Trends in School Restrooms

Going green is not the first thought that generally comes to mind in thinking about trends in school restroom fixtures and design. However, it turns out that ecological and budgetary concerns are now being mutually explored.

Here is an overview of what’s going on in school restrooms.

“With faucets, water and energy savings and germ control are the main concerns,” says Kristin Meyers, marketing/product manager, commercial division, Moen, Inc.

“Some new faucet designs allow for a metered amount of water,” Meyers says. “The person does not need to touch it to turn it on or off.” The newest models, Meyers explains, offer a durable brass shell cartridge with a sealed silicone timing mechanism that is completely isolated from the water source to protect it from impurities and clogs, ensuring consistent timing. “This unit is not dependent upon water pressure, so it can be the same for a bottom or upper floor. The timing never needs to be reset to compensate for pressure variance, thus eliminating the frequent maintenance required for most metering faucets.” The cartridge’s timing adjustment needle automatically shuts the water off after each use and can be modified from 10 to 60 seconds.

These faucets are usually easily interchangeable with manual ones, have solid brass construction and chrome finishes that resist harsh industrial cleaners and are vandal resistant.

Turning to hand dryers, Mike Robert, vice president, Sales/Technology with American Dryer, says, “The general trend is that schools are looking to reduce operating costs and increase hygiene for a cleaner, better restroom environment.” A central attraction of hand dryers, says Robert, “are that they reduce the costs associated with paper towels by 80 percent or more. The payback time for the cost of purchasing and installing one of these, compared to paper towel dispensers, is less than six months.” Robert adds that hygiene is increased through the units’ anti-microbial infused air systems, which clean the air from within so it doesn’t simply recycle germs from the outside. They are also fused to reach all surfaces on a person’s hand.

Other features include universal voltage. Typically, the same dryers can be connected to any standard electrical system supplying. Speed and sound are also adjustable. “If there’s one objection to high-speed dryers, it’s the sound,” Robert says. “In a football stadium the sound might not be an issue, but in a library the same dryer can have the sound lowered.”

Robert adds that hand dryers can help schools qualify for the LEED certification offered by the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C.

Another leading dryer manufacturer, Excel Dryer, has formally taken up a partnership with the Green Building Council, along with Sloan Valve, to promote a number of new programs dedicated to the greening of education.

William Gagnon, vice president of Marketing, reports that Excel is a part of the team dedicated to “continuing education and specification courses that can show our architects, designers, school districts, principals and facility managers how to design the most hygienically sustainable and cost-effective restrooms with today’s current technology.”

The coalition’s goals, which can lead to multiple LEED credits, include, over the next few years, reducing schools’ water usage by 50 percent, the carbon footprint by 70 percent, and cost and maintenance by 90 percent.

Gagnon says new dryers work three times faster than older units and use 80 percent less energy. Whereas older ones took 30 to 45 seconds, the new ones complete the job in 10 to 15 seconds. Properly washed and dried hands are essential for proper hygiene in school restrooms.

Gagnon also reports that some new technology will to help schools. These include adding filters in new dryers or retrofitting old ones to remove 99.9 percent of all bacterial particulates from the airstream. “This helps to insure drying the students’ hands in the most hygienic, most cost effective and most sustainable way, with the least amount of cost, labor and maintenance,” he says.

Steel partitions in restrooms are nothing new. We’ve seen them in 50-year-old schools, stadiums and other public venues, covered with graffiti and pockmarked with dents and rust spots. Often times, in newer construction, steel partitions are being replaced in favor of partitions fabricated from solid plastics (Poly or HDPE), phenolic and plastic laminate materials.

“But what if you could combine the benefits of steel with the best features of the alternatives?” asks Ronald Mondolino, president/ CEO, Metpar Corporation. “Advances in steel partitions have made significant strides in that direction, making steel partitions a smart choice for any application.”

Mondolino says steel partitions started making a comeback five to seven years ago, and he sets forth several reasons why these products make sense today.

In decades past, partitions were often fabricated with standard cold rolled steel, which was subject to rust. Today, two common changes in the fabrication solve this challenge, as well as extend longevity, and add visual appeal, functionality and return on investment.

The first of these changes is the use of galvanneal steel, which is a base material that provides a very fine, rust-resistant matte finish. It’s especially suitable for damp and/or humid locations. It will not rust, even if left unpainted. In addition, this finish serves as a primer, allowing the paint to bond with the base material in a superior fashion compared to liquid paint finishes. It does not flake when the sheet is formed, stamped or bent.

The second is powder coating that is applied to a metal surface electrostatically and then heat-cured to form a waterproof, durable “skin” on the metal sheet. Unlike a conventional liquid paint, powder coating does not require a solvent, thus reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and meeting EPA standards.

In addition, he says, 60 to 70 percent of steel can be recycled, that steel is highly available in the U.S. and that it is highly graffiti and vandal resistant. Moreover, unlike the “plain vanilla” design choices of years past, the new steel partitions are amenable to a wide variety of colors.

Cyrus Boatwalla, director of marketing for ASI Group, says his company makes washroom accessories, toilet partitions and lockers for schools. While he agrees with much of what has been said, he tends to be more open to the other alternatives, in things like dryers. “We’re not biased, and don’t necessarily have just one dog in the fight.”

For instance, he agrees that hand dryers can be more inexpensive than paper towels, costing some $35 to $80 per year, vs. $120 to $1,200, but in some situations, such as very high-frequency-use areas, paper might still be better. And, in some restrooms, it might be best to have both available.

Boatwalla agrees that steel partitions are generally tougher than plastic, but sometimes the latter can have a distinct benefit, such as anti-microbial features built into the plastic to create a healthier environment. “It’s important to pick the right product for the right application,” Boatwalla says. “Also, we advise clients to not always go for the cheapest option,” he says. “For instance, you might find a cheaper steel partition, but it may not be the right gauge for what you need.”

Boatwalla suggests there are also other ways to look at cost savings. “You want to have the right high-capacity soap dispensers — one not tied to a specific soap manufacturer which will lock you into buying their refill cartridges. Buy a dispenser that you can fill with bulk soap made by anyone, as long as it has the right viscosity. While budget is important, you always want to look at the long life cycle.”

Mason, Ohio-based Cintas, has a somewhat different orientation, says senior Marketing manager, Rich Bing. “We’re a service provider for restroom maintenance. We advise what’s necessary to have clean, efficient restrooms. We bring the products and tools, manage the inventory and make sure everything is up and running.” Other products included chemicals and masks, as well as things like odor control.

The three main products the school should always hand on hand, Bing says, are soap, toilet paper and paper towels, the latter of which he says he prefers to hand dryers.

Bing advises three main types of cleaning. The first is spot cleaning — the quick wipe down throughout the day while making sure the inventory is full and everything is functioning. The second is the full daily cleaning, which is more thorough, with the restroom being shut down. The third is the deep clean — to remove the hard water or grime build-up. The frequency of this will depend on how much any particular restroom is used.

Basically, the main message from all sources seems to be that there are a number of different types of restrooms in the educational environment. Each has its unique purpose and needs. Those differences need to be considered when making decisions on the best way to equip/furnish them.

In all cases, to go clean, think green. 

Thomas G. Dolan is a freelance writer from Washington state who has written numerous stories on education and the construction field, among other topics.