While facility managers wrestle with ways to make their buildings more cost effective and energy efficient, they often overlook green options for retrofitting restrooms where small changes can have large impacts on water use, waste reduction and improved image.
Reducing water use is the main goal and that when it comes to getting people to use less water, the best way is to make physical changes – most of which will be unnoticed by everyday users. And the key is to control water use without sacrificing comfort and sanitation. That’s according to Cambria McLeod of Kohler Company, speaking at a “Green Commercial Bathrooms” workshop held at the California Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego, Calif., in April.
The quickest and easiest way to reduce commercial restroom water use is to start at the sink. Many older faucets use more than three gallons per minute, but can be modified by simply attaching a low-flow aerator that reduces water at various flows down to half a gallon per minute.
You can determine the flow rate of your faucet by timing how long it takes to fill up a one-quart container. If it takes less than five seconds, you’re using more than three gallons per minute. At ten seconds, your faucet uses 1.5 gallons per minute. For a few dollars and a trip to the hardware store to buy an aerator, you can save water and stop a small drain on your wallet. To further save water at the sink, consider installing a low-flow faucet that automatically shuts off or a touch-free faucet that uses an infrared sensor to detect when hands are present.
The next step is to replace older toilets and urinals with water-efficient models. Since 1995, federal legislation has mandated that toilets flush with no more than 1.6 gallons of water, less than half of the amount they used in the 1980s. Most commercial restrooms use flushometer toilets and urinals that have no tank, but instead use a valve that supplies a high volume of water in a short period of time. They still require about the same amount of water as a tank toilet, however, newer models are rated as low as 1.28 gallons per flush. For the most savings, you can chose waterless urinals that use filters or traps to collect uric sediments – saving thousands of gallons of water per fixture per year.
A hot topic in greening restrooms is the paper towel issue. A commercial or public restroom can easily have 200 uses a day, resulting in enough used paper towels to fill a six-foot-tall grocery sack. Cloth towel rolls and warm air hand dryers offer relief from the paper waste, but introduce concerns about hygiene and effectiveness. How many times have you seen a restroom trash can overflowing with paper towels right next to a warm air hand dryer?
One innovative solution introduced at the workshop was the Dyson Airblade hand dryer that literally scrapes water from hands with an air flow of 400 miles per hour. Looking much like an oversized mailbox slot, the Airblade does not heat the air, resulting in an 80 percent energy savings over warm air dryers. And, according to Dyson executive Kyle Coari, the Airblade’s annual operating cost is about two percent of the cost of paper towels. Of course, with a purchase price ranging from $1,200 to $1,400 depending on the finish, the Airblade is considerably more expensive than a towel dispenser; however, Coari says the return on investment can be achieved in less than a year.
Another key component of a green restroom retrofitting is lighting. Energy-efficient CFLs or LEDs can be used, as well as daylighting from skylights and solar lighting tubes. A motion-sensor wall switch will conserve electricity when no one is present.
Creating a green commercial restroom can often produce significant bottom-line savings, from reduced water, energy and consumables costs, but facility managers should also consider the aesthetic impacts as well. According to Oscar Wientjes of Technical Concepts, a provider of touch-free restroom products, around 70 percent of visitors rank a clean restroom as extremely important and a major factor in their impressions of a company or business.
photo: Anne Helmond