Feature Article - September 2010
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Friendly Amenities

Making Decisions About Restroom Structures

By Richard Zowie

"Bright is typically a big thing," Brubaker explained. "Occasionally you get into municipalities that prefer colors that make it difficult for nefarious activities. Blue light makes it tougher for drug users to shoot up," for example.

Brubaker also noted that at the beach toilets at Kellogg Park in La Jolla, Calif. (near San Diego), the lavatory sinks are separate from the small restroom buildings. Outside the main building is a door that goes around to the unisex restroom.

"Because there's no lavatory in the restroom, they're so small it significantly cuts down on misuse," Brubaker explained.

What wins out in the end? Plain, practical restrooms or creative, practical restrooms? Some people prefer plain and others prefer something with style, but in the end everyone wants something practical. While a colorful, creative restroom might look nice, it matters little if the toilets don't work, or if it has no toilet paper or soap.

"On the Appalachian Trail in the east, they want simple functionality," Tharpe said. "You'll find restrooms with a barn board finish or a simple roof so that it fits into the nature setting and won't necessarily be trendy but instead rustic. In other extremes, such as in New York or New Jersey, restrooms might have a brick look and be functional but there will be a lot more to them."

Common Problems

As nice as restrooms are and as far as they've come, there are still complaints regarding problems or design flaws. Brubaker noted that with heavy-traffic restrooms, poorly designed entrances cause the people going out to block people who are trying to enter.

The way stalls are designed, some people might not realize they're open. As a result, big lines are created as people wait for a stall without realizing there are other open stalls in the restroom.

"This is a design problem and needs to be made where you can see stalls not being used," Brubaker said. "We need clear-cut indicators."

Another big complaint he's found are stall doors that don't close; this is often due to being poorly made which, in turn, results in doors that won't latch.

And, yes, perhaps no surprise at all, odor is another complaint. In fact, it's really not just another complaint according to Galvin: it's the most common. Insufficient cleaning can cause bacteria to collect on various surfaces. However, the restroom's design itself can result in problems that can perpetuate bad smells.

"A bad design can make even the most diligently-cleaned facility a foul-smelling place," Galvin explained. "Floor drains can often hold smells when not flushed regularly. When permanent fixtures are placed too close together they cannot be properly cleaned and will hold any smell that finds them. Most importantly, facilities that are not properly ventilated will hold any smell that enters the space or allow smells from the outside or below to enter the restroom."

In vault and composting toilets, look for facilities that include a ventilation system that helps prevent odors.