This new device monitors how much water you use when you shower!

saving water
The device, mounted on a handheld shower head, also gives ratings like "very good" to "too much". Photo: PUB

In a new device in some households, a polar bear's ice melts as more water is used. And, if consumption continues unabated, the bear disappears.

Animation like this, coupled with real-time information on the amount of water used as a person showers, has helped such households to cut their water consumption by about 20 per cent.

This was among the findings of a study last year by national water agency PUB and the National University of Singapore (NUS). It involved 550 households in public housing estates islandwide.

Each household was given a device to be mounted on a handheld shower head. Apart from the polar bear animation, the device showed real-time information on the amount of water used as well as ratings from "very good" to "too much".

Study participants used 20 litres of water per shower on average initially. But, by the end of the study, conducted from June to December last year, it was found that those who had the animation, real-time information and ratings on their device, saved 3.8 litres per shower, a 20 per cent savings.

The amount saved per person was about five litres of water each day.

There were spillover effects too. Apart from using less water in the shower, participants also cut down on water used for other activities, such as washing in the sink. This means that each person could save about 40 cents each month, based on the total amount of water saved.

Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo, a deputy head of the NUS Department of Real Estate, was involved in the study. He said a survey done before the device was installed showed that participants' estimation of water use was very inaccurate.

"For those who had the real-time information, estimation of how much water is used actually improved over time, " he said.

One resident who took part in the study is Mr Michael Zee, a 65- year-old retiree who lives in Queenstown. The device has helped him to cut down his water usage by almost half. "The device is a very good indicator of how much water you use... I will try to use less water because, at the end of the day, I will have to pay more otherwise," he said .

PUB said showering accounts for more than one-quarter of the water used in households.

While the amount of water each person uses daily fell from 165 to 151 litres from 2003 to 2015, the aim is to bring it down to 140 litres by 2030.

Mr Michael Toh, director of the Water Supply (Network) Department at PUB, said that he hopes the real-time information will encourage people to be mindful of how they use water. "Water utilities around the world are trying to manage their water resources and, of course, water conservation is one of their main areas of focus," he added.

While the device can be installed in a matter of minutes, it costs about $100, including retrofitting. The households that took part in the study did not have to pay for the device.

PUB said that it will look at the study results and see how it can work with equipment suppliers, developers and other stakeholders to find out how the device can be improved.

Written by Carolyn Khew for The Straits Times