Feature Article - September 2010
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Friendly Amenities

Making Decisions About Restroom Structures

By Richard Zowie

Show Some Strength

Galvin finds that in the past 10 years the essential features of restroom structures have remained constant: the ability for a structure to stay up and to be maintained. Buildings that are pre-fabricated along with kit buildings accomplish this, she said.

If there's an evolving trend, it's in sustainability.

"Many parts of the United States have developed a keen awareness of their water supply's limitations and have begun to develop new facilities accordingly," Galvin said. "Composting toilets have allowed places like Mountain Park Environmental Center in Pueblo, Colo., to expand their facility and program offerings without adding an extra burden to the overdrawn local water supply."

A concern for water supplies along with an overall strong trend in making environmentally-friendly restrooms has resulted in many changes.

For starters, photo cell on-off switches that help to save energy by turning off the lights when nobody is in the restroom have become more common. Tharpe reported some restrooms use solar power to generate the electricity needed to start up the fans in the restroom. Some vault restroom facilities feature an evaporator that both lengthens the time required between pumpouts and relies on solar power to keep the evaporator working properly.

"We're also beginning to see the use of technology items in restrooms that weren't considered before, such as skylights," Tharpe added.

For those concerned about water supplies, waterless urinals might be just what is needed.

"We don't receive a lot of feedback [on waterless urinals], but we do sometimes hear from environmental organizations telling us we should use them more," Brubaker said.

While for some the idea of an environmentally-friendly bathroom might still be a new concept to grasp, Galvin said restrooms can use environmental designs a lot more than people might realize.

"Every feature of the restroom can be chosen with consideration for the environment," she said. "Building materials can be sourced responsibly; lighting should be energy efficient and combined with day-lighting techniques where possible."

The most effective way to reduce environmental impact in a restroom, according to Galvin, is to stop using water to flush away excrement.

"Composting toilets reduce water use by 97 percent," she said. "Or, completely eliminate water use for flushing and allow the waste to be recycled for use as fertilizer."

She also noted that greywater systems can allow for hand-wash water to irrigate ornamental plants.