Using Less, Staying Clean

Dec. 1, 2002
Tips for washroom conservation and layout.

School facility managers know many of the benefits of conserving water. But some of the gains from installing advanced plumbing systems can't be seen in the monthly utility bills. Schools can enhance security and improve hygiene when they install products such as low-consumption, pressure-assist toilets, sensor-operated plumbing fixtures and automated-control systems that regulate timing, location and quantity of water used throughout the campus.

After several years of scorching summer months and below-average precipitation across most of the nation, as much as 49 percent of the United States is in the grips of a drought, according to the National Climatic Data Center. These conditions put added pressure on facility managers to conserve water.

The world's supply of accessible fresh water is decreasing drastically, in no small part because of U.S. consumption. The average American uses 86.2 gallons of fresh water per day — 40 percent of which is flushed down toilets. New low-consumption toilets have proven they can assist in reducing water use. In low-consumption toilets, pressure-assist fixtures have a performance advantage (drainline carry, quick reset, eliminating chronic leaking flappers and double flushing), and bridge the gap between traditional gravity-fed fixtures and sensor-operated fixtures.

For example, a study on a northern California college campus of low-consumption, traditional and pressure-assist toilets documented increased savings that can be achieved with pressure-assist toilets. Besides reducing service calls by 95 percent, the toilets with pressure-assist technology cut water consumption dramatically — as much as 25 percent per month.

No hands

Sensor-operated fixtures and faucets offer the benefit of more control over water consumption than manual units. Sensor-operated fixtures for water closets and urinals, for example, activate once per user, clear waste immediately after a person walks away from the fixture, and reset within seconds. Touchless, sensor-operated faucets that activate on demand are another source of water savings. Instead of water continuously running from the faucet during a hand wash or because the faucet was left on, these units activate only when a user's hands are under the spout.

Some may argue that sensor-operated toilets might flush more often than their manual counterparts because some users do not flush manual toilets each time the fixture is used. But this does not indicate excessive water use. It is a sign of improved hygiene — an increasingly important aspect of water control.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that hand washing is one of the “most important means of preventing the spread of infection.” It is the first line of defense for infectious diseases. In fact, after using a public restroom, a single hand can have a bacteria population of 200 million. It takes just seconds for hands to become re-contaminated after washing — by touching dirty faucets, towel dispensers or even the restroom door.

That's why educational facility managers are re-examining restrooms in terms of selecting fixtures, as well as the physical design. The layout of the restroom can improve hygiene. For instance, restrooms can be designed without doors, eliminate one potential spot for picking up germs. This allows schools to improve hygiene without sacrificing privacy.

Automated water-control systems, which regulate water flow for programmable plumbing products, are the latest technology designed to help schools conserve water and control the plumbing system. These networked plumbing fixtures can be programmed to deliver the right amount of water at times specified by facility managers, based on water-consumption needs, or events such as athletic contests and other activities.

For example, locker room showers can be a large source of water waste when students leave them running after use. But with automated water-control systems, facility managers determine when the showers can operate and for how long.

Shutting down vandalism

Educational facility managers also know that a certain amount of vandalism will occur. Students may overflow sinks on purpose. This not only wastes water, but also may ruin flooring systems, or worse, the ceilings of the floor below and all the wiring in between.

Curtailing vandalism is another reason that schools have embraced sensor-operated fixtures and faucets. They offer more control and have been built for high-abuse and high-traffic areas. Although a student still can find ways to cause problems, the limited sensing range of the fixtures means vandals must stay around to watch their handiwork — and risk being caught.

Automated water-control systems also can effectively shut down the plumbing within a school, based on the programmed commands of the facility manager. This type of system is useful when schools perform “sweeps” to filter out contraband that makes its way onto campus.

Flushing contraband down a toilet disposes of evidence of cigarettes, drugs or even some weapons. With the ability to disable these “contraband disposal units” during such security sweeps, facility managers provide another layer of security.

Another benefit of being able to lock down plumbing-fixture usage occurs when students are not authorized to be on school grounds. People often choose to vandalize a school after hours, and the damage can involve water. With the ability to lock down usage overnight, during weekends or for defined non-use during summer months, this risk is reduced greatly.

These improvements in bathroom fixtures have given students, faculty and parents an improved environment. Touchless fixtures and modern restroom layouts improve not only hygiene, but also appearance, which creates pride in a facility. Some schools have rewarded students by providing access to “better” restrooms, based on achievement or good behavior. The students who use these restrooms take ownership of them, and police themselves as to what is acceptable and what is not.


▪ 49

Percentage of the United States that is in the grips of a drought, according to the National Climatic Data Center.


Number of bacteria that can populate a single hand after using a public restroom.

▪ 86.2

Average number of gallons of water a person uses per day.

▪ 4, 20, 4

Number of seconds a person should require to wet, lather and rinse hands, respectively, according to the FDA.

Sidebar: Hand washing and transferring bacteria

Proper hand-washing techniques and using the right equipment can greatly reduce the chances that students, faculty and staff will pick up bacteria from restroom fixtures or kitchen and laboratory sinks. A recent Rutgers University study by Rebecca Montville has shown hand washing to be an invaluable line of defense for controlling infectious diseases, including respiratory infections and gastrointestinal disorders.

Subscribing to the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” hand washing is worth a person's weight in gold, because no other activity can help curb the spread of germs more than hand washing.

Despite the attention hand washing has received, it still is overlooked in many school cafeterias. Unwashed or poorly washed hands can transfer harmful micro-organisms from one food to another, from a food to a student, or from a person to a food to a student.

At the end of the hand-washing procedure, however, if the user is required to touch the faucet to turn it off, their hands can easily become re-contaminated — just as if they didn't wash at all.

Facility managers can help reduce the likeliness of foodborne illness by installing touchless, sensor-operated hand-washing sinks in cafeterias. By having the correct equipment to wash hands properly, cafeteria workers are more apt to comply with recommended hand-washing procedures, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA's protocol requires four seconds to wet hands, 20 seconds of lathering and another four seconds for rinsing. Some sensor-operated sinks actually can prompt workers with an LED that indicates proper hand-washing time.

Jahrling is director of engineering for Sloan Valve Company, Franklin Park, Ill.

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