As COVID-19 fears soar worldwide, the role of the public washroom takes centre-stage
By Anup Kumar Tripathi
In 2020, two significant issues have been predominant: one concerns the COVID-19 pandemic, the second centres around the need for conserving water. On closer inspection, both seem interlinked. Whereas the first requires frequent handwashing to prevent infection, the latter calls for doing so without wasting too much water even while promoting proper hygiene practices.
It is here that well-designed commercial washrooms can cover both criteria. While constructing a washroom – or upgrading existing ones – apart from the above requisites, such spaces should be user-friendly and accessible for people with special needs, short-statured persons, children and the elderly. These factors are vital since commercial washrooms can witness high usage almost 365 days in a year. Consequently, plumbing connections and water fixtures must be extremely water efficient.
Safety and Sustainability
Ensuring a sustainable design is another imperative in safeguarding users’ wellbeing while conserving resources too. Green or sustainable restrooms are those facilities using products exerting a minimal impact on the environment and saving water and other resources while protecting the health of users and that of the maintenance staff. Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, these issues assume greater significance. Washrooms need to be extremely clean to protect users’ health as well as be aesthetically pleasing. Both aspects are essential as public concerns about viruses and bacteria abounding in washrooms are widespread globally given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Moreover, aesthetically designed, environment-friendly washrooms ensure all users and visitors leave with a positive impression of the organisation housing this facility. In ticking all the right boxes for green washrooms, the choice of fixtures and the level of maintenance practices play a pivotal role in deciding the ease of cleaning and cost savings. Generally, components in residential washrooms could remain in working condition for at least 10 to 15 years. In commercial washrooms such as airports or railway stations, however, these may barely last anywhere between two and five years. Cleaning cycles with higher frequency are best in ensuring longer product lifespan.
Antimicrobial and Touch-free
Touch-free flushometers are best for improving hygiene and saving water. Touch-free faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers and flushometers can all promote hygiene in washrooms. Besides reducing the maintenance work, touch-free options drive a reduction in water, energy and soap usage. Together with sensor-based doors, such fixtures permit visitors to enter and exit without touching any object or surface unnecessarily. Thanks to the coronavirus, the whole world will appreciate such benefits.
According to a scientific study quoted in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, genetic traces of more than 77,000 different strains of viruses and bacteria were discovered in public restrooms. Among these, the predominant contaminants that were found comprised of faecal bacteria, E. coli, influenza, hepatitis, streptococcus, salmonella, shigella, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and norovirus.
This brings us back to the benefits of touch-free high-speed hand dryers that dry hands thoroughly within 14 seconds, substantially minimising the chances of germs being spread in washrooms. Hand dryers incorporating HEPA filters can eliminate 99.97% of bacteria from the surrounding air. These factors are important because damp hands spread a thousand times more bacteria compared to dry hands. Also, conventional hand dryers require 40-plus seconds to dry hands thoroughly, which can test most people’s patience, leading to inadequate drying.
Another aspect relates to technological advancements offering a range of urinal and toilet choices. These include traditional toilet and urinal models and dual-flush variants. The most popular are high-efficiency toilets requiring less than five litres of water per flush and high-efficiency urinals using a maximum of 1.9 litres per flush.
There are also zero-water urinals, allowing 100% water savings, some of which use a cartridge that functions as a drain trap. A sealant liquid acts as an airtight barrier between the drain and washroom, which prevents any odour from escaping. Such sealants have the same shelf life as cartridges. The best benefit of zero-water urinals is in reducing sources of surface bacteria and bio-aerosols because they eliminate the flush plume created by water-flushing toilets and urinals. This limits the spread and landing of airborne bacteria on washroom surfaces, minimising maintenance and repair expenses too.
Combos and Sensors
Next are water-efficient TruFlush flushometers, using at least 20% less water than conventional types. Conversely, sensor-based urinals could save 88% extra water, unlike the manual kind, whereas hybrid urinals can eliminate the water flush by integrating automatic drain-line purges.
Automatic-sensor water faucets play a similar role, saving about 60% water while boosting washroom hygiene and aesthetics. Likewise, solar-powered or battery-operated faucets ensure water savings of up to 40% while sink-integrated faucets backed by adjustable flow rates allow 67% less water usage. Typical flow rates would be up to 100%. Optimum reduced flow rates of 75-80% will be most effective in saving water while undertaking simple tasks such as washing hands. For filling flush tanks or other receptacles with auto-shut mechanisms, the standard flow rates are fine.
Similarly, since manual faucets lead to wastage, electronic faucets with cycle times of about 10 seconds can save immense amounts of water. Usually, users need three seconds to wet hands and around seven seconds in rinsing.
The typical flow rate for a WC flush valve is 6-8litres. A high-efficiency flush valve dispenses 4.8 litres of water consistently on every flush and saves minimum 20-40% of water. A typical flow rate for urinal flush valve is 3-4 litres, but a high-efficiency Truflush flushometer dispenses 1 litre of water and saves 66% to 75% of the water on every flush.
Savings can also be enhanced by having integrated washbasins combining the sink basin, a sensor-based faucet as well as touch-free soap dispensers and hand dryers. Such all-in-one solutions permit visitors to wash and dry hands quickly without moving from one area to another. Along with low-flow faucets, such touch-free fixtures can increase water efficiency in restrooms.
In ensuring better maintenance and hygiene levels, wall-mounted urinals, toilets and sinks are most suitable. In addition to making cleaning easy, sleek wall-mounted fixtures are aesthetically pleasing and space-saving. In such areas, cleaning crews can easily mop the entire washroom without worrying about bacteria growing or hiding in nooks and crannies.
Effect of Lighting and Colours
Lighting is another essential element in washrooms, with the wrong choice possibly leading to high energy usage and higher bills. Wherever possible, natural light works best in augmenting illumination in washrooms. This can be ensured at the designing stage via large windows or a roof skylight, if feasible. Furthermore, washroom mirrors can be strategically placed for reflecting sunlight and creating an ambience of open, extra-bright space. That apart, an artificial, eco-friendly option is LEDs. Extremely energy-efficient, these can last 40 times longer, unlike incandescent bulbs, because they don’t contain any filament. Although their upfront costs are much higher, the long life leads to more energy and monetary savings over the years, thanks to low power and replacement costs.
In the case of colours, the ideal choice is white since it enhances the sense of spaciousness and better lighting. Also, a white washroom ensures that any shortfall in maintenance or hygiene levels becomes immediately apparent, facilitating immediate correctives measures. If an all-white washroom is not preferred, it is sensible to use lighter shades such as light blue, light green, pistachio, creamy white and suchlike. The rationale is the same as that of using white.
Choosing the Right Materials
Equally important is the choice of materials, which could reduce the number of germs and bacteria in washrooms. The material of the fixtures and the method of construction can also help in eliminating hiding spots for virus and bacteria. The most sanitary and easy-to-clean material for faucets is brass, thereby making it the favoured choice in hospitals and commercial kitchens where hygiene is crucial.
Brass faucets are coated with nickel, and the top layer is finally done in chrome. Nickle and chrome together amount to almost 18 microns of layering. Brass is the preferred choice because it is the safest option for human health, unlike stainless steel or any other metal. The final layering of chrome is not only aesthetically pleasing but also provides ease of cleaning. Yet another benefit of the chrome layer is that it prevents the accumulation of any bacterial or fungal deposit.
All the above elements can minimise cleaning and usage of resources such as water in washrooms while helping safeguard the health of visitors and the maintenance crew. As a result, green and resource-efficient washrooms are gaining universal popularity due to the manifold benefits.
In the world of hospitality, perceptions steer the boat. A clean restroom can unequivocally enhance a customer’s experience. A successful dinner experience is a seamless patchwork of varied attributes, not just an epicurean feast. A clean, aesthetically designed physical place to freshen up before and after a hearty meal can invariably optimise contentment levels. Positive word-of-mouth goes a long way in establishing brand equity in the service sector. Another pragmatic collateral to having a hygienic workplace, would be employee satisfaction and lower employee turnover rates, together with fewer sick leaves. Studies have shown that SMEs incur costs up to Rs. 1.5 million per year to make up for losses due to these. Therefore, it is imperative that a proper clean, hygienic environment is maintained for the holistic welfare of not just employees but also the employer, and it can be safe to say that it starts from the washroom.
About the author
Anup Kumar Tripathi is country head-Indian subcontinent at Sloan India Private Limited. Prior to joining Sloan, he has had successful stints at Hindware and Jaquar, and has been instrumental in the entry of global brands like Hansgrohe, Teuco and Keramag into India market.
A multilingual, Anup speaks five languages – English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, and Italian. He is an alumnus of Agra University and Poorvanchal University, with degrees in mechanical engineering and business management, respectively.
A jovial person and supportive team leader, Anup loves travelling and enjoys writing, reading, and listening to music.