Stop & Go

Style & Maintenance Needs Key to Choosing Restroom Structures

By Deborah L. Vence

Choosing a restroom structure involves more than just cost. You also have to consider upkeep, access to the restroom and which variety would best suit your location, which can make a difference in how easy or difficult it is to maintain.

"One of the most important aspects of getting favorable park responses is to have great restrooms. The cleaner and better maintained a restroom is, the more the public will use it and have a positive opinion of your parks," said Gary Burger, national sales manager for a Spokane, Wash.-based manufacturer of concrete restrooms, showers, concessions and storage buildings. "And, finding a restroom that makes it easy for you to do that will go a long way toward giving your users a great park experience," he said.

The Do's and Don'ts

When deciding on a restroom structure, experts suggest some do's and don'ts to keep in mind.

Do's and don'ts really depend on "what type you want to use," noted Glenn Rachak, president of a Fort Collins, Colo.-based company that manufactures high-end custom buildings, including restroom structures. "Flush facilities are always an option." But, "If you are looking to save water, they will use a lot of water."

"Look at manufacturers and see what's out there and what type of area that's out there. [Is there] high vandalism [in the area?]," he added.

Another "do" is to look for a restroom structure that is designed for easy maintenance.

Preventing vandalism of restroom structures or at least keeping it to a minimum can be a challenge.

"High-strength precast concrete roofs and walls that are welded together will ensure your restroom can handle tough conditions, including inclement weather," Burger said. "Look for steel doors and window frames that are cast into the concrete walls and have tamper-resistant heads. A precast restroom is generally durable and easy to maintain. All-concrete construction withstands rot and rust, further simplifying maintenance."

Also, pay close attention to how the interior of your structure is designed.

"Have all fixtures wall hung with the water valves hidden in a maintenance chase to prevent damage. Keep all fixtures low profile," Burger said. "Soap and paper towel dispensers should be built into the wall. Tamper-resistant screws used for wall vents, grab bars and toilet paper holders will also prevent trouble. Lights should use high-impact plastic covers. There should be no exposed conduit for vandals to tear off," he said.

Another point is to properly estimate your need.

"I would say location is enormous in many situations. One reason is the simple thing of cost. We're the only ones who make flush restrooms that are not connected to utilities. There's a huge difference in cost," said Kyle Earlywine, co-owner of a Vancouver, Wash.-based company that manufactures flush restroom buildings that operate without connections to sewer, water or electrical utilities. Also, "You don't want to put a restroom in a situation where no one is going to see it."

Design sizing for fixture count also is important to allow more women's fixtures than men's, noted Chuck Kaufman, president of a Minden, Nev.-based manufacturer of prefabricated public restrooms and buildings.

"Restroom design throughput is nominally two minutes for use by females and one minute for males. Most designers, when local law permits, design with one-third more women's fixtures to accommodate this cycle to prevent lines at the entry," Kaufman said.

"A second consideration is to over-ventilate the restroom space. The most important 'do' for restrooms is to design with non-absorbent surfaces to prevent odors," he said. "New special materials allow waterproof concrete and other additives or coating to maintain an odor- free space by design."

In addition, you should "work with a reliable firm with a track record of success and code compliance," said William Burt, marking manager for a Roseburg, Ore.-based company that manufactures portable restroom buildings.

And, "don't work without design documents that have been approved by the owner of the facility and the governing building department," he said.

Different Varieties

The types of restroom structures available include both water/flush and waterless.

The flush restroom probably is the most familiar. "Everybody knows [this type of restroom]. It's what's in your office and house; and what you hope to see when you go to the park," Earlywine said, adding that the vault toilet is the most common. "It's low-maintenance and cost-effective."

Earlywine also noted that with flush restrooms, it's important to have fixtures. A good chunk of restrooms won't have a sink. And moms, for example, want to be able to have the convenience of taking their kids into the restroom where there is a sink to wash up.

Conventional restrooms are connected to water, sewer and power, and are differentiated by offering single-occupant or unisex restrooms, or separate male and female multi-user rooms.

"They can be outfitted with storage rooms and mechanical/utility rooms that can be small or spacious," Burt said.

But, public restrooms also can be furnished without water and power for remote sites or within urban locations.

"The waterless applications are either holding tanks, composting or portable facilities," Kaufman said. "The urban applications are water borne with sewer, septic or holding tanks. Solar for lighting is also now offered, but seldom used."

Waterless restrooms don't require flushing to operate. "These facilities are also called vault toilets, pit toilets or dry toilets," Burt said. "These restrooms may or may not have electrical and [our company] often supplies solar packages when utility power is not available."

For example, one type of dry toilet is a compost toilet that typically uses little to no water.

"There's a wide variety. You have compost toilets and evaporative toilets," Earlywine noted. "But, they are really all the same [in that] they don't use water. They are over a vault, and there will be odor."

The benefits of waterless toilets include the fact that they require lower maintenance with less fuss and are opened year round.

And though compost toilets can be expensive to maintain, "you don't have to pump them as often," Earlywine said.

Burt's company offers more than 15 standard models for waterless restrooms, and has many more custom models available.

"These facilities range from single-user structures to six-room structures. Smaller models can be prefabricated from polyethylene for lightweight and durable structures, but we also construct waterless restrooms out of concrete block for more robust facilities," he said.

Burger also suggested asking "your manufacturer about the capacity of your vault, and then talk with your pump service provider about usage and set up regular service.

"If you look for a vault that features Sweet Smelling technology, developed by the U.S. Forest Service to facilitate maximum airflow to reduce smells and odors," he added, "you will not need to add any chemicals to the vault to keep it smelling fresh and clean."

Dealing with Vandalism

Preventing vandalism of restroom structures or at least keeping it to a minimum can be a challenge. But, some options exist to help defend against intentional damage.

"In most cases, these options do a great job in mitigating vandalism. These include features like graffiti-proof coatings for building interiors and exteriors, stainless steel fixtures and components, and advanced security options," Burt said.

However, beyond building a tougher restroom, vandalism also can be addressed as a facet of restroom ownership.

"In many cases, budgeting for replacement parts and maintenance contracts or personnel can be a better approach than relying on vandalism prevention features," Burt said. "In certain areas, stainless steel still gets vandalized and an owner could replace somewhere from seven to 10 china toilets for the cost of a single stainless steel one."

So, the best way to deal with vandalism is to understand the potential at each specific site and to create a long-term plan relative to the needs of the facility.

"There are many features that can be added, but restroom owners should know which features need to be added and will be effective for the management of their facility," Burt said.

So, some vandal-resistant choices include "graffiti coatings you can put on the building," he said.

Some of these paints are sacrificial and others are non-sacrificial. Sacrificial coatings provide a clear barrier over the surface. Non-sacrificial coatings provide a protective surface. Spray paint can't adhere to this type of surface. And, this type of paint coating helps provide easier removal of graffiti.

Another way to help ward off vandals is to install fake video cameras, which have decreased vandalism in some places by 99 percent.

"It actually works," Rachak said. "I've seen them where they put them on the building or put one camera out on a pole, maybe about 20 feet in the air. They cost about $29 or $30 apiece."

Adding lighting around a structure can help, too, so it can be more visible. It does reduce criminal activity, Earlywine said.

New smart building monitoring systems are available that lock your doors at night and will notify you by text or e-mail that someone has entered the room.

"There is a whole list of items that go ahead of this," he said, such as, "putting it in areas that are not going to be hidden, increasing visibility. If you are going to do bad things here, you are likely to get caught. If you are going to put it in a park, there are going to be eyes on it; put it close to the sidewalk, not hidden among a bunch of trees."

Similarly, Burger said proper lighting and motion detectors are a good idea, as nighttime vandals will usually avoid well-lit areas.

"New smart building monitoring systems are available that lock your doors at night and will notify you by text or e-mail that someone has entered the room," he said.

What's more, he said the No. 1 reason for vandalism in restroom facilities is "a lack of toilet paper, so you should be sure you are regularly checking to ensure there is plenty."

Look for a restroom, he said, that features toilet paper holders designed to prevent theft.

"It's best to try to prevent graffiti and vandalism. Begin by looking for restrooms that deter vandalism. Concrete structures are durable and can withstand a lot of abuse," Burger said. "They can be coated with anti-graffiti coatings that make cleaning the graffiti off a snap. When graffiti does occur, be sure to take care of the problem quickly. Studies show that when graffiti is removed within 48 hours, the recurrence rate will be close to zero."

Kaufman said his company's method of dealing with vandalism is to design with rugged materials that do not challenge and include economical methods of correcting damage from graffiti.

"While our components are extra heavy and non-breakable, such as CMU toilet partitions, thick stainless steel door handles and masonry exteriors, they are designed to not challenge," he said.

Tips on Maintenance

Of course, a big factor in keeping your patrons happy with your restroom structures is keeping them clean.

One suggestion is to always have trash cans available. "It helps tremendously from keeping trash [thrown] down the toilet," Rachak said, adding that it's also important to choose sustainable products. Steel doors are a good option.

If you are going to invest in a flush restroom, "keeping it clean is really good ROI, in terms of returning happy visitors," Earlywine said.

Meanwhile, other experts say good restroom maintenance begins with the design of the facility.

"Owners should select design options that improve the ease of maintenance for the building. Concrete floors, for example, if left untreated, get stained, which can lead to a 'dirty' appearance in the restroom," Burt said. "Keeping floors clean, and, in fact, the whole building is easier when floors are tile or epoxy coated because they can be easily cleaned. People tend to trash a clean restroom less than one that appears dirty."

The same concept applies to walls and fixtures. So, selecting options like FRP for walls (fiberglass reinforced plastic) and china fixtures make cleaning easier.

"All of these features provide the additional benefit of being fairly non-absorbent, which means that smells can be easily cleansed from the building and do not build up over time," Burt said. "Porous surfaces, like untreated concrete or wood, will harbor odor and stains. The bottom line is that it is an added cost, but treating the building surfaces vastly improves the maintenance of the facility."

Another good design consideration to improve maintenance is adding structural features to the building. Adding storage for cleaning supplies and toiletries is a great benefit.

"Having everything needed to maintain the facility available on-site makes maintenance of the facility even easier," he said. "Other features like covered entries, porches and roof extensions prevent dirt, leaves and other things on the ground from being tracked into the building. Some structural considerations like these can also make a building easier to maintain."

Kaufman's best suggestion is to design and build with more expensive components that are proven to hold up to the environment unsupervised park restrooms face. "Our firm has had to create our own components to meet this criterion as vendors continue to engineer out cost of their components only to face more frequent replacement due to light-duty designs," he said.

Burt added that like vandalism, maintenance is a holistic approach and not every option is necessary in every application. "It is important for the building owner to figure out what resources are available for each location and then to get a building suitable for the specific site," he said.

Once your restroom structure is installed, you should create a schedule for regular maintenance sweeps.

"Staff should inspect the restroom for damage or vandalism, check and refill toiletries, and clean the facility at regular intervals," Burger said. "When you choose the right structure, cleaning will be simple. Soapy water or disinfectant solution can be used on walls, riser and floor of precast restrooms. You can also remove the toilet paper and then hose out the entire facility."

If your park is located in an area that experiences freezing temperatures and your facility is unheated, he suggested, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to winterize your restroom structure in order to prevent costly damage.

Common Concerns

Cleanliness and safety are two of the biggest issues people worry about with restrooms.

"Definitely cleanliness, for families with children, [and] location of the building, making sure the building isn't in a remote area and is easily seen in the parking lot," Rachak noted.

Another issue is locks.

"Making sure you can lock the restroom when you are in it. Some of them I've seen [with a] slide bolt … a privacy lock …," he said.

Similarly, Kaufman said that safety is the highest requirement he sees from clients as well as reduction of maintenance costs. "This question can be posed to park staff or visitors who will use the restrooms. Visitors are most concerned with safety and cleanliness, while park staff faces maintenance costs from abuse and vandalism as their highest requirement," he said.

"When designers provide large open vent screening in the exterior walls," Kaufman said, "passersby on the outside can hear if anyone is needing help, and if so inclined, render assistance. Closed-up restroom exterior walls do not allow this safety issue to be heard without the vent screening."

Burt said since his company deals with projects early on, the biggest concerns of customers are price, size and aesthetic options.

"For our customers and people interested in working with us, the focus tends to be on how much they can get within their budget. Before any design work has taken place, these issues are the first area of concern," he said.

During the design phase, restroom projects often will take a different course, "through what we call a 'comment and response' phase," he explained. "This is where we have provided designs based on the customer's needs and preferences and the designs are submitted to a reviewing agency."

These agencies review the designs and then provide comments to make sure the building is aligned with the set codes and design standards. Essentially, this is another phase in which cost is a paramount issue.

"Reviewing agencies can make absolute statements, such as in Florida [where] most doors must be storm-rated to the highest standard," he explained.

"If these doors were not included in the initial design, they must be added for the building design to be approved and constructed. The catch is that storm doors are more expensive, either causing a building to go over budget or requiring more affordable options to be included elsewhere in the design," he said. "This process is a give and take that can be complex, and mistakes during this phase can lead to costly delays if they aren't discovered until the inspections during construction.

"… In most cases, building departments and reviewing agencies standardize restroom designs to account for a predetermined 'level' when it comes to things like safety and cleanliness," he said. "The vast majority of cities and municipalities are satisfied to meet these predetermined levels that have been established by their community. For the customer, their area of influence instead tends to center on aesthetic and functionality considerations relative to the size and cost of the building they hope to get within their budget."



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