2012-10-05

Co.Exist

A Portable Faucet To Keep Water Clean

In places in the world where there is no running water (and that’s a lot of places) water stored in giant barrels can easily be contaminated by all the hands that get dipped inside it. Now, even those barrels can have faucets.

When Kim Chow visited the 30,000-person Cerro Verde slum in Lima, Peru, she noticed several problems with the way families were getting and using water. For one, their supply, trucked in by private contractors or the government, was 14 times more expensive than what households across town were paying for tap water. And two, that storing water in 55-gallon drums on the street, led to several cleanliness issues, increasing the risk of diarrheal diseases.

Because children find it difficult to access the drums, they tend not to wash their hands after going to the toilet, or before meals, she says. And because the residents have to scoop out water with beakers, their hands can come into contact with the whole vat. Most families keep a mixed-purpose bucket in their homes, which increases the potential for cross-contamination.

Rather than protesting to the government about the lack of adequate running water, Chow and fellow design students at Art Center College of Design came up with a cheap, workable alternative. If they couldn’t pipe in running water, they decided to run water from the containers instead.

Conceived after a 10-day research trip, the "Balde a Balde" (Bucket to Bucket) clips to the top of the drum, feeding water to a faucet that’s quick to turn on and off (to save water). To get it going, you pump the squeezable middle to suck water up from the vat. The nozzle is adjustable, providing a heavy stream if you need to fill up quickly, or a weak one to, say, rinse the dishes.

"It’s a better way to use the tools they already have, so they can effectively clean and do household chores. It’s giving people who don’t have a sink the benefits of having a sink in their home," Chow says. It also increases the convenience of hand washing, and ends the need to scoop water using dirty hands.

Chow’s field trip to Cerro Verde was organized with a a local non-profit called Un Techo Para Mi Pais. The students talked with 20 families about their water use, and produced several other innovative, low-cost designs, including the GiraDora (a washing machine operated by foot pump), SoapBuddy (a bracelet aimed at encouraging kids to wash their hands), and Vitamigos (a water purification and vitamin product).

Since coming up with the design, Chow has field-tested it twice, and is now planning a pilot with a few hundred families. She’s getting help from Rubbermaid, a specialist in plastic household products. Once she leaves the Pasadena-based college, she hopes to commercialize the product fully, selling it for between $6 and $10.

With one in six people worldwide still without "improved water", unfortunately it seems likely there will be a market.

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3 Comments

  • Allison Jones

    What I love about stories like this is that they focus on need instead of innovation for the sake of innovation (oh look, shiny and new!). Sometimes the ideas that have the greatest impact are simple and address a pressing need in a tangible way. I also like the cross-sector collaboration inherent in her work.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Gigi_Q

    Hi Ben, I'm very excited about the faucet design and would like to get my hands on one. I'm from Singapore and have liberal access to water. BUT I'd still like to use one of these because I have a habit of collecting overflow water to use wash floors, toilets, etc. It's now only the poorest who have a need for this. I think it'll be great to introduce this to the developed world as well. This way everyone can help save water. Best Regards, Faye 

  • Ecovrar

    Not to be a curmudgeon but . . . . basically she reinvented the siphon-pump, which can currently be bought at Home Depot for 3 bucks (retail)