Feature Article - September 2017
Find a printable version here

The Right Rest Stop

Selecting Restroom Structures to Suit Your Site

By Dave Ramont

Going Green

Restroom manufacturers have certainly taken notice of the "green" trends when it comes to their structures. Smith pointed out that along with the known eco-friendly aspects of the concrete itself, they provide a pre-assembled structure that's pre-plumbed and outfitted at the factory, which greatly reduces construction time and disruption to the site. "The key focus of green construction is sustainability, which we achieve by reducing environmental impacts and lowering maintenance costs," Smith said.

Restroom manufacturers have certainly taken notice of the "green" trends when it comes to their structures.

Burger agrees that sustainability is an important industry trend, explaining how they started using LED lights and low-flow fixtures and valves years ago. "We added fly ash, a waste product of the energy industry, to our concrete mix to help reduce the overall waste stream. Our green buildings now provide LEED credits for designers to add to their sustainable LEED-certified projects."

Other restroom manufacturers are working to take sustainability features to the next level. Kyle Earlywine is the co-owner of a Vancouver, Wash.-based manufacturer of vault toilets that flush, which they believe is the best of both worlds. Vault toilets typically use a toilet seat mounted on a fiberglass riser located over a hole in the floor. In the hybrid flush-vault facility, the toilet riser is replaced with a flush toilet, and a water storage tank is installed in a mechanical room. If potable water is unavailable, flush water is processed through a high-efficiency filter and can come from harvested rainwater, irrigation or another non-potable water source.

"About a quarter of the time they don't have any water source, they'll just bring in a water truck of some kind or they'll have a hose close by that they can use. There's just a lot of different ways to provide water to the restroom," Earlywine said.

With this type of structure, customers don't have to connect to sewage, water or power systems, so there are no septic permits, service fees or monthly utility bills. The restrooms are engineered to reduce water consumption by up to 90 percent compared to conventional flush restrooms. The toilets use as little as one quart of water per flush, and the urinals are water-less. Water tank capacities vary from 2,500 to 5,000 uses, and vault capacities vary from 4,000 to more than 20,000 uses, allowing months of use without having to be pumped out. And the buildings are odor-free.

Hand-wash sinks with limited-flow faucets are typically installed in the hybrid structures as well, and the used sink water can be filtered and re-used for flushing. Earlywine believes that having a sink is a big part of having a positive restroom experience, especially if kids are in the equation. "Having a sink there is going to be big for parents and for people who enjoy washing their hands and feeling clean after their restroom visit." Earlywine also gets excited by the custom interiors they offer, saying that most parks managers they've dealt with don't experience vandalism problems, which allows them to go with nice interiors like full tile.

Traditional vault risers have large holes, and people tend to throw garbage and other items into them, making pumping difficult. But flush toilets can't pass anything much larger than 2 inches in diameter. Plus, the use of water for flushing means the sewage is only 10 percent solid, so the pumping of vaults is easier. Also, if electricity is desired, there are solar and battery power options.

When You Gotta Go...

When the city of Portland, Ore., was looking to address the problem of a homeless population having a serious lack of restroom facilities to use, City Commissioner Randy Leonard spearheaded the mission, with police and fire departments, parks personnel and maintenance and cleaning staff all having a say in what restroom would come to Portland. And in 2008, the first restroom was installed downtown, with several others popping up around the city since then.

"The city just approved a recent parks bond measure that would allow more restrooms to go in more parks. It's working out well—the city staff really does enjoy them," said Evan Madden, sales director for the city, which now markets its restroom solution to other municipalities and parks departments. The City of Portland owns the patent on the restroom, and maintains intellectual property rights.

The stainless steel flush toilet kiosks, which weigh about 6,000 pounds, fit in an average parking space and can be delivered on site as a complete enclosure, connecting to existing water and sewer lines. Toilets are low-flush, using minimal water. Solar-powered batteries power the lights, with an AC hard-wired system offered as an option, which is advised for installations in heavy shade. There is interior and exterior LED lighting with photo-eye and motion sensor. The entry, railings and fixtures are fully ADA-compliant.

Placing a hand-wash station on the outside of the unit eliminates the so-called "hotel effect." "When you put your toilet and sink together, people tend to spend more time than they need to, so it's just a way to get people in and out as fast as possible," Madden said. Electrical and plumbing controls, as well as a cleaning hose, hose reel and janitorial supplies, are kept in a rear plumbing closet for easy, on-site maintenance.

The unit features louvered panels at the top and bottom of the structure. One priority of the structure's design was making sure that occupants wouldn't loiter. Therefore, the lower louvers are angled to provide law enforcement the opportunity to observe the number of users inside the unit without compromising privacy. "It has kind of minimal privacy with the louvers, so really it's not a comfortable place to be," Madden said, adding that it still allows a user the privacy needed to go to the restroom. And while they don't install units they sell, a foundation layout is provided with footing design, dimensions and specifications for installation, as well as factory-provided installation hardware.