While rainwater tanks are a ubiquitous feature across rural Australian landscapes, their widespread uptake and installation has had a troubled history in metropolitan areas.
As local planning schemes and building regulations have evolved to accommodate rainwater tanks on small urban allotments, their popularity among householders has grown significantly.
A wider range of tank designs, sizes, materials and accessories has elevated urban rainwater harvesting to a level that is long overdue. The humble, weathered corrugated water tank from the bush has been transformed into an oversized urban ‘must-have’ gadget for those concerned with water conservation and responsible resource consumption.
In simple terms, effective rainwater harvesting can help conserve mains water supply and reduce demand on dwindling water storages.
Promoted by state governments, water utilities and plumbing retail outlets, rainwater tanks are becoming a more acceptable residential ‘accessory’ for many householders.
Their potential to reduce demand on mains water for gardening purposes and other more elaborate domestic tasks, can be substantial if correctly sized and properly installed.
Local government has also recognised their importance with the easing of planning requirements to enable more streamlined installation and siting.
A critically important question, however, remains un-answered or at least under-discussed. Are the majority of rainwater tanks installed across Melbourne being used effectively with a view to reducing demand on mains water?
Furthermore, do they hold sufficient capacity during summer to fulfil their intended or envisaged need of supplementing garden watering?
For example, an under-sized rainwater tank poorly sited in isolation of its potential connectedness to toilet flushing and laundry washing holds the risk of lacking any real utility when it comes to water conservation.
One recent product solution has emerged from Davey Products – one of Australia’s major manufacturers of water pumps and pressure systems for rural, domestic and industrial applications.
Davey has anticipated the urban implications of drought and dwindling water storages, by developing the Rainbank® water controller.
Rainbank is an automatic rainwater harvesting system that enables households to use rainwater (via a tank) for toilet flushing and washing machines in an autonomous and uncomplicated way.
According to Davey, Rainbank® does the ‘thinking’ for householders by automatically switching the water source from the domestic mains supply to the rain-water supply stored in the rainwater tank whenever a toilet is flushed or a washing machine used.
If the rainwater supply is depleted at any time or in the case of a power failure, Rainbank® automatically supplies mains water as the back up.
Designed and manufactured in Australia by Davey Products, Rainbank® allows households to replace up to forty per cent of their mains water with rainwater.
Davey’s Managing Director, David Cleland says most people, especially in metropolitan areas, do not realise the potential of water tanks.
“They might only envisage using rainwater for garden watering or washing the car. They don’t realise that in summer the tank may be empty when they need to water the garden due to lack of rain. Rainbank® will save water all year round, especially in winter.”
From a commercial perspective, Davey has been astute in applying technical know-how and specialist manufacturing facilities to ever increasing urban water conservation challenges.
This not only begins to address the need for more viable technical design solutions, it also positions Davey to grow their bottom line through smart timing and effective sales and marketing.
Whether the key drivers are regulation, government public relations campaigns or innovative manufacturers, the end result reflects the changing nature of product design as it moves towards higher levels of environmental responsibility, sophistication and consumer acceptance and desirability.
Years of experience and a strong commitment to research, design and development is evident at Davey. Mark Lance, the engineering manager at Davey Products, gives a sense of informed rigour when he talks about water resources and the technologies needed to use them safely.
“Drought suggests an abnormally dry spell, which will return to ‘normal’ over time. Long term studies by the CSIRO suggest dryer climatic conditions will occur over much of the Australian continent in the future,” he says.
Lance also believes that governments, councils and water authorities want assurances that products are safe: “Standards Australia’s WaterMark® approval is the generally accepted measure of quality and safety in this area... to gain approval, we had to develop an Australian standard for rainwater tank connection devices with SAI Global.
“The simple, failsafe design of RainBank® automatically defaults to mains water in case of an interruption to the rainwater or power supply. Field trials indicated transitions between the tank and mains supply had to be seamless and reliable. Six samples of the final product were subjected to over a million transitions without a failure.”
Established in 1934, Davey Products is a major Australian company involved in the design, manufacture and marketing of water transfer pumps and pressure systems. More recent efforts have expanded their technologies to cover rainwater-harvesting systems for urban domestic situations.
Products such as RainBank® do much to highlight that eco-design has broad applications from energy and water conservation through to materials recycling and durability.
RainBank® has also received considerable independent acknowledgment and positive reviews, receiving both an Australian DesignMark and a Savewater Award under their ‘product development’ category.
Cleland believes urban rainwater recycling represents a new and expanding area of interest, requiring significant lobbying and consumer education.
The role of government policy and regulation seems to have accelerated the arrival of products such as RainBank®.
While Lance notes that most outback properties around Australia rely on Davey household pressure systems to supply their rainwater requirements from a household tank, he believes that the arrival of water efficiency programs in Victoria and New South Wales are introducing Davey products into urban homes.
RainBank® shows that a product-system approach that is holistic and integrated can be more environmentally effective than poorly installed rainwater tanks that are empty when you need the water, or full when its thundering down.