Plumbing/Fixtures

School restrooms have long been targets for vandals and students who treat the facilities with less than tender, loving care.

Restrooms also are places where germs can spread as users of the facilities touch faucets, hand dryers, toilet flushers and doorknobs.

Schools can go a long way toward lessening these problems by installing touchless fixtures in their restrooms. The logic is straightforward: If you don't have to touch the equipment, you're less likely to be exposed to germs and less tempted to tinker with and damage the fixtures.

Instead of pressing buttons, levers or knobs, users can get in and out of a restroom and avoid touching much of the equipment. Students or other users squeamish about using school restrooms because they fear exposure to germs and uncleanliness may have their anxieties eased if they know hands-free equipment is installed.

In addition, touchless fixtures that turn off water flow automatically or turn on lights only when a restroom is occupied can help schools conserve resources. Touch-free features also may make washrooms more accessible to students with disabilities.

Touch-free fixtures are becoming more commonplace in public washrooms. A 2004 survey by the International Facility Management Association found that significant numbers of facility managers have installed some touch-free devices in their bathrooms; 47 percent say they have installed automatic flush valves; 30 percent have installed lighting operated by sensors; 28 percent have installed hands-free faucets; and 60 percent have installed automated scent dispensers.

A sensor can detect when someone enters a washroom and turn on lights, if needed. Sensors also can detect when a user has stepped away from a toilet or a urinal and trigger the flushing mechanism.

A timed system that flushes at regular intervals can make up for a user who forgoes the responsibility of flushing. More recently, water-free urinals, which require no flushing, are being chosen by facility managers who want to conserve water and keep a washroom clean.

Having bathroom users wash their hands is a critical step in maintaining good hygiene, and many advocates of healthy school practices believe that having hands-free faucets facilitates more frequent hand washing.

Users also can dry their hands without touching fixtures. Whether the equipment dispenses hot air or paper towels, it can be outfitted with sensors that turn on the air flow or dispense a set amount of paper.

NOTABLE

22 million

Estimated number of school days lost each year because of the common cold.

15 to 20

Number of seconds a person should wash his or her hands using soap and water.

2.42

Number of school days missed per year, on average, by an elementary student using proper hand hygiene.

3.02

Number of school days missed per year, on average, by an elementary student not using proper hand hygiene.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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