothing has changed in your business – it is possible you may have a leak