Feature Article - September 2017
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The Right Rest Stop

Selecting Restroom Structures to Suit Your Site

By Dave Ramont

Many parks are trying to modernize their facilities and meet current requirements in regards to accessibility and gender neutral facilities.

Madden also tells us that they've recently joined forces with Earlywine's company. Now they can go off the grid by utilizing the solar power and having water and septic systems installed underneath the units. "I'm really excited that we can partner with them and make sure we can get the restrooms in other places that just don't have utilities."

One concern with putting restrooms where there are no utilities is keeping the units from freezing in the coldest climates. Each of Madden's facilities is equipped with standard freeze protection that insulates the plumbing and toilet components with a heated heat trace, protecting it to down around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. But Madden also pointed out that "It's not always best for cold-weather cities where they require so much extra heat in the toilet, so we have to heat the toilet to keep it from freezing, and the electricity is not always met with just the solar panels." But where electricity is available, they now offer a cold weather upgrade. "It's a heated toilet that we use hot water to pump around the interior of the toilet, and that allows the restroom to go down to around negative 5 degrees Fahrenheit."

Solar panels might be able to power the heat traces needed to keep plumbing from freezing at certain temperatures, and in many locations, the amount of energy needed is lower than one might expect due to geothermal gain from the ground beneath the building that is allowed to enter the building space. But Earlywine's company has come up with other strategies to keep their flush restrooms open in cold conditions. Propane heat can be added to the buildings, and Earlywine said some customers have taken advantage of this option. And at the very least, the flush toilets can be removed for the winter and replaced with vault toilet risers for waterless operation.

Standard flush restrooms also have to be concerned with keeping their buildings above freezing in winter months, and use of in-floor radiant fluid heating is one way to help reduce heating costs.

Keep It Clean

Of course, everybody hopes to find a clean restroom, and manufacturers try to keep maintenance as simple as can be. Smith said that the beauty of all-concrete construction is that the maintenance of the structure is greatly reduced compared to other building materials. "We design our buildings to be low maintenance and easy to keep clean. The interiors are painted with an epoxy paint which is very durable and easy to clean, and there's a radius where the walls meet the floor, which makes it easy to just hose out the interior." A two-inch reverse beveled recess connection at the wall-to-floor junction locks in the radius-shaped grout, creating an easy-to-clean joint that can't collect dirt or grime.

Burger explained that parks and facility managers are often working with reduced budgets and staffs, and need facilities that stay up and running with little time or money spent. "We use wall-mounted toilet fixtures, to make it easier to clean underneath. The plumbing valves are placed in the chase area away from the public to protect them from damage. Lights are mounted high and are durable lifetime-warrantied LED units."

Burger said they also utilize the angled concrete coving, eliminating dirt at the floor and wall joints. "Basically the staff just needs to hose out the building and replace the toilet paper." They also offer complete building refurbishment, including re-painting and hardware replacement.

Some of the features that make maintenance simpler are also good vandalism deterrents. Burger said that many municipalities had stopped putting in restrooms, and shut down the ones they had due to the excessive costs of maintaining their facilities. "So yes, vandalism and the cost of maintenance are very important issues to help reduce."

He said that anti-graffiti sealers on the interior and exterior protect the buildings from graffiti, making it easy to clean off. They also use steel doors and Lexan windows instead of glass.

Smith added that there are "vandal-proof" fixtures that are more difficult to damage as well, which might be made of stainless steel or have few exposed controls or mounts. Madden said they also powder coat their restrooms with an anti-graffiti clear coat.

Matt Selbie, president and founder of a company that handles restroom maintenance described as "simple restroom management via cell phones," cited a Harris Interactive study for Cintas Corporation that found that 94 percent of U.S. adults would avoid a business in the future if they encountered a dirty restroom. But besides boosting guest satisfaction and brand image, early intervention of maintenance issues can also reduce water usage and maintenance costs.

Here's how his company's service works: a restroom guest sees a sign in the restroom inviting feedback. They can send a text or scan a QR code describing a maintenance or cleanliness issue, even uploading a photo. An alert is sent to the correct staff highlighting the issue and location. The data is also received by Selbie's company. The guest receives a thank you. The issue is now registered in the system and appears on a dashboard, so staff can see the issue, who's working on it, how long it's taken to fix and whether it's been closed out or not. A reminder is sent to staff if a fix is tardy.

"The system also has an inspection module. In this case the staff can go to the restroom and text or scan to say all is OK. This means there is now a complete log of inspections and fixes," said Selbie, adding that they've been around for about a year and do have parks and municipalities as customers.