Feature Article - November 2008
Find a printable version here

Rest Stops

Adding Versatile, Durable, Beautiful Restrooms

By Sue Marquette Poremba

When There's No Water

There is no "one size fits all" approach to restroom facilities. Even in the same community, the needs will be different from one site to the next. That's the experience of Doug Workman at the Vail Ski Resorts in Colorado.

Workman said the resort is required to have some sort of restroom facility at each ski lift. The type of restroom used in each location, he added, depends on the accessibility to running water.

"There are places where sewer lines and the ability to get to sewer lines is just not a reasonable expectation," Workman explained. In those situations, the resort has gone with a waterless system, which he said works well in the ski resort setting. "Those bathrooms can sit unused for six or seven months out of the year."

These restrooms, Workman said, are located in the most remote areas of the mountains where it is necessary to have facilities that don't require running water.

"Our driving force for the restrooms is convenience for our customers," Workman said. "And where there is no running water or sewer, we want to have facilities that are easy to maintain and keep clean. This system also works from an environmental standpoint because we don't want any problems on that end."

When Vail first became aware of the waterless system, there was immediate interest. One of the more important aspects was that this type of restroom facility meant there was no need to drive a truck to pump out the solids. "The solids break down on their own naturally, and that works well."

Vail has three of these waterless systems on its slopes, as well as a number of outhouses that use tanks.

Durability of the restrooms is important for Workman, as well, who explained that the prefabricated structures include a precast concrete foundation, adding that other materials are used to customize the structures.

As Workman pointed out, while there may be a restroom need, there may not be sewer and water to support a facility. This is where waterless systems come in.

Alex Rachak of a Fort Collins, Colo., manufacturer of prefabricated restroom buildings, frequently designs restroom facilities that don't need water hookups, as well as incorporating sustainable building practices into their plans, another way to reduce the cost of restroom structures for the long term.

"The sustainability products reduce lifecycle costs," Rachak said. "And we're a custom builder, so we can design facilities that can match historic buildings or existing facilities."

The waterless restroom facilities are holding facilities, Rachak continued. "The facilities reduce the waste, reduce the need for pumping and have a pleasant odor in the facility. They don't smell," he explained.

The technology is popular on ski slopes and with the National Park Service, and with any city that has areas where sewer hookups are not available.

The units are prefabricated before delivery, built on their own concrete slab with the plumbing and electric installed. "The buildings can be helicoptered in, like to Mount Rainier," Rachak said.

One project that stands out to Rachak is a waterless facility at Fishcreek Falls, Steamboat Springs, Colo. "This is a waterless facility, even though there is water available to the site," he said. "The maintenance is minimal, as well."