I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel-sea
Her beauty, and her terrors
The wide brown land for me.
I’ve been able to recite verse two of Dorothea MacKellar’s famous poem My Country since early childhood and it comes to mind every time Australia is hit by a terrible natural disaster.
I probably learnt it around 1983 when the Ash Wednesday bushfires blackened my birth city Melbourne’s skyline with a thick ash and a bright orange moon. Living in flood-prone Gippsland in my late childhood and teens, it again was close to mind when my deb ball was postponed in 1993 due to widescale destructive floods and the local basketball stadiums (where the ball was to be held being turned into emergency accommodation and food shelter.
But it’s the sunburnt country and wide brown land references which have been the most relatable to me over the past 18 years as I’ve lived in Outback Queensland and South Australia.
It was during this time, from the late 1990s to 2010, when Australia experienced a prolonged period of dry conditions, known as the Millennium Drought.
Said by some to be the worst drought recorded in Australia since human settlement, it placed extreme pressure on agricultural production and urban water supply in much of southern Australia. It pushed farms, and farmers, to the brink and many farming families today still haven’t recovered from the stress and loss of livestock and income from that time.
During the Millennium Drought, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane were all affected by persistent or periodic drought episodes and water restrictions were the norm.
The Drought led to the construction of six major seawater desalination plants to provide water to Australia’s major cities, and to changes in the management of water in the Murray-Darling basin, most notably the formation of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
Seeing the devastating effects of this drought first hand on the landscape and many of his friends led inventor, Peter Cullin, to ask himself what he could do to help.
He began by researching domestic water consumption and soon stumbled on data which showed that the bathroom, and more specifically the shower, was the most wasteful area in a typical dwelling.
Further research confirmed that the problem was a global one. Every minute of every day, in hundreds of millions of homes around the world quality fresh drinking water was being wasted due to inefficient showers.
Global water consumption rates are so high that surface water is shrinking at an alarming rate and groundwater reserves are depleting much faster than they can be replenished.
It also became clear that most people were painfully aware of the impact they were having upon our planets fragile environment but there was simply no practical and affordable solution to the shower waste problem available to the market.
So began the quest to create, from scratch, a new type of shower that would overcome the seven major waste problems inherent in typical showers.
Peter’s invention, the Cullector is now recognised as the world’s most efficient DIY retrofit shower. It’s a multi award winning ultra-efficient shower that combines several water saving solutions into one simple water saving shower, it’s self-powered and provides a quality showering experience that saves water, saves money and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
The Cullector is one of many simple solutions to the complex problem of water shortages. I’m thrilled to have Peter joining me today to share the story of how the Cullector came to be and discuss the many ways you can save water in your home.
While many of our references will be in the Australian context, water scarcity is a global problem and one we all need to be addressing.
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What inspired you to invent a product that would tackle water consumption in the home?
It goes right back to when I was a kid growing up in Victoria and my mum and dad were my two major influences. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my mum was an eco-warrior herself way before that term was coined. Our house backed onto a nature reserve and we spent all our time down there playing when we were kids. There were echidnas, wallabies, snakes, turtles, and we could just drink the water out of the creek. That’s where I fell in love with nature.
My father was a television technician. He was the personification of a ‘mad scientist’ with his wild hair, glasses and 4B pencil stuck behind his ear. He was able to fix or invent anything. There was nothing that he couldn’t do. His laboratory downstairs was like a mad scientist’s lab. His junk box was my toy box. There were springs, broken clocks, etc. He taught me a lot of the skills that I have today in being able to put things together and pull them apart. He taught me how to create prototypes and working models. They’re my two strongest influences.
During the Millenium drought in Australia in 2006 – the devastation was horrible and I felt compelled to help. I started doing research on water consumption and domestic water consumption in particular. It was an area where people like myself, or anyone really, could do some good. After looking at houses I found that the bathroom and more particularly the shower was one of the most wasteful areas in a typical dwelling.
Standing in the shower one day, I watched all that beautiful fresh drinking water go down the drain whilst waiting for the shower to warm up. I thought of the millions of people around the world just doing the same thing every single day. We are so entrenched in our upbringing that we don’t even notice that it is happening. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How can we collect and use this water in an easy simple way that would not detract from the showering experience?
It became quite an obsession and I went out to the shed and started building prototypes. It took a couple of years – there were around twenty different working models before I came to an idea where I could alter the geometry of a standard 3 way ball bell to use that as a venturi as well. This meant that we could collect the water that was normally wasted during warm up time and then reintroduce that water back into the shower stream during the course of the shower. That was the simple idea and it’s developed on from there.
Why is it so important that we take steps to reduce our household’s water consumption?
The main thing that I learnt when doing my research is that water is a finite resource. The planet doesn’t make any more of it – what we’ve got is what we’ve got. We have to learn how to do more with less. The population is growing. We need to be able to provide water for more and more people.
A lot of people think that science will come and save us and that 70% of the world’s mass is covered in water from our oceans. But desalinisation is not really an answer. Desal plants are terribly energy consuming which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. This is not the way that we want to go because it compounds the issue. Additionally, what do you do with all the salts and minerals that you strip from the water? If it is just dumped out to sea again it creates a further ecological problem.
The other thing is that people are stripping all the water from the aquifers at the moment. We are using more water than is being provided from our catchments. Quite often the water from the aquifers has been under the ground for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s beautiful crystal-clear water. It has been filtered through the sediment as it trickles down. But they’re drawing it out so fast that it’s pulling water in from the top layers which has contaminants and further minerals which is actually destroying the aquifers.
At the moment, Cape Town is looking to be the first modern city that’s ever run out of water. They are heading for Day Zero where they will have to turn the taps off. There is 4 million people who live there that will have to queue for water. There will be 200 distribution points and they’ll only receive 25L of water per day each. They’ve done well to reduce their consumption by 50 % in the last 2 years. To me this shows that it can be done and we can do a lot more with less water. At the moment we’re not doing as well as we possibly can.
It’s good for the environment and if you can take sensible steps around the home it can make a big difference. It seems to be such a huge global problem that I think sometimes we feel disempowered, helpless or even depressed. We know that we’re contributing to the problem but we don’t have the tools or the knowledge to be able to do anything about it. I’m a firm believer that if enough people do a little bit, it makes a huge difference.
With the Cullector in particular, you may look at it and think you’re only saving 20-30L per shower but if everyone in the house does that, it adds up to a lot of water. It’s a huge contribution, it’s a matter of getting enough people to do it.
How does the Cullector work?
I designed the Cullector to eliminate what I call the 7 Deadly Sins of Inefficient Showers.
The first sin is that quality fresh water is lost to the drain whilst waiting for the shower to warm up. Secondly, people have the tendency to turn the shower on, walk off, and then come back to it. This is a behavioural change.
The third sin is the water wasted while adjusting the taps for correct temperature. Also further water is wasted when readjusting the taps for correct temperature after pausing the shower to soap up or shampoo.
Number five is that a normal shower provides no clear signal to indicate when shower time is up. There can also be inappropriate or no flow restriction showerheads. Also inefficient showerheads can cause the user to spend longer in the shower than necessary.
In order to eliminate these problems, the Cullector combines several water saving features into one simple self-powered device. I’ve designed it so that it’s super easy to install. It simply replaces your existing shower. Just unscrew your showerhead from the wall, screw the Cullector on and you’re ready to go.
Everything you need comes in the box, there’s no drilling or plumber required.
Once your Cullector’s installed, you set and forget your shower tap to your preferred showering temperature. You don’t have to fiddle with the taps anymore. Off, on, and save, are now controlled with the little handle on the Cullector mechanism.
To start your shower, you move the lever to the ‘save’ position. All of the fresh water that would normally be lost to the drain, is now being collected in the bottle. You can see the bottle filling up and that always makes me feel great because I can see the water that normally would have been wasted. A little bit of water comes out of the shower rose so that you can monitor the temperature. As soon as the temperature is right, you flick the lever to ‘on’ and start showering.
All of the water that has been collected in the reservoir by a venturi effect, gets mixed back into the shower stream. This increases the flow rate and the pressure of the water by about 1 L per minute. After 4 – 5 minutes all of the water that has been collected, has been used up. You can see the water level in the reservoir going down while you’re in the shower.
Once all of the water has been used up, a little bit of air is drawn into the system. This creates a gentle pulse in the shower stream. This gives a tactile sensation to remind you that it’s time to get out. So it works as a shower timer as well.
You can pause the shower at any time just by switching the lever to ‘off’. This pause to soap up or shampoo is often called a military or navy shower, and it saves an enormous amount of water. Then you can switch it back on without readjusting your taps.
The showerhead is specifically designed to work at low flow rates. You get a full flowing shower that does everything that it is supposed to do at 7 L per minute. Most of the earlier showerheads without flow restriction, use 20+ L per minute.
All of the showerheads now are tested for WaterMark and WELS standards. This means they’re tested for flow rate, pattern, and temperature drop.
So exactly how much water does it save? If you don’t have a flow restricting shower in your home at the moment, and you use all of the features on the Cullector including the ‘pause’ feature, you will be saving in the vicinity of 35 000 L per year per person.
Water is probably not the most expensive commodity that you use in the house. You are also using electricity to heat the water. Up to 80% of the water that is coming out of your shower can be coming from your hot water service. So every litre that you save is another litre of water that you don’t have to heat. We calculate that the money saved on power is $260 per year per person. This is significantly more than the money saved on water – which is about $80 per year per person. That adds up to a total saving of $340 per year per person.
If you’re using power from a coal fired power station for instance, in our area (Far North Queensland) you’ll save one tonne of greenhouse gas per person per annum. Imagine a million people doing it? There are 20 million showers taken every day in Australia.
What are some other steps you take to reduce your household’s water consumption?
The first one is to check for leaks. If you have a dripping tap it adds up over time. One of the sneaky ones that a lot of people aren’t aware of is the toilet. They can leak, and because of the configuration of bowl, the leaks stay on the side and you can’t actually see the water dripping. Take the lid off the toilet and put in a couple of drops of food dye. Put the lid back on and come back in 20 minutes or so. If you see that food dye moving down the side of your bowl, you’ve got a leak.
Another little trick that you can do with your toilet is if you take the top off the cistern and get a plastic bottle full of water and drop it in. That will displace a certain volume of water to reduce your toilet outflow a little bit.
The other thing people can be aware of is that some leaks can be invisible, they might be under the ground. The only way to tell is to switch everything off in the house, and listen to your water meter. If it’s ticking then you’re in trouble because there’s a big leak. If it’s not ticking, check it again in an hour to make sure the numbers are still the same.
There is also the washing machine outflow. Simply hook up a garden hose to the outflow of the washing machine and put it out the window and on to the garden.
If you can afford it, install a water tank. Sometimes there are local council or government subsidies available for water tanks.
Mulch your garden beds. Plant native trees because they’re more water resilient.
When purchasing new appliances have a look at the WELS star rating. The more stars the better off. It might be more expensive initially but it will definitely pay for itself in the long run. And it’s good for the environment as well.
Where can we go to learn more about the Cullector and purchase one?
The best place is to go to watersavingshowers.com.au. You’ll see a video that gives a very good visual idea of exactly what the Cullector does and how it does it. Then you can go to the product page to purchase one.
We ship Australia-wide for free. We ship worldwide at the best rate that we can find.
Recently we ran a Facebook campaign for Cape Town where we were shipping to them for free just to try and help them out. Because of the shipping fees it was a break even exercise for us but I think it was well worth doing.
So there you have it! I hope you have a greater appreciation of the value of water and some ideas for how you can reduce your household’s water consumption.
To help you get started reducing your household water consumption, pick up your FREE Cheat Sheet that covers 30 Simple Ways To Reduce Water Use In and Around Your Home
It includes many of the simple tips I shared with households during my time as a home sustainability auditor.
Simple go to http://watersaving.lauratrotta.com, enter your email address and you’ll be on your way!
And if you’re interested in being part of an active community supporting each other to continually make small changes to create a healthier, more sustainable home and lifestyle, join my growing Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs community.
If you’re keen to try out the Cullector Water Saving Shower for yourself Peter has offered a 20% discount on the full range at Water Saving Showers between now and end May 2018. Simply enter code ECOCHAT to save!
While reducing your household’s water consumption won’t change the fact that we live in a land of droughts and flooding rains, it will help ensure that our water resources are able to stretch further and that’s one big step forward to making green mainstream.