Services & Maintenance: Can't Touch This | Facility Executive - Creating Intelligent Buildings

Facility managers planning new or renovated rest rooms have many more choices than in years past.
Facility managers planning new or renovated rest rooms have many more choices than in years past.

Services & Maintenance: Can’t Touch This

Services & Maintenance: Can't Touch This | Facility Executive - Creating Intelligent Buildings

By Denis Gagnon
Published in the April 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The recent dual emphasis on sustainable and hands-free technology has guided rest room related product development in recent years for good reason: hands-free fixtures can be more hygienic and require less cleaning. Furthermore, facility owners are learning that sustainable technology can help them save money.

Hands Off!

Even when cleaned on a daily basis, rest rooms are a great place for germs to spread. Public bathrooms accommodate large numbers of users with varying standards of personal hygiene, and everyone has to touch the same fixtures.

In recent years, hands-free technology has effectively prevented some public rest room users from having to touch many bathroom surfaces at all. And although the initial investment in quality motion detector rest room appliances may be higher, facility managers could stand to save a great deal of money on janitorial and maintenance labor by adopting this technology.

Hands-free appliances generally work by way of a motion sensor, and when constructed properly, they require infrequent maintenance. Facility managers should test all new appliances and evaluate their reputation in the industry before purchasing.

There are additional important questions that should be asked by facility professionals who are considering the move to hands-free fixtures:

  •     Does the sensor indicate detection problems as they occur? How?
  •     How much time between functions?
  •     Is there an auto shut-off feature built in to prevent waste?
  •     Is there a warranty? How is servicing handled?

Giving Paper The Pink Slip

Paper can be surprisingly expensive. In the case of rest room supplies, the costs may go well beyond paper’s purchase price. For instance, Gary Homesley, assistant director of facilities and maintenance at the California State Northridge Student Union, reports the university spent $21,000 annually on paper towels, installation labor, and trash hauling fees alone. Additionally, to make one ton of recycled paper requires 7,000 gallons of water, 360 gallons of oil, 158 million BTUs of energy, and releases 86 pounds of pollutants into the atmosphere.

Switching to hand dryers can help cut costs. Because hand dryers leave no waste behind, they are also more hygienic (see sidebar) than paper towels that, especially when strewn wet around the rest room, can create unsanitary conditions.

When evaluating a hand dryer, the best consideration is how rapidly and effectively it dries hands. “I’d never liked hand dryers in the past,” Homesley admits. “They never seemed to work well enough; your hands were never actually dry after using them.”

Although hand dryers carry a reputation for slowness, some newer models are highly efficient and able to dry hands as fast as paper towels. With the right dryers in place, facility managers can eliminate paper towel dispensers altogether, as CalState did.

“The Union bathrooms generated about six tons of paper towel waste every year,” says Homesley. “It’s remarkable to be able to cut that out.”

Going Waterless

Although most people think first of paper conservation when they consider “greening” their facilities, water conservation is also important. Fortunately, there are several options available to avoid flushing a great deal of money down the drain.

Low flow. Commonplace in many regions (and in some cases required by law), low flow toilets are an obvious choice to reduce water wastage. However, facility managers should examine models closely to ensure they will function properly, particularly in a high use public rest room.

Water free urinals. These urinals work by draining fluid and trapping odors beneath a special sealant which is poured into a small cartridge below the drain. The cartridge traps and filters out sediment, allowing an unobstructed flow of liquid down the drain while minimizing water wasted. Water free urinals have yet to become commonplace, but their savings potential is impressive. Once installed in the CalState student union, the urinals alone accounted for a 35% reduction (around one million gallons per year) in domestic water intake, saving the university between $10,000 and $15,000 a year, according to Homesley.

Timers/auto shut off features. Facility staff must make sure all sinks and other water dispensing appliances will turn off when a user is no longer physically detected and/or after a set period of time has elapsed. Timers can help prevent water wastage in the event the hand detector malfunctions.

“In California, we have to pay a sewer tax on all domestic water that we use,” says Homesley. “So naturally, the less water we bring into a building and then waste in the sewer system, the fewer charges we incur.”

Rest rooms have changed significantly to meet buyer demands, so today’s facility managers have many options that were not available just 10 or 20 years ago. Although some of the new products on the market may seem overly “high-tech” or excessive, the energy and cost savings offer very compelling reasons to modernize.

Gagnon is president of Excel Dryer, Inc. based in East Longmeadow, MA. For more on the company, visit the Web at

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