Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
November 2012 Feature 3

The Flow Of Restroom Technology

The restroom of the future is here with sensor-controlled fixtures that reduce water wastage.

November 3, 2012

Many people are unaware that former President Ronald Reagan was the official spokesperson for General Electric (GE) during the mid-1950s.

As part of his job — or, one might say, as one of its benefits — GE installed the latest, most futuristic electronic gadgetry imaginable in Reagan’s new, all-electric California home.

Television commercials were even filmed in the house in which he showed off the gadgetry and proclaimed to viewers that what they were seeing was nothing less than “the house of the future.”Waterless Urinal

While some of the new technologies displayed in these commercials did materialize in consumer form, many never left the drawing board.

Thankfully, facility service providers and building managers wondering what the restroom of the future will look like face no such confusing contradictions because, in many ways, the restroom of the future is already here.

Walk into just about any new or recently retrofitted commercial facility and you are likely to see sensor-controlled, low-flow restroom fixtures and sensor-controlled soap and paper towel dispensers.

Many facilities even have the latest no-flow fixtures — specifically, the waterless variety of urinals — that work effectively and hygienically with no water at all.

Of course, this does not mean that what we see today is exactly what we can expect tomorrow.

These technologies are expected to continue to improve.

Sensor-controlled Fixtures

Many in the professional cleaning industry assume that fixtures that use sensor technologies — also referred to as automatic, infrared or touchless — were installed for hygienic reasons: Users simply do not like to touch anything in restrooms.

However, hygiene was not the true motivation behind the first appearance of these technologies.

When they were first introduced during the 1980s, reducing restroom vandalism was actually one of the key reasons for the installation of these systems.

Over time, however, hygiene evolved to become the key reason for installing these fixtures.

In larger facilities, for example, restrooms are now typically designed so that users touch as few surfaces as possible.Automatic Faucet

Today, of course, green and environmental issues are becoming another key reason for installing sensor technologies and low-flow restroom fixtures.

Water conservation is becoming a priority in North America and, indeed, throughout most of the world.

Studies indicate that sensor-controlled fixtures can reduce water consumption by as much as 30 percent.

This is because water is turned on by these fixtures only when needed and turns off when the user walks away.

When you consider that the standard lavatory faucet is mandated to flow at 2.2 gallons of water per minute, it is easy to see that reducing water use at a faucet by even 30 seconds can result in significant savings.

Many sensor-controlled restroom faucets save water by operating on 10-second intervals: After 10 seconds, if no user is detected, the system turns the water off.

And, installing aerators in commercial faucets can reduce the amount of water used even further, from 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM) to as little as .5 GPM.

Touchless Toilets And Urinals

Sensor-controlled toilets are not new; what is new and growing in popularity, however, are sensor-controlled dual-flush toilets.

Dual-flush systems use approximately 1.6 gallons of water per flush to remove solid waste and about one gallon per flush to remove liquid waste.

This typically averages out to about 1.28 gallons per flush.Dual Flush Sign

When you consider that older toilets use as much as three gallons per flush, there is a huge potential for water savings.

Many of these dual-flush systems proudly display two flush buttons, one indicating a full flush and the other specifying a smaller, less water-consuming flush.

Many facilities prefer that their toilets have these buttons in order to showcase their green sensibilities to users.

However, when these toilets are operated by a sensor, any decision making regarding the type of flush is eliminated.

When the sensor detects that the fixture has been used for roughly 60 seconds, it uses the smaller flush; if it is used for longer than 60 seconds, the full 1.6 gallons are dispensed.

Low-volume, sensor-controlled urinals are designed to use about one gallon of water per flush.

This is a significant reduction compared to older urinals, which can use as much as three gallons of water per flush.

Some sensor-controlled urinal systems are also programmable and designed to flush intermittently rather than after each use — a further savings.

Of course, no-water varieties, which require no flush controls or sensors, are the biggest water savers when it comes to urinals.

In a typical facility, they can save as much as 40,000 gallons of water a year.

Although some facility service providers and building managers have concerns about the possibility that no-flow urinals may cause odor problems, this has proven not to be an issue as long as the fixtures are properly maintained.

It can be as simple as adding the sealing liquid necessary with most systems.

In fact, some studies indicate that traditional urinals have more odor problems than no-water systems.

This is because the water used in a flush urinal allows bacteria to grow — and it is growing bacteria that actually cause urinal odors.

The Cost Factor

No discussion of water-conserving restroom fixtures is complete without exploring the costs related to water.

In many parts of the U.S. and Canada, water is the last true bargain.

Image courtesy of Waterless Company Inc.In some cases, it costs more for water utilities to gather, store, treat, deliver and remove water from a facility than they charge their end customers.

Facility service providers and building managers should expect this to change rapidly in the near future.

Water demand is growing, while water supplies from rain and runoff are dwindling.

It’s basic economics: As demand grows on an increasingly finite resource, the costs will escalate.

Added to this is the fact that many utility companies have put off improving their water infrastructure for as long as possible.

Between now and 2035, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) believes it will cost at least $1 trillion to overhaul the aging water systems in the U.S. — and, the bulk of that amount will have to be paid by consumers.

Unlike Ronald Reagan’s “house of the future,” when it comes to water usage in commercial restrooms, the future is here today.

Modern technologies such as sensor-controlled sinks and toilets, dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals are already significantly reducing water consumption and related costs.

These technologies will be further refined in years to come, allowing facility service providers and building managers to use water even more efficiently — and save money in the process.

Take the quiz: "What Do You Know About Low-flow Technology?"



Powering The Future Of Restrooms

Some early touchless systems were directly wired to facility power sources.

But, this meant that, if the power was turned off in the building, the sensor-operated fixtures would not work.

Because of this issue, most of today’s sensor-operated fixtures get their power from batteries.

However, many sensor systems are expected to be solar powered in the near future.



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