Top tips for upgrading commercial washrooms

Upgrading commercial washrooms can improve hygiene, user experience and reduce water and energy consumption. David Meacock explains how installers can make major improvements – often in just 24 hours – for relatively little cost.
Changing facilitiesThe importance of clean, hygienic and inviting washroom facilities in any building can hardly be overstated. For many people, a well-maintained washroom can set the standard of cleanliness for the whole building, while poorly-maintained facilities can have a very significant, negative impact on the user experience.
A good illustration is in schools, where a number of high-profile campaigns have demonstrated the impact that unpleasant, poorly-maintained washrooms can have on students’ physical and psychological health – children are reluctant users of dirty facilities.
There are, of course, other considerations for building managers, such as the efficiency of their washrooms, particularly when they are in almost
constant use. Here, not only is there a need to maintain a reliable facility 24/7 but also an overarching requirement to minimise energy and mains water use, and keep utility bills at a manageable minimum.
Thankfully, upgrading washrooms to address these issues is easily done at relatively little cost and often in as little as 24 hours – although care must also be taken to account for ‘user behaviour’, and the ability of users to interact with the new technology.
In care facilities, for example, elderly patients can find it hard to use flush levers, while in primary schools, children might not be relied on to remember to flush toilets after use.
Infrared improves hygiene
Infrared (IR) sensors fitted to toilets and taps are one of the quickest and easiest ways of upgrading a washroom. Toilets that are fitted with
flush handles can be easily converted by fitting IR sensors and flush valves straight onto a standard cistern. The sensor ensures contact between user and washroom is minimised – either by a simple ‘wave action’ to flush or a ‘walk-away’ option whereby the toilet automatically flushes once the user stands up.
A walkaway option means the school’s washroom facilities are now clean with no lingering smells along with a lowered risk of germs spreading from children touching contaminated surfaces.
Taps can be similarly upgraded through the simple act of installing a new tap or spout with an integral IR sensor to turn water on or off. These taps fit into standard apertures within the basin, with no need for retiling or basin replacement.
Not surprisingly, IR technology is being widely adopted in hospitals and schools to help lower the number of user ‘touchpoints’ and to avoid cross-contamination that can be left on manually-operated taps and toilet-flushing handles.
By switching from manual controls to IR sensors, managers can also vastly improve the visitor experience, providing a cleaner and easy to use facility.
Lowering water consumption
Few areas of a building have a greater impact on the levels of water consumption than the urinals in its washrooms.
If these have been fitted without flushing controls, they can easily be responsible for the majority of the water used in commercial and public buildings. If neither the urinals nor the WCs are fitted with partial flush controls, washrooms can account for as much as 75% of a building’s overall water consumption.
Switching to waterless urinals might appear to be an obvious solution, but they still require water for cleaning and maintenance, not to mention hefty doses of chemical treatments. Urinal flush control products, on the other hand, are relatively easy to install and can deliver significant water savings.
One of the least expensive – yet still effective – examples is hydraulic control valves, which are easy to fit to the pipe filling the urinal cistern. The valve is activated by water-pressure – it remains closed if there’s no washroom activity (halting the constant flush-fill-flush cycle of the urinal cistern) until a tap is turned on.
At this point, the water pressure drops, the valve opens and the cistern refill cycle continues. Combining urinal flush control valves with IR technology can reduce water use by as much as 80%. Again, these are simple to retrofit within an existing washroom yet can make a material difference to a building’s water bills while keeping the facilities clean and hygienic.
Changing facilities2Controlling energy and water consumption
IR sensors can also be used to control the energy output in a washroom. A ceiling-mounted unit detects visitors and automatically switches on the lights, ventilation and the water supply – ideal for buildings such as schools or university halls of residence, where washrooms can be left unused for weeks or months at a time.
For large office buildings with two to three washrooms on each floor (gents, ladies and disabled), this type of system can be used to control individual washrooms, allowing management to completely shut down facilities in areas or floors of a building that are not in use and switch them back on just as quickly.
Where installed, this type of washroom control system can significantly improve a building’s score in the BREEAM categories that relate to water, energy, heating and ventilation (notably HEA06, HEA07, ENERGY07 and WAT03).
Setting up these systems, including programming in flush duration/intervals, is relatively straightforward. Typically it can be done from the ground using a handset pointed at the sensor unit – something that is particularly helpful for installers working in buildings that extend over multiple floors. It also means the system can be quickly reprogrammed, shut down and reactivated as necessary to reflect changes in the building’s usage.
The reality, then, is that changes that may appear drastic or prohibitive are actually relatively straightforward and effective – the key is to know firstly that they exist and secondly that they can be so simple.
[author image=”” ]David Meacock has been Cistermiser’s Technical Director since February 2013 having previously served as the company’s Design Engineering Manager. His responsibilities include managing the full R&D process, product engineering and manufacture, supply chain management, electrical and software subcontractors and ensuring compliance to industry and legislative standards. Prior to joining Cistermiser, David worked for Mars UK, and was a Director of PyroPure.[/author]