Guest Column - October 2014
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The Science of Selecting a Waterless Urinal

By Robert Kravitz

With the uptick in the economy appearing to have more of a solid foundation, many existing facilities in North America are considering retrofits and upgrades to their buildings that had been put on hold for the past few years. Quite often, these upgrades involve restrooms. While commercial restrooms do not go in and out of style as quickly as residential bathrooms, most facilities consider updating them about every five to seven years, very often because of use and abuse of some restroom fixtures.

If your facility is considering a restroom upgrade, one factor that will be high on your agenda has nothing to do with style and décor. Water concerns are mounting throughout North America, making this a much bigger issue today than it was a decade ago. At the very least, water is going to become more costly—in some cases much more costly—in the future. At the worst, more areas of the country will experience more and longer water shortages and restrictions—which can impact life and work styles—than in the past.

Because the traditional urinals you most likely have in your facility right now use about 35,000 gallons of potable water each year per urinal, one of the most effective ways to reduce water consumption is to select a low-flow or a no-flow urinal system. More facilities, from schools to museums, are going all the way and installing no-water urinals. While there are several manufacturers of these systems and many are quite similar, they do have differences—enough so that managers should know there is a science to selecting a no-water urinal. The following are some of the key items to keep in mind:

  • Footprints: Styles can vary. If the restroom retrofit goal is to simply upgrade fixtures and counters, and not walls and floors, for instance, make sure the new unit covers the same wall area as the old urinal.
  • Connections: There is no need to connect the no-water urinal to a water line, and it connects to a standard drain line. Without going into technicalities, make sure the drain slope, connections and other normal piping issues are correct and meet local code regulations. Also, it is a good idea to clean the existing piping before the installation to remove any urine sediment or minerals that may have built up in the pipe. These can cause odor problems built up over time from a flushed fixture.
  • Cartridges: Most no-water urinal systems have a cartridge (also known as a trap/cylinder) that is placed at the bottom of the urinal bowl. It is designed to keep sewer odors from escaping into the restroom and to allow urine to flow from the urinal down the drain pipe. With some systems, the cartridge is prefilled with sealing liquid and has to be replaced as the sealing liquid degrades. With other systems, sealing liquid, which is relatively inexpensive, can be added to the cartridge as needed. This second system tends to last longer and allows for more flexibility.
  • Costs: The big difference in price between the major no-water urinal systems is not so much the unit as it is the cartridge just discussed. Prices range from approximately $10 to more than $40 per unit and, ironically, some of the more expensive cartridges seem to have some of the shortest life spans. This is where understanding the science of selecting a no-water urinal can prove very beneficial. Some facilities have found that a heavily used no-water urinal system can become quite costly to maintain when certain cartridges are selected while another type of system can prove to be relatively inexpensive.
  • Manufacturers: Waterless urinals were introduced to the United States by Waterless Company in 1992. However, they have been installed in Europe and other parts of the world for decades. In addition to Waterless Company, other manufacturers such as Falcon Waterfree Technologies, Sloan Valve Company, Duravit and Kohler came on board about a decade later.
  • Cleaning: For the most part, no-water urinals from most manufacturers are cleaned the same way as a traditional water-using urinal. However, avoid abrasive cleaners or strong chemicals on no-water urinals. Because there are no water spots and the interior of the urinal stays dry, these chemicals are typically not needed. Usually cleaning with a cloth and a cleaner or disinfectant is all that is needed. Also, pour about one to five gallons of water down each no-water urinal at the time the cartridge or trap is changed. This helps keep the drain pipe clean and odor-free.

Of all the items discussed, the one that is often overlooked and results in the greatest disappointment when selecting a no-water urinal regards the cartridge. Because the costs and the life span of the different cartridges can vary so extensively, managers are advised to make this a key point of concern when analyzing the different systems. And this is where knowing the science of selecting a waterless urinal system can really come in handy.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional building and cleaning industry. He can be reached at