Sustaining Ability

Policy / Sustainability / Media

Demand management, one shower at a time

with 6 comments

Electric utilities have been trying a variety of measures to encourage their customers to conserve energy — “smart” thermostats that show you your usage in real-time, a guilt-gram of annual power usage included with one’s bill, Web interfaces that let one monitor/control consumption from their PC — but beyond the novelty of flicking an “off” switch on your A/C from work, getting people to curb consumption can be as tough as getting 5-year-olds to eat broccoli.

TreeHugger offers a rundown of another (impossibly simple) sort of demand management measure: a $5 device that lets you know — in colors a 5-year-old could recognize — when you’re taking too long of a shower.


According to Dezeen, you just put the tiny device at the bottom of your shower. The WaterPebble measures and remembers the amount of water you consumed when you used it for the first time, and uses that as a bench mark for future showers. A series of LED lights tells you if you’re being more or less water efficient.

It’s got signals as simple as a traffic light, costs slightly more than a large Starbucks coffee and is so easy to use that kids could teach their parents how it works.

On December 31st, the EPA retired ENERGY STAR’s specification for programmable thermostats, one of the main tools of electricity demand-side management (DSM). One of the chief complaints utilities heard from customers was that the units were too complicated to use, that it was difficult to remember to keep changing the settings when you left the house or went on vacation. They’re working on a new specification with an emphasis on usability, but firms working on new thermostat designs that will comply with the new standard should look to the Waterpebble for inspiration.

Keep it simple, and keep your user in mind.

(Last thought: could you imagine if Scholastic could market these to kids through their school book clubs, alongside subscriptions to science magazines and Ranger Rick?)

(Really last thought: yes, there are drawbacks to the WaterPebble… it’s still a voluntary measure, it doesn’t raise awareness about water use via sprinklers, sinks and dishwashers, and the usefulness of it could be ruined by the user taking one insanely long shower while calibrating it.

I don’t care; it’s a very smart $5 piece of technology and cute besides.)


Written by Steven

March 9, 2010 at 5:16 am

Posted in Design

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6 Responses

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  1. This is cool, and I have a question. Is there a “recommended” time length for showers? For calibrating, I don’t know what’s considered reasonable.

    Pamela Villars

    March 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    • Pamela: I don’t know about recommended, but this NPR story from 2006 claims the average American takes 7-minute showers, not counting shaving (if one does that in the shower). 7-10 minutes sounds right to me.

      I also just read that the WaterPebble slowly reduces the amount of water it pings you at after getting the baseline, to encourage greater conservation (but it comes with a reset button if you’re down to 2-minute showers).

      Another easy conservation measure is getting a low-flow showerhead or faucet aerator, both of which reduce the flow of water. The bonus is you put it on once and then forget it’s there.


      March 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm

      • Steven, this is helpful – thanks! I also appreciate that it reduces your time – pretty cool. This may be a holiday gift for lots of folks. I just invested in the low-flow showerheads, so after installation, I’ll be on my way.

        Pamela Villars

        March 10, 2010 at 9:51 am

  2. I wonder…If I swallow it, will it glow when I’ve drank too much beer?


    Great blog, looking forward to reading more.

    Matisyahu von Yankovic

    March 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm

  3. The WaterPebble idea is pretty cool, but I can imagine how a lot of people would just ignore it on a cold day

    Jon Lee

    March 11, 2010 at 4:43 pm

  4. Wow, thanks for showing off this product Steven. I really love the simplicity of it.

    Ginny Skalski

    March 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm

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