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AI in Indoor Water Conservation

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Research Published on

Author

Mahdi Afkhami
Design Researcher, Environmental Design
Figure 1 US Water Freshwater Usage and Population Increase 1990-2059

Why is the Water Gone?

Water is a scarce resource, with only 0.25% of earth's water being potable for human use2. In the United States, excessive water consumption of 39 billion gallons per day has strained freshwater resources and led to decreased reservoir water levels3, forcing states to make drastic cuts on water consumption4. Population growth and urbanization have further increased water demand, particularly in buildings5. According to a report by National Intelligence Council in 20216, by 2050, water usage is projected to increase by 20 to 50 percent due to population growth (Figure 1). 

Figure 2 US Water Usage Based on the Sector

U.S. Water Withdrawal

Concerns about water scarcity and environmental impact have led to a focus on water-saving strategies in building design. In 2020, a study by St. Johns River Water Management District found that the US consumes 440,921 million gallons of water per day, with 87% of  it being freshwater7. This is a sharp increase compared to 2015, largely due to the pandemic. A breakdown of the water usage per category8 is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 3 Empire State

Water Usage in Context

Public supply water usage 7 – the water used for domestic and commercial use – in buildings, which is the third largest water consumption sector in United States, was recorded as 38,999.4 million gallons per day in 2020. Our previous work9 addressed how the farming industry can save 36% of water usage in irrigation, the second largest water consumption sector, through innovative approaches like vertical farming.

The Stats

Diving into the Numbers

Water Usage

39 Billion

Gallon daily public water usage of Americans.

CO2

290 Million

MT CO2 produced annually to transport, process, and utilize water for commercial and residential buildings in USA.

Water Waste

40%

Daily water in United States wasted due to leakage and overuse.

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Sustainable Transformation

As mentioned previously, around 40 billion  gallons of water is used every day in the United States. It is important to consider the environmental impact associated with the transportation, processing, and utilization of such a vast amount of water. One notable aspect to consider is the amount of CO2 emissions generated during these water-related activities. The handling and treatment of water, including pumping, purification, and distribution, often require energy-intensive processes that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. It has been estimated that these processes collectively produce an annual carbon footprint of approximately 290 million metric tons of CO210

Total Water Usage

Designing for Efficiency

Architects and designers understand where water is planned to be used – but rarely do they consider where it will be misused. Around 13-15% of water use is the United States is wasted due to leaks within the appliances and/or the indoor plumbing system, and an additional 15-39% is wasted due to overuse of the water which stems from occupant behavioral patterns, such as letting the faucet run for too long 12 (Figure 4).

Figure 5: Water Usage Breakdown in Buildings based on Building Type

Most of the water in buildings is being consumed in the kitchen and the restroom11, indicating that most water usage is highly dependent on the users’ behavior and consumption pattern. A factor which only tends to increase, especially after the 2020 pandemic and the increase in remote working, where people work from the comfort of their home.

Go with the flow

Hydration Hacks

We can reduce water usage in two major ways. First by implementing technical measures, including network improvement, leak repairs, and developing and integrating water-efficient appliances. Second, using non-technical measures such as providing users with access to information, education, and awareness that may change consumptive habits.

With the growing demand on water, there is a dire need for the implementation of innovative technologies that contribute to water conservation efforts. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) for water reduction in buildings has gained increasing attention in recent years to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of water management systems as it can monitor water usage by utilizing flow sensors in residential and commercial buildings. Flow sensors can be deployed in pipelines to measure the water flow data, which then streams to the cloud. This helps in designing efficient water utilization methods 13, aids in monitoring, and helps control levels of water usage. Aside from sensors, our buildings can also be designed to save water in three distinct ways

AI in Indoor Water Conservation Infographic
Now vs. Future

The Power at the Palm of Your Hand

Technology-based strategies such as using energy efficient appliances are more common and widely studied than behavioral solutions. Nonetheless, it is imperative to acknowledge the significance of incorporating behavioral strategies, as they possess the potential for greater cost-effectiveness. While many of the current water conservation techniques rely on the technical measures, the future of water conservation will be more reliant on non-technical measures. By using IoT technologies, we can modify people’s water consumption behavior. Similarly, integrating AI into building management systems has the potential to greatly reduce water consumption and improve the efficiency of water usage. By analyzing data on water usage patterns and identifying areas of inefficiency, AI algorithms can optimize water usage and detect leaks in real-time. This can lead to significant savings on water bills and reduce the environmental impact of buildings.

The use of AI in water management in buildings has the potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of water management systems, leading to significant water savings. However, the implementation of AI in water management systems also requires a significant investment and it's important to consider the impact on privacy, from an ethical perspective.

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Figure 7 show the current and future techniques various areas of the built environment can leverage for optimal water conservation. One salient difference here is how future design techniques for water conservation such as leveraging new technologies and AI, has targeted behavioral change as part of the building itself. This is in stark contrast to the current behavioral programs currently used such as pamphlets and flyers, as mentioned earlier in the article. A future building will be the hub for interconnected sensors that read the water usage by each appliance, showing each occupant their trend of usage in real-time. Building owners will have the ability to control the water flow for different parts of the buildings, setup landscape watering schedules based on the weather forecast, and be notified of any leak or pipe burst as soon as it occurs.

In summary, while technology-based strategies such as energy efficient appliances are more commonly studied, behavioral solutions can be more cost effective for water conservation. The future of water conservation will rely more heavily on non-technical measures, such as IoT technologies and AI algorithms. The implementation of AI in water management systems has the potential to significantly reduce water consumption and environmental impact, although it requires a significant investment and ethical considerations. The building of the future will be a hub for interconnected sensors and kiosks, allowing occupants and owners to monitor and control water usage in real-time.

References

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