Sustainable UCL


BASc students investigate water consumption in UCL's toilets

First-year students on UCL's BASc course are collaborating with UCL's plumbers and Sustainability Team to install water meters in the Wilkins Building South Junction toilets as part of their research.

Students installing water meters

15 February 2016

Staff and students use water for drinking and cooking, washing and showering, and for lab work and equipment. This has a big environmental impact, and the team are working hard to reduce this volume of water use.

The South Junction toilets are scheduled for refurbishment by UCL Estates during the summer of 2016, presenting an opportunity to investigate the potential of different interventions to save water.

As part of the Engineering Thinking module, our students compared water used by different methods of flushing the urinals in the South Junction male toilets, including an automatic timed flush and a system that uses individual buttons to flush. They prepared plans, surveyed the site and installed monitoring devices, as well as asking people about their toilet habits

Waterless urinals are being tested in other areas around UCL, but in the past these have presented reliability problems when connected to the antiquated drainage systems found around the Bloomsbury Campus.

The reports the students produced were full of interesting findings and creative ideas, and demonstrate the value of taking a Living Lab approach. We will continue to work with the plumbing team to make changes that improve water efficiency all around UCL.

UCL plumber Charles explains the installation

Led by Professor Steve Hailes (Computer Science) and Teaching Fellow Vera Bukachi (CEGE), the students have designed a system based around an Engduino to measure water consumption, as well as count the number of people using the facilities. The first part of the installation took place on Saturday 13th February under the watchful eyes of Vera Bukachi and Sustainability Manager, Tony Overbury. During this hands-on session, UCL plumbers Dickie Thomas, Aaron Greenacre and  Charles Berry instructed the students on how to cut copper pipes and assemble plumbing fittings. The plumbers then fitted the water meters which the students then tested. Further sessions are planned to fit the monitoring systems to these meters. Judith, one of the students who took part in the activity, said:

"9.00am on a Saturday is so much better when you're wearing hard caps, high visibility vests and get to learn about cutting pipes, urinal installation and PTFE from some of the most interesting and fun people you'd previously never even seen around UCL. The collaboration between our planning and their knowledge and ability, combined with lots of laughter, made for a brilliant and amazingly productive morning. It wasn't really about urinals (though I now know more about those than I thought I ever would). It was about understanding what goes on behind the scenes of UCL and about realising that this project we're doing can actually be practical, useful and real"

It is hoped that the water consumption data gained from this project will be used to inform the design of the upcoming refurbishment works in this space.

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