As the California drought drags on, some activists are trying to convince everyone in the state to take five-minute showers. But new technology can save more water even if someone takes an average shower—11 minutes—or, in theory, if they stay in the shower for an unlimited amount of time.
Instead of letting water flow down the drain, the Showerloop catches the water, sends it through several filters to purify it, and then pumps it back to the showerhead. The water circulates in a loop until someone's ready to get out.
"I felt guilty about taking long showers," says Finland-based designer Jason Selvarajan, who developed the design with a small team at POC21, an innovation camp that prototyped several open-source, sustainable products last summer. A grant and mentorship from the Autodesk Foundation kept the project going.
"I remember being quite young, like 10 or something and thinking, this is just silly: I'm already clean but I don’t want to get out of the shower just yet. Why not just have a pump to circulate the warm water around and around until I’m happy to leave the shower. So the idea’s been around for ages—then there was a big combination of things that made me want to see if I could actually make it work."
The design uses several different steps to clean the water: A screen and microfiber filter out hair and larger objects, sand filters out particles, activated carbon removes smells and chemicals from the water, and ultraviolet light kills bacteria.
Because the water is already hot initially, it takes less energy to keep it hot as it loops through. Selvarajan is still tweaking the design of a simple water heater.
The startup is selling a DIY kit, and the whole design is available open source, "so that other people can build it, too, and help me improve it so that we make the best system possible," says Selvarajan. "It also allows for better lifetime of the product because users can fix it themselves and make it with local materials and services when available."
The DIY kit is pricey, at about $1,600 (1,500 euros), but the designers hope to bring the cost down. It's also already much cheaper than the Orbital System's shower, a sleek water-recycling design that starts at almost $5,000.