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Guest Column - March 2006

Green Rooms

Locker Rooms and Restrooms

By Ryan Pfund


Soaring utility costs have jolted every American homeowner and business operator. Few businesses feel the effects of escalating bills for electricity, heat and water more than recreation, sports and fitness facilities that often operate 18 or more hours a day.

Spas and health clubs have become refuges where burned-out Americans release tensions working out under bright lights, then unwinding in hot tubs, showers, saunas and steam rooms. Thanks to heightened awareness of the health benefits of staying fit, demand for learn-to-swim centers, health clubs and recreation facilities is on the rise. And with more fitness centers and other aquatic entertainment venues being built every day, so does competition.

Go green

How can club managers or facility owners attract and retain more patrons, yet operate efficiently in the midst of dramatic increases in utility costs? Whether you are building a new facility or updating an existing one, you will realize restrooms and locker rooms afford ideal opportunities for containing utility costs—especially if you incorporate elements found in green buildings. Green buildings use a minimum of nonrenewable energy, produce less waste and pollution, and increase the comfort, health and safety of the people who live and work in them.

Conservationists are concerned particularly about the global shortage of water, with many parts of the United States affected. According to GreenBiz.com, a leading nonprofit information resource for business, commercial buildings use about 9.5 billion gallons each day. Compound this number for waterparks and other recreational facilities that specialize in aquatic activities.

Slow the flow

Your facility can implement a number of changes that will give your locker rooms a fresh, new look while incorporating significant water-saving strategies. Specifying low-flow fixtures, metered faucets and waterless urinals, for example, can reduce water consumption by more than 30 percent. This can translate to major cost savings in water and sewer bills, as well as energy costs for heating water.

Although installing green products and more efficient fixtures may add costs upfront, their advanced technology can save money over the building's life cycle. Newer fixtures as part of a restroom renovation also can mean less maintenance and greater resistance against vandalism.

Efficient plumbing fixtures

Replacing existing toilets that use as much as 4.5 gallons per flush (gpf) with low-volume toilets that use only 1.6 gpf can save a substantial percent in total water use. Additional water savings are possible with sensor-activated flush meters that control the water used during peak times.

Innovative new technologies also are being incorporated into sinks or lavatory systems. Photovoltaic cells integrated into the top of a lavatory system can store and use energy collected from normal restroom lighting—and that energy can power the lavatory's sensors and valves. Facility managers will be happy to know these units operate without expensive batteries and without any electricity. Eliminating batteries also cuts down on the number of batteries that are sent to landfills each year—a key goal for sustainable, green building.

Although many local codes require a maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) for lavatories and faucets, specifying lavatories that use just 0.5 gpm can save additional water. Other water-saving options are infrared or metered faucets on lavatories, which ensure that water is only running when a user activates the faucet.

To decrease energy costs for heating water, consider installing lavatories with tankless water heaters. These newer devices provide hot water on demand and are concealed within the pedestal of the lavatory system. Hand-washing fixtures with tankless heaters only require a cold-water source. Just the hot water needed at the faucet is heated, rather than requiring a hot-water tank in a distant area of the building.

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