Itemizing Water Consumption At Home

Water measurement

For a while now [Florian] has wanted to itemize his water usage at home to keep better track of where his water bill is coming from — and to help him develop water conscious habits. He’s not done yet, but has had a pretty good start.

Faucet Sensor

The problem with measuring the water usage of everything in your house is that the plumbing involved to install sensors is a rather big job — so instead he assumed constant flow in some places and just used sensors on the valves to determine how long the valve was open for, which gives him a fairly accurate number for water usage.

On the right is his kitchen faucet which features a super quick arcade button hack to keep track of it being on or off.

The toilet was a bit trickier. He ended up designing a 3D printed mount attached to the lever on the inside of the tank — it’s pretty universal so he’s included the .STL files on his website if anyone wants to try implementing this system.

All of these switches head back to a Raspberry Pi to keep track of the data in the cloud, which is where the fun begins. He was amazed at some of the numbers he ended up with — learning how much water it takes to wash lettuce for a salad, or even how much water is used giving your hands a quick rinse (about a 250ml!) to more unusual habits:

Also, the system is an excellent timekeeper of when I poop… and also everyone else that comes to visit. This is going to be fun.

water usage

All this data collection also makes for a good point about where we’re headed:

I recently watched Ex Machina and there’s a scene that sticks out to me for summarizing the age we’re entering. The scene is of the AI’s creator describing his moment of insight when creating the first prototype. He explains that the data collected from people’s internet searches were not a map of WHAT people were looking at, they were a map of HOW people were looking at things. What’s interesting with all the data we’re collecting is what lies beneath its surface.

The more we start looking at what’s right in front of us, the better chance we have at making a positive difference in the world.

79 thoughts on “Itemizing Water Consumption At Home

  1. Attention everyone! The role of “that guy” for this comment section will be played by me:
    “Dear Lord in Heaven, please take care of my family and friends, and also please convince the leading browser devs to settle their APNG/MNG differences so we can stop hosting GIF as a stand-in for common portable silent movie format, amen.”

    1. Yeah that’s not going to happen. As a web developer, I too have fought the nobel fight against the unoptimized gif. However, when you look at the bounce rate of your visitors, you realize that people can’t skim a video, and 90% of users don’t read the text. Therefore gif wins as the fastest way to convey information

          1. Think further than your own ass and you might see.

            Think a site like Imgur, if you’ve ever visited. They got plenty of funny GIFs that are nevertheless tiny in size because of the site layout, and you’d like to zoom in rather than lean in to see what’s going on. After they forced the conversion to “gifv” which is basically an embedded video, you got tiny ass animations that you can’t zoom in on except by making them full screen.

      1. Totally misread your comment, gregkennedy. A standard video-image format that can play while still loading, displays inline on mobile, and is high quality / compressed like modern video codecs is what the modern web deserves.

    2. Hear hear!

      But unfortunately some unknown force is preventing it, and the idiotic webm etcetera ‘replacement’ is not even protested against in the street but instead seen as a good thing.. sad state of affairs
      Maybe I’ll just block all webm and gif and wait until the world catches up.

      I think the only way to get it done (APNG/MNG acceptance) is if some whistle blower at the PNG working group reveals who has been blocking it and in what nefarious manner.

      1. Addendum: I hear the mozilla foundation rationalized the end of MNG support with it taking too much room.. Nowadays they just add another gigabyte for something nobody uses, or something solely intended for big corporations and governments to track you with no benefit to the user…

  2. I am going to play another “That Guy”…

    I am assuming he is single? I can’t imagine any woman allowing those cables connected to all the faucets. My fiancee is flipping because I keep charging cables out in the open. I could only imagine the “hell no” if I tried doing this in my house.

    1. Ditto.
      I’m only allowed to do any hacks that is:
      1 – Desirable (i.e. fulfills a useful function)
      2 – Elegant (i.e. is aesthetically pleasing, or at the very least neutral)
      This rules out the vast majority of hacks published on this site!

    2. You guys need a firmware update for your domestic partners. :-)
      (Mine’s been putting up with my house hacks for a third of a century now… I got a “high tolerance” model)

      That said, I don’t like tripping over stuff like that myself, so would make it a lot tidier or invisible.

    3. The funny part, only one flow meter at the water entry point is all that is needed. you can even identify what was the use based on flow and time. In fact a lot of home automation and metrics systems installs over the past 2 decades do exactly this. I have a single whole house power meter and I can tell you what use peak is the coffee maker, what is the Home theater, etc…

      1. I wonder if you could actually “listen” to the incoming pipe and figure out what was going on. Think sound signatures for your plumbing devices. Tap in kitchen sounds like this… flush sounds like that… shower sounds like… etc. Then using these sound spectra figure out which tap, how long, how much used… Then again, its Friday afternoon, so I’m probably over-thinking the problem. :¬)

        1. Last weekend I setup a raspberry pi to monitor hot water flow in my house. I didn’t use a flow meter, but a microphone listening on the water pipe.

          I was able to get good data using doppler shift and amplitude to tell how much water is flowing (I have not calabrated the measurements yet though)

          I’ll do some spectrographs this weekend and see if there are any patterns.

          I have a write up, I need to find the url I posted it on though.

          1. Doppler shift? Seriously? Were you interrogating with a narrowband transmitted signal, or just estimating the mean frequency (or bandwidth?) of the intrinsic random noise? How do you distinguish the water approaching the microphone from that receding?

          2. Doppler shift may be wrong, but it sure it acting like it. Here’s the first part of my write up:

            Hopefully this weekend I’ll have some time to chart the data I’ve collected since Monday between the water flow and water heater energy usage. I’ll also do some more controller experiments to see if I can calibrate the frequency/amplitude data against measured water flow rates.

    4. I am perplexed whenever I read “my partner doesn’t allow…” Really? You are two people sworn to live together as one for the rest of your lives. One person in that relationship does not dictate everything… unless you allow them to.

      Do what you love and if they love you, they will support you. If not, then so be it.

      This is why relationships don’t last. You can pretend for a while, but not forever. Not every day. You need to be your own person. If you need to be somebody different just to make them stay, then let them leave.

      I couldn’t imagine. I am far from a dictator in my house, but at least we both understand that even though we are one team, we are still individuals. We do our best to support each other in that.

      1. Justice,

        I am not disagreeing with you… but I leave her in charge of most things domestic and, more importantly, aesthetic. No, it’s not a dictatorship, but understanding what my fiancee values makes life easier for us. She doesn’t get to dictate anything, we discuss. But in the end, I wouldn’t like all the wires everywhere either. I live in a nice home and that just wouldn’t work for me, either.

      2. @Justice_099
        Let me help translate that out of human-speak:
        “My spouse/partner won’t let me _______________” actually means “all relationships involve give and take, and part of the compromise that has allowed us to coexist from day to day is that I don’t do ______________.”

        1. Nine times out of ten it is a man saying that, not the woman. What do you think that says?

          Obviously, I understand compromise but these examples are always one-sided.

          Fine, you choose to be the one always compromising for the sake of making someone stay. More power to you. I prefer my life of respecting that we are both equal and individuals and just coexisting without coercion.

          I wasn’t insulting anyone. But the condescending responses in order to defend beta male behavior is rather humorous. I do what I want and my partner doesn’t threaten to leave me for it. And my partner does what she wants without me threatening to leave her. She wants to spread her hobby all over the kitchen table and we need to eat in the living room for a week? So what.

          Who is happier? Live your own life as you choose, I guess.

      3. If your utopian scenario pulled from an american love story works for you, great. The rest of us realise that a relationship is built on compromise. If you can’t bare compromising your life, live single. And wait until you get kids as they’ll bring an extra layer of conflicting tastes and interests as well.
        “We do our best to support each other in that.”
        Indeed, and that’s why I’m not sellotaping a bunch of wires to my bathroom, because it’s also hers.
        “Do what you love and if they love you, they will support you. If not, then so be it.”
        I have to admit that I wouldn’t “love” taping a bunch of wires to my walls, so I suppose that in this case compromising is easy!

    5. This is why I ran the cables hidden in the structure for such a project. As I have still other more important things to finalize, this will have to wait. But when this day comes, I can turn into this guy and nobody other in the house will notice.

      It drove me nuts when doing cabling (do I really need a cable here vs where else have I missed the negligible future possibility?) but I have my piece of mind now.

  3. I’m tired of having such description “Measuring home water consumption with Raspberry Pi”
    Or with Arduino. Where the main issue is not the process of data with a given processor, but the way the datas are coming to that processor.
    And here, as thomas said, the cabling solution (?) is a real nightmare..

    1. What would you suggest? “Itemizing water consumption using momentary switches and python” ?

      I titled my post in the context of my blog, but I can understand that for hackaday and the average reader’s knowledge, a more descriptive title would go a long way

    2. The topic is like those Chinese restaurant menu. They run the dish combinations with different ingredients such as RPi, Arduino, ESP8266, ARM etc. Once you figure out how to cook a certain dish, what you use as the uC is secondary.

  4. Yeah, been there, done that. People seem to be entertained by the topic due to the implied jokes. Also you can see the “habbits” pretty well in that twitter “stream”.

    Later on a guy did a pretty nice overview presentation during 31C3 about many such projects, also named “The Internet of Toilets”. All that tends to nicely get people to think about possible privacy implications of IoT and feeding data to “the cloud”.

  5. i would’ve went with ultrasonic sensors, :/ they’re less invasive, take less time to set up, and look better than frankensink and franken toilet.

    1. .. and less likely to apply mains voltage to your tender parts if it all goes wrong and the plumbing ‘aint properly earthed… A friend of mind found out about un-earthed plumbing when he was converted in to a cursing pinball an bounced round the restaurant kitchen where he works.. sh*t… the sink is live.. damn.. so is the other one… and the ‘effing worktop… He was glad he hadn’t found out when he went to the khazi.

    2. Let me know when you put it together. Doubtful I can install it on 9 water sources in my home and call it “less time to setup” as it would take me a while just to save up that money.

      I agree it would look better but as andrewjhull and Jon G point out, many other considerations come into play.

  6. What? Why would he do this kind of bad hackery?

    This makes flow detection much easier, and cleaner to do.–Plastic-Threaded/dp/B00K0TFZN8/ref=lp_3206433011_1_2?s=industrial&ie=UTF8&qid=1432915873&sr=1-2

    Add some $2.50 arduino nano clones and a NRF radio and you’re in business with a simple, elegant and clean solution. You could even build a nice GUI using a RasPi and a touchscreen for flow control as well as a web interface.

    1. I didn’t know you could do bad “hackery.” If it works it works. We may not be on the same page about what “hack” means.

      “much easier, and cleaner to do” — I’d disagree. I’ve purchased that exact sensor, stuck in a 3D printed shower head and had it tweet consumption. In no way would I stretch and say that unscrewing the faucet, adding that sensor somewhere along the line, then cutting the other pipes to make it fit is “easier.”

      I’m sorry I took “Why would he do this kind of bad hackery” so personally. I mean… no where is this a finished product or anything more than a “hey let’s build something cool over Memorial Day weekend.” I’m made to feel like I didn’t try hard enough while I’m just having fun and doing something novel by using arcade buttons.

      1. I’m perfectly fine with hacky stuff. And Im OK with mechanical stuff that moves on its own. Normal safety be damned. Even have a jacob’s ladder that sends scary sparks through the sky.

        When it comes down to regular use things like faucets and showherheads, those electronics better be able to handle catastrophic failure. Does he have isolation on the sensors? Probably no. Can it inject electricity in the water? Probably.

        When it comes to major electrical safety and water that humans use, yes, hacky stuff isn’t good. It may cost more, but using the right tool for the job is a good thing.

        1. Here are my thoughts on why I’m ok with the risk:

          Assuming the worst case scenario, the button falls into a sink full of water thereby shorting the pins. The system would detect the button as depressed… the microcontroller and power brick sit elevated and inside a closed cabinet far away. I’m no EE but bridging a logic pin with ground isn’t going to do much.

      2. “having fun”…Read your article again Florian; you’re heralding yourself as a saviour of the California megadrought. When throw that down, at least build something robust…I doubt those arcade buttons are corrosion resistant.

        1. Please quote me where I herald myself as a savior.

          I’ve found it much faster to grasp the scope of a problem by building several quick and dirty prototypes. Upfront investment of time and resources in what you think is a robust solution often ends with lost time. I firmly believe iteration is key to any good design. That being said I can understand how confusing this may seem as it’s not mentioned anywhere in the post. For what it’s worth, I mention “releasing often” on the About page.

      3. The term “bad hack” is cruel. After all, you went to a lot of trouble and you clearly showed all work. This is a great start!

        Perhaps it’d be better to think of this as a jumping point for other hacks. It’s like the Sex Pistols: they sucked and they knew it, but everyone in the crowd said to themselves “if they suck and they’re on stage, I could do a step better and make it as well”. Next thing you know prog rock was over and a hundred genres bloomed.

        My complaint is not about the wires. It’s the assumption that water flow is constant with time.

        When you flush, you have a discrete moment of water coming in: that amount (usually 1 gallon) is even listed on the toilet. When you turn on the kitchen sink, you don’t always turn it on all the way. meanwhile the sink flow is assumed to be at the full rate.

        I get the idea of putting sensors at every output so you can map the use. However a next release would be better served by measuring the water flow from the house source (which probably has a meter already) and having the sensors tell you merely which one has opened and for how long. Then you can review the data with fewer assumptions: “ah, so the sink is left to drip, but the toilet is actually using less water than expected but still flushes well.”

        1. Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate your calm and insightful words.
          This is most definitely a jumping off point. You get it :)

          Two hurdles before I can use house source as data source:

          1) my meter is antiquated and I cannot modify it, so I have to read the dial. Best solution I’ve come up with is a webcam and OCR
          2) the dial precision is +/- 1 cubic foot so it wouldn’t register anything when I turned on the faucet for 2 seconds.
          Measuring the time on/off is +/- 5 mL, which gives me more insight on usage behavior.

    2. Have you ever used a turbine flow meter, let alone a 3 dollar one (this is a sub $3 part from China)? These completely drop out at the low end, restrict flow substantially, are not rated for potable use, and deteriorate over the course of only a few 10s of hours, presumably due to shitty do to 25 cent bearings or seals.

  7. If I was to measure my water consumption, I’d try to optically read the cog wheel on the water meter in my bathroom using a simple photo diode/transistor. But it would only what I already know: that I’m showering way too long.

          1. sticky handle on toilet – notifications have saved more than a few gallons
            sprinkler valve actually not closing – called and got it turn off before it really-really flooded the basement

            never ever make any comments to wife about length of time taking a shower
            or say hey I noticed that the power usage didn’t spike did you sleep in

  8. Only this last comment gets to the serious matter. Leaks! Toilets are the worst, expect leaks in 2 years on a brand new stool. They should ban rubber valves and only use silicone rubber of the highest grade. Same with brass and SS. His toilet handle needs a stop inside the tank. It got hacked off?
    Get rid of faucet aerators! You will be getting rid of 85dB of white noise and a germ breeding place fed from splashing of waste. These things were designed for water WASTE, not any other reason. If the water splashes you’re running it too fast, hold hand or vessel in stream then max the flow. Otherwise, conserve.
    And one more time; insulate hot water pipes from tank to taps. Hot for an hour or more, not minutes. Insulate the tank more. Never get a “thankless” water heater. You’ll thank me. They don’t let you conserve with a trickle of hot water, they will go cold suddenly. They support wasting water too!

    1. ” insulate hot water pipes from tank to taps. Hot for an hour or more”

      That’s a bad idea. It gives the legionella bacteria time to multiply in the stagnant water inside the warm pipes.

      The fact that they get flushed by scalding hot water and then soon go cold again keeps the system healthy. It’s either too hot or too cool for the bacteria.

  9. Home big water consumption is wasching macines and toilet.
    You can save a lot of drinkable water on those two using rain water.
    I made my installation myself, as a hacker it was fun.
    Rain water is better for your washing machine because there is no calcaire and the cloth are smoother.
    To increase the saving, you should use a dual flush toilet tank.

  10. .Normal Consumer (daily use):
    Toilet 125 gallons
    Shower 100 gallons
    Sink 25 gallons
    Dishwasher 75 gallons
    Clothes washer 75 gallons
    Total (per day): 400 gallons

    Normal Farmer (daily use):
    Water crops 7600 gallons PER acre

    Honey – would you please tell the kids not to take such long showers.

    So common everyone – lets all micro manage our water use so we can save the planet.

    1. The numbers don’t look right. With a really wasteful 5 gallon per flush toilet, that still translates into 25 flushes per day. If you’re really using it that much, call your doctor as there’s probably something very wrong. (Or if the water usage is due to leakage, fix it!)
      The shower, assuming it’s also wasteful at 5 gallons per minute, translates into a 20 minute shower every day. Reasonable for someone who doesn’t care about conserving…
      Not sure how to quantify the water used in the sink, but I have a clue it’s way lower than indicated.
      The dishwasher is the most off. Not only does it only use about 6 gallons per load (for an inefficient one), it’s generally not used every day.
      The washing machine is also off, with older ones typically using 50 gallons per load and like the dishwasher, generally not used every day.

      But you’re right that the real problem to attack is factory farming. A sustainable diet saves a lot of water and is much healthier for you.

      1. What family of four can possibly use 400 gallons per day? Even those funny stunted US ones? I just got my water bill for this month. For a household averaging 3.5 people we used 13 cubic metres/month (average, last 6 mo.). About 114 US gal/day. We have no water-conserving appliances whatsoever, and no particular mind to conserve any. 80 year old toilets. Full-size heavy-duty toploader washer. Dishwasher running every day. Somebody’s 400 gal/d stat is totally out of whack.

  11. Just off the top of my mind I came up with this. I know you don’t want to install a paddle wheel sensor (Kobold) and a homemade one with shark-bites and pex would be a leaky basement plumber’s nightmare. So how about this. The service entrance to your water has a single pipe that controls all the water in your entire house. When water passes through a pipe even a little bit IT MAKES A NOISE. It is a low frequency sound but when the water is off it is mostly silent. When someone flushes the toilet it makes a sound. When someone washes their hands it makes a sound. If a faucet is leaking it makes a sound. When you water the lawn… well you get it now?

    Get a electrolet microphone from your PC headset or microphone (or a guitar pickup). You can actually just leave it in the enclosure. Mount it a the main pipe just after the water meter. Wrap the thing with soundproofing material (newspaper works good) – this is to cut down extraneous noise from around the sensor. Plug it into your PC/MAC. Write an app that listens to the soundcard and filter out all high frequency sounds (like people talking near pipes). Just focus on the sound of rushing water. Try and increase gain so you can even hear leaky faucets.

    Once you pinpoint the low frequency range of rushing water, make that range your trigger event. Then write a subroutine to measure the duration and dB level of the sound. By using an an actual measuring cup (or one gallon jug) you can actually calibrate how much water is being used. The sound level and time duration are functions of this. The lower the sound level (in dB’s) the lower the water flow is (and visa versa). The duration represents the volume of water. The frequency is not important for volume measuring only the triggering event. Frequency may be controlled by pipe diameter and other factors of your house so there’s probably no standard frequencies..

    1. BTW this idea of mine does not use DOPPLER SHIFT. It just listens for a low frequency rumbling sound range (essentially the water molecules hitting and rubbing the sides of the copper or pvc or pex pipe). High frequency sound waves would probably work well on extraneous leaks but will also pickup voice conversations and other sounds in bathroom or near sinks. And you don’t have to worry about water approaching or receding from contact sensor. Why? Because water at the main is either moving into the house or still, not receding. It’s just one way. And the microphone wouldn’t care anyway. Flow is flow.

      However, I do like the ultrasonic motion detector idea. I think it would work. I was thinking of a toy 10.5 Ghz radar gun by Hot Wheels too, but it couldn’t see the freshwater in the pipe unless there was metal in it. And there is: Calcium; but is there enough? There’s also a crap load of Sodium Fluoride too. BTW it does NOTHING to help your teeth (ADA will vouch for this). It only arguably helps a corrupt water commission executive(s) get richer.

  12. Wouldn’t inline flow meters to each output of the water system be more desirable? It would also help with “automated” systems such as icemakers, dishwashers, water heaters, refrigerators, furnaces, etc… and some systems have an “overhead” due to leaks, evaporation and absorption that wouldn’t show up in Boolean on/off measurements. Not all fixtures and water-using appliances are created equal for flow rate. Especially if they involve any kind of pump to supplement or regulate the native pressure.

    It’s not that big of a job to cut out a few inches of PVC (or even copper for that matter) and insert a meter. You’re already going to the trouble of fabricating custom sensors for each manual application and installing them. Plus, now you have wires everywhere, in view and in the way… Depending on your plumbing circuit, the sensors could even be located centrally to aid in data collection.

    1. I would pay good money to watch you “cut out a few inches of PVC (or even copper for that matter) and insert a meter” for the first time. Unless you plan ahead there’s a nice gotcha there.

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