By Christina Schafer
From the June 2020 Issue
As facilities look for ways to protect the health and safety of their occupants in light of the coronavirus pandemic, many are exploring touch-free plumbing options. For existing facilities, a complete retrofit of their restrooms (including toilets, urinals, and lavatory sinks) may seem like an excessive investment for the facility budget. However, in many instances, retrofits can be completed with relatively few interruptions to service and with little inconvenience to building occupants.
Touchless fixtures are increasing in popularity amid growing health and safety concerns in commercial buildings. These fixtures can be ideal for many plumbing settings for a variety of reasons. Touch-free plumbing fixtures can minimize mess, support water conservation efforts, and decrease the spread of microbes. Overall, these types of fixtures provide a relatively simple option for facility managers to consider in order to provide peace of mind.
Paul Gallagher, lead plumbing technician for Integrated Facility Services (IFS), a St. Louis, MO-based mechanical contracting firm, has recently completed several full-facility retrofits. The clients were looking to decrease touchpoints in their facilities and touch-free plumbing fixtures provided an easy and cost-effective option. Retrofitted fixtures included flush valve sensors, lavatories, drinking fountains, and ice machines.
Recent retrofit projects for IFS clients were initiated by facility owners and managers in response to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local county guidelines for reopening buildings after the initial quarantine. CDC recommends implementing touchless items like trash cans and hand sanitizer stations, and that facility staff “routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace.” When you consider all of the items that people touch throughout the day, the health benefits and long-term financial benefits of fixtures that eliminate or reduce touchpoints are clear.
With an increased emphasis on investments to provide future protections, Integrated Facility Services expects to continue to see significant interest in touch-free fixtures throughout the year and beyond. Brian Karcher, a commercial account representative for IFS, says that the number of customers with sensor fixtures in their building is anticipated to “triple or even quadruple over the coming months as more see the long-reaching benefits of these types of investments.”
Sensor-based fixtures not only provide a more sanitary environment, but they also do not require an extraordinary level of maintenance or a costly facility remodel. These retrofits often only require a swap out of the existing fixtures. Improvements in the technologies over the years have also lent themselves to a more efficient process, decreasing the amount of time and interruption to a building during the retrofit.
Touch-Free Plumbing: Beyond Restroom Retrofits
The retrofit process to improve sanitation in a facility doesn’t have to end at the restrooms. There are options available for touch-free drinking fountains as well as ice machines and breakroom and kitchen sinks.
As the demand for this technology increases, touch-free supplies are becoming more limited. If you are considering retrofitting your facility, IFS urges facilities to start planning projects as soon as possible.
The specialized team at Integrated Facility Services advises companies to consider these key points when planning a retrofit project:
- Create an ideal end goal. Are you going completely touch-free in your facility or incrementally swapping out fixtures in portions of the facility? Are you wanting to retrofit certain fixtures in your restrooms or all restroom fixtures in the entire facility? By knowing your desired goals, an expert can help you find the best options for your retrofit and make sure fixtures coordinate through the whole project to serve the aesthetic of the facility as well.
- Understand your current systems and equipment. Knowing what fixtures are currently in your facility will make it easier to determine the best course of action for a retrofit. This will save money and time to match fixtures appropriately, and to create a seamless plan for installation.
- Consider your highest traffic points. Is your facility one where a large number of employees work for an extended amount of time each day, or do occupants move through the space regularly? Do you have restrooms in higher traffic areas? If so, consider investing in touchless options to best suit these particular needs. Options like touchless fountains and ice machines can provide a facility’s employees with safer drinking water options, while focusing on higher traffic restrooms and gathering areas can target concerns of building guests as well.
- Factor in all of the costs and cost savings. When planning a project, consider not just the retrofit costs but how it compares to current and future expenses. Touch-free fixtures can reduce water use to decrease your water bill. Facilities with touchless fixtures may also need fewer cleaning staff to meet new, heightened cleaning protocols.
Fixtures that are touch-free provide a more sanitary option for facilities of any size and provide a quality option to improve public health. The minimal additional maintenance for touchless fixtures can also provide an opportunity for a return on the facility investment. Overall, touch-free fixtures pack a large benefit into a reasonable retrofit project.
Schafer is a service manager at Integrated Facility Services with over 13 years of experience leading projects to improve plumbing systems for companies in the Saint Louis area. She works closely with the area Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International, International Facility Management Association (IFMA), and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) chapters to encourage education opportunities as well as strengthen relations in the facility owner and manager communities.
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