Smart Water Magazine
Connecting Waterpeople

You are here

Northumbrian Water tests its 'Barnacle' smart sensor

  • Northumbrian Water tests its 'Barnacle' smart sensor

About the entity

Northumbrian Water
Northumbrian Water Limited is a water company in the UK, providing mains water and sewerage services in the English counties of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham and parts of North Yorkshire, and also supplying water as Essex and Suffolk Water.

Mimicking the way a toilet flushes, the system has been purpose-built by Reece Innovation to help develop and test the first prototype version of Northumbrian Water’s ‘Barnacle’. 

The device, which acts as a smart sensor, will be placed inside the toilet cistern, without the need for any plumbing knowledge, to help identify potential issues with customers’ water supply.  

Flushing automatically every ten minutes using recycled water, researchers can alter the flow, pressure and temperature of the water in the test rig, to check if Barnacle, which gathers data at every flush, will detect a difference from the norm. 

If it detects a difference, this could indicate there is a problem with either the customers’ water supply, or potentially even a bigger issue on the wider water network, alerting customers before they’re even aware there’s a problem.

The idea for it came out of the design ‘sprint,’ facilitated by global IT and business consulting firm CGI and held at Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Festival in 2018, where industry experts and academics looked at ways to use smart technology to improve customers’ lives.

Barnacle will also check whether or not the toilet cistern is operating continuously, which would indicate that the toilet is leaking.

Leaking toilets are serious water wasters, losing up to 215 litres a day – almost three bath tubs full, as well as adding around £200 per year to a metered water bill. They can be hard to detect as the water often runs from the toilet cistern into the back of the pan.

Barnacle could help customers save water and money, by acting as an early warning system for problems that could affect a home. The device will also be able to detect discoloured water and identify risks of freezing pipes, by effectively gathering data on the water inside the toilet.

Following the successful testing process, Northumbrian Water plans to identify an area in the North East to roll out a pilot project on a number of Barnacles.

Eddie Wrigley, Northumbrian Water’s Innovation Facilitator, said: “We’ve taken a really clever idea from the Innovation Festival and turned into a physical object, a prototype that we’re actually testing now, using a purpose-built test rig.

“It’s so exciting to see it brought to life and to see this test rig in action, knowing that Barnacle is fitted inside and monitoring the data all the time, ready to let us know when we change the parameters of the water.

“Put into a real-life situation, this could prove massively beneficial to our customers, alerting them to leaky loos, saving them water and money, as well as any other potential problems we might experience on our network.

“Testing is going well so far and I’m looking forward to identifying an area that we can really put it to the test.”

Andy Baynes, Director, Consulting Services of CGI said: “This is a great example of how today’s smart technology can be leveraged to help tackle one of the water industry’s hardest challenges. 

“Partnering with Northumbrian Water to take one of the exciting ideas from last year’s Innovation Festival and develop a working prototype has been a rewarding experience for all involved. 

“With longer term water shortages becoming a cause for increasing concern, it is tremendous to be able to apply technology in a way that is so beneficial not only to Northumbrian Water customers but also to wider society.” 

Northumbrian Water also offers free leaky loo test kits to all of its customers. Those who find they do have a leaking toilet can arrange to get it repaired by one of the water company’s qualified plumbers – completely free of charge.

Customers can claim their free leaky loo pack by visiting 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Topics of interest

The data provided will be treated by iAgua Conocimiento, SL for the purpose of sending emails with updated information and occasionally on products and / or services of interest. For this we need you to check the following box to grant your consent. Remember that at any time you can exercise your rights of access, rectification and elimination of this data. You can consult all the additional and detailed information about Data Protection.

Featured news