As you can imagine, retrofitting a 120-year-old building to be more water efficient can throw up some exceptional challenges.
The Coop family own and operate Smith House, one of the original student accommodation complexes in Armidale. The 150-bed complex continues to be among the city's largest providers of long-term accommodation.
The complex began life as a girls school, then served as dormitories for the teachers college from the 1970s, then became part of the University of New England in the 1980s. It was purchased by Beth and her late husband Barry 20 years ago so it could continue the tradition of central Armidale long-term accommodation.
Many buildings date back to the turn of the 19th Century and comparatively 'recent' updates were still 50 or 60 years old.
With Level 5 water restrictions in place, Paul, his mother Beth and handyman Andy Mayled worked with council to curb Smith House's water consumption.
Many of the toilets do not have their own cisterns, instead they use a flusher tank in the ceiling - very different to modern highly-efficient dual-flush systems.
"Many of the design features date back to a time when water and power efficiency was not a consideration and it's not financially viable to make changes, such as replacing the centralised tanks that flush the 50 toilets in the two-story block," Paul said.
Gravity-feed hot water tanks in the ceilings also restrict the potential for water-saving showerheads.
Ways to work around the limitations were identified, and included the installation of a 25,000 litre water tank to harvest rainwater from the vast roof space of the 1.3 hectare complex.
A commercial laundry for residents also used a considerable amount of water even though the five front-loading washing machines were the most water-efficient commercial models available when they were installed.
"So the best option is to ensure these washing machines, laundry sinks and the toilets are fed by rain water from the new tank," Paul said.
Water-efficient mixer taps and ceramic washers have been fitted throughout the buildings and solar panels are an increasingly common sight on the rooftops. Timers have been fitted to lights, all bulbs have been replaced with LED options and Paul and Beth are committed to progressively installing hundreds of solar tubes to assist with water heating.
However, the sheer number of the tenants at Smith House and the nature of the complex mean it is still one of the region's biggest water users, so they took the opportunity for a business audit by council when water restrictions were implemented.
Audit information enabled them to have their own internal education campaign to advise tenants about the restrictions and tips to save water.
Water wise posters and door hangers promoting three-minute showers are prominately displayed, and staff regularly share information about water restrictions during face-to-face contact with tenants.
A number of residents at Smith House are international students, including a significant proportion from developing nations.
Paul is a former physics lecturer. His family provide low-cost accommodation, and treasure the role the house plays in enabling these students to obtain further education. He said the nature of the house community presented both challenges and advantages in water conservation.
"Our accommodation rates are as low as we can keep them, which can make it difficult to inject money into new infrastructure," he said.
However, he said the residents were typically very receptive to messages about water saving.
"For some of our residents, having running drinking water in the home is something new to them. That tends to make them very respectful of protecting the water supply here," he said.
"They see themselves as ambassadors for their countries and want to do the right thing by this country."
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