In very simple terms, and to nobody’s surprise, business water usage dropped significantly during the lockdowns, and domestic water consumption rose.
According to researchers from Cranfield University, our water usage patterns changed. Pre-pandemic, there was a daily surge in domestic water use in the early morning as people were getting ready for work, with a subsequent increase in commercial water usage during working hours. Over lockdown, the early morning surge dropped and became a continuous demand throughout the day.
The changes in water demand affected areas differently. The Pacific Institute, a global think tank, found that, in Portsmouth, residential use rose by 15%, yet commercial water use dropped by 17%. In California, the difference was more pronounced, with a 10% rise in domestic use and a massive drop in commercial water usage of 32%. In fact, many areas in the US experienced a total overall reduction in water demand.
Researchers at Manchester University discovered that at the beginning of the pandemic, there was increased domestic water demand as we took greater care to practise hygiene by washing our hands more as well as washing food and other items delivered to our homes. As our use of offices continues to evolve and more businesses adopt hybrid working, it is to be expected that commercial water usage will continue to change, with a predicted decrease in usage levels - compared to pre-pandemic levels - and a consequent increase in domestic water usage.
During the first lockdown, we were in talks with Ofwat to help businesses that had had to close. Commenting on the negotiations, our CEO John Reynolds said: “I was very relieved when Ofwat accepted, in early April, Castle Water’s arguments that customers required to close during the lockdown shouldn’t be charged.” The temporary rule allowed us to mark premises temporarily vacant, but unfortunately this rule was only valid for closures occurring within the period 16 March to 31 July 2020 and was not valid during subsequent lockdowns.
With commercial properties lying vacant for weeks and even months, a big concern regarding commercial water was that this provided optimal conditions for the legionella bacteria to thrive. The bacterium is transmissible via tiny water droplets which, if inhaled, could go on to develop into the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease. It was therefore a responsibility of the business to protect staff and customers by testing the water system and taking any necessary remedial action, especially as part of any reopening strategy.
If your business has reopened and your employees have returned to work, you will start to see an increase in your water usage again. This is the perfect time to start thinking about applying water efficiency measures to your business, it can make all the difference. Our downloadable Water Efficiency Guide is packed with easy and practical tips to help your business save water and money. A simple change you can make is to install Hippo displacement devices into your toilet cisterns. These will save up to three litres of water on every flush, which over the course of a year, could add up to quite a lot.
It’s important to let your employees know what measures you’re taking, help them understand why you’re doing it, and encourage them to adopt the measures themselves. Ask them to report any problems they come across, such as dripping taps or constant running water in the toilet.
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