A Greener Restroom

How many times have you washed your hands in a restroom and been disappointed to find that you were going to have to use an electric hand dryer? After all, some graffiti artist has almost always added a line at the end of the operating instructions on the dryer that says something like “wipe hands on pants” -- and you know that is more truthful than funny.

So, why do schools and other buildings with public restrooms continue to install hand dryers instead of the conventional paper towel dispensers? Denis Gagnon, president of Excel Dryer, Inc., says there are a number of advantages, the greatest ones being cost savings and lower environmental impact. “Electric hand dryers are installed because they provide a 90 percent cost savings over paper towels,” he explains.

Saving the World

David Ring, vice president of sales and service for World Dryer, agrees and adds that there are more environmental advantages than may be apparent. “The environmental issue has become extremely prevalent through the past five to 10 years because of the issues of deforestation and landfill space,” he says. “Paper towels cannot be recycled. Once they are used, they must go to the landfill, and we are all aware that America is facing a diminishing landfill issue. Warm-air hand dryers help reduce the need for landfill space, and they reduce the number of trees being cut to process paper towels.”

Gagnon, too, says that the environmental advantages are “quite pronounced,” not only in this country, but everywhere. “Source reduction is the big issue. With paper towels you have a waste product that must be disposed of. This issue has become an even bigger concern in Europe, where there is less land-fill space to begin with. They are looking for every avenue to avoid creating waste.”

According to Ring, an average school, using about 30 dryers, saves 17 trees per year from being used to produce the paper towels. “Spread that out to an average district with 30 schools, and that is quite an environmental savings in trees and landfill space.” He adds that the yearly paper towel waste created by that school will amount to three cubic yards of landfill space. “Take that, times the number of schools throughout the United States -- it‘s quite an environmental impact.”

Saving Money

While it is true that warm-air hand dryers are good for the environment because they create less waste and save trees, the greatest advantage for schools is in their cost savings. Gagnon says his company has done cost-analysis studies that show that schools can save thousands of dollars each year by installing warm-air hand dryers.

Ring says that his company’s studies have shown that the average school sees payback in 12.24 months, and he expects that figure to become lower in the future. “Paper towel costs continue to escalate,” he says. “In some cases they have risen 18 percent since February,” he says. “So that initial up-front cost could be made up in less than a year.”

Both Gagnon and Ring say that these figures prove that schools already have the money to convert to hand dryers in their paper towel budget, it just needs to be reallocated. “The cost savings are incredible,” says Ring, “an average school will save $12,000 per year over paper towel costs. Imagine what that means to a district with, say, 30 schools. That ’s a lot of books, computers, buses or security systems.”

Most school districts are equipping the restrooms in new construction projects with warm-air hand dryers. Both Gagnon and Ring say that the next obvious step is to retrofit the older buildings to take advantage of the maximum savings.

A Healthy Solution

Gagnon says that hand dryers have received some undeserved bad press. “A study by the University of Westminster, in 1993, was funded by the British paper industry to bad mouth warm-air hand dryers. It was a self-serving study that was never officially published,” he explains. “Their methodology was no good. In fact, all other studies have proved just the opposite.”

Ring says that the old-style cloth towels created hygiene problems, but using paper towels or the hand dryers does not represent a health risk. “The problem comes from the residual bacteria on the paper towels. People have to handle that waste. A custodian or maintenance person has to pick up any that are thrown on the floor and dispose of the entire mess. With the hand dryers, there is nothing for anyone to handle, so there is no risk from germs,” he says.

Gagnon says that more automatic hand dryers are being sold, “Because people do not want to touch anything in a restroom. That’s why there are motion sensitive faucets, flush valves, and even automatic doors.”

More Than Just a Lot of Hot Air

But what about the public opinion issues? Gagnon says the new dryers are better.

In fact, his company is coming out with a new dryer that he claims is three times faster than the conventional 30- to 45-second drying time. “When it takes that long, people run out of patience and walk away, or wipe on pants,” he explains.

Ring, too, says that the devices have improved, making them less noisy, faster drying and consuming less electricity. “But, we are also seeing a change in attitude, especially with children,” he says. “Our children are used to them in the schools and restaurants that they frequent. They don’t resist hand dryers nor do they have a pre-conceived negative attitude.” But more importantly, he says, “they understand that, in order for it to work, you have to rub your hands together. A towel won’t dry your hands either if you just lay it on them.”

“The bottom line,” says Ring, “is that using warm hand dryers is a good business decision, whether you like them or not. If something saves money and makes good business sense, then people need to use it.”

Jerry Enderle is managing editor of School Planning & Management.

You Don’t Need Harsh Chemicals to Clean Restroom Floors. Tile and grout floors in restrooms are notorious for producing the largest maintenance headaches for school facility and custodial managers. The problem is that tile and grout floors by nature are porous and continually absorb dirty mop water, urine and other contaminants, resulting in a continual dingy appearance, usually accompanied by foul odors. The bottom line: tile and grout are not maintainable surfaces. Traditional procedures for attacking ugly, contaminated tile and grout include using harsh chemicals such as acid washes and bleach. Even the strongest chemicals are at best a short-term fix. For years there have been effective maintenance systems for most of the other types of flooring found in the typical school, like protective and buffable floor finishes for resilient tile; steam cleaning and dry systems for carpet care; and gym floor finishes. Until recently, however, there was no long-term system for tile and grout surfaces. A new process (which was field-tested for nearly a decade) employs a new and environmentally friendly technology known as “restorative bonding.” The process is a low-VOC (volatile organic compound), water-based system, and the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) is very acceptable for schools. The restorative bonding process reclaims the surface so it can be easily maintained long-term without the need for harsh chemicals. In the restorative bonding process, contaminants and odors are chemically extracted from the tile and the grout, the grout is etched and a non-porous grout replacement compound is permanently bonded to the existing grout. The entire surface is then shielded with a micro-thin but durable coating that makes cleaning both the tile and grout on a daily basis much easier. The restored surface is non-porous and therefore cannot absorb dirty mop water, urine or contaminants, so it keeps the surface odor-free. Additionally, the slip coefficient is improved, producing a safer floor. The new process is much less involved and less expensive than tile replacement, can be completed overnight and produces no construction headaches or debris. Joel Mitchell is an employee of SaniGlaze International, which has developed the janitorial maintenance industry’s first effective long-term maintenance system for tile and grout surfaces. He can be reached at 800/874-5554.