Virginia Tech® home

2023 | Advancing Sustainable Water Management

tap water dripping

FACULTY SEED GRANT | Global Change Center

Advancing Sustainable Water Management through Smart Home Water Monitoring: A Preliminary Study

  • Dr. Landon Marston, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Dr. Klaus Moeltner, Agriculture and Applied Economics
  • Dr. Maria Amaya, Civil and Environmental Engineering

This study is funded jointly by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE).

Growing societal water demands and water scarcity caused by climate change are stressing many US communities’ finite freshwater supplies. Water supplies have already been fully allocated in many western watersheds, including the Colorado River Basin. Thus, demand-side water management has emerged as a strategy to reduce water demands and enhance the resiliency of urban water systems (Cominola et al., 2015; Di Mauro et al., 2021). Detailed characterization and understanding of residential water consumption are necessary for ensuring urban water systems can cope with changing water availability and demand (Mazzoni et al., 2023). However, residential water consumption varies among households and is influenced by many different socio-demographic variables, which requires capturing household-level demand rather than relying on aggregate, utility-wide data (Cominola et al., 2021).

Both within and beyond the context of this seed grant, the primary objective of this research is to determine how the timing, frequency, amount, and type of water use data available to households impacts their water conservation. Previous studies indicate that water demand reductions, ranging from 2.5% to 28.6%, can be obtained when consumers are provided real-time feedback on their water use (Cominola et al., 2019). However, the degree to which changes in water use are attributed to behavioral or technological changes needs to be quantified. Therefore, in this preliminary study, we will conduct an initial analysis of water use data available from Flume. This company develops smart home water monitors that report real-time, water use information to households (Flume, 2023). Uniquely, these devices distinguish between indoor and outdoor water use, providing insight into behavior associated with different types of water use. Flume currently has data for about 100,000 US households, which they agree to share with us. Thus, we can determine if access to detailed, high frequency, personalized water use data affects household consumption behavior and reduces residential water demand.

The second objective of this broader research agenda is to determine the long-term impacts of smart home water monitoring on household water consumption. Specifically, examining real-time water use data over a multi-year period uniquely allows us to determine if observed changes in water use are persistent, under what circumstances they persist, and if there is a ‘rebound’ in use over time. The seed grant will allow us to identify communities that we can collaborate with for long-term studies since Flume already has strong partnerships with utilities in different US cities. Then, upon successful funding of a follow-up grant, we can develop pre- and post-installation surveys to obtain information specific to our community partners and determine how water use differs among housing types and different demographics. Thus, we can assess the effectiveness of different water demand policies based on household consumption patterns in locations with differing environmental conditions and socio-demographic variables.

Reference citations for project proposal description available upon request.