Feature Article - September 2019
Find a printable version here

For Your Convenience

Prefabricated Restroom Structures Provide Ease, Comfort & Durability

By Joseph Bush

Planning and installation were pretty straightforward, said Crews. The restroom was designed over several conversations in the planning stage. Excavation made room for the vaults, the floor was placed over the vaults, and the pre-fab building was placed over the vaults. Plumbers installed all plumbing and electricians did the wiring. Carpenters completed the exterior of the building. Concrete was poured for sidewalks and a large patio area in front of the restroom.

Crews said the city installed battery-operated locks set on timers to open and close the restrooms for the day. Last summer, three years after installation, each restroom got hand dryers. Crews had some tips for those considering a more robust restroom option:

>> "Really think things through! Try to imagine every problem you think you might encounter and see if the company you choose can address it."

>> Use materials that stand up to vandals and require as little maintenance as possible.

>> Consider very large toilet tissue holders: "Two rolls of paper will not cut it."

>> Consider a large utility room

>> Make sure you have a locking system that allows you entrance even if the restroom is locked from the inside.

Prefab restrooms can be customized inside and out from size to unisex or separate gender to exterior colors or materials to combination buildings with other functions in addition to restrooms, like concessions or storage.

Greg Walenter, project manager in Planning and Land Preservation for the Lake County (Ill.) Forest Preserves, said the 19 restrooms that his organization uses are even customized by site. All the units for Lake County look the same on the outside—they arrive with unfinished cedar siding for on-site painting to match the other buildings and have a strip of boulder facing near the bottom.

But for a new dog park that will open in the coming year, the boulder facing will have a silicon coating to ease the cleaning of dog waste. The Michigan-based restroom manufacturer that supplies the facilities makes restrooms for both water and no-water situations, and its specialty is a patented dry solar or AC powered system that evaporates waste, reducing the frequency of pumping and eliminating odors.

Walenter said the units solve two problems with the old pit style restrooms they replace. "(There) was not a lot of privacy, not a lockable door, a holding tank, usually two stalls, a ladies' side and a men's side," Walenter said. "Over the years those tanks start to lose their integrity and leak and fill with water. And they're generally stinky. It's a wet system, so there was always fluid down in there so you got flies coming and going. They weren't generally attractive to the public. And say the picnic shelter happened to be downwind from them on a warm summer day—it wasn't real pleasant."

Walenter said the size of the units is based on the usage of the area and can typically be tied to the number of parking spaces in the area's lot. A 20-car lot for a trailhead or entrance to a small preserve will get a unisex unit with a urinal and a toilet, while larger lots in more popular areas get restrooms with men's and women's sides and more toilets and urinals. The highest-use areas get utility hookups and running water.

"There's different levels of development," Walenter said. "This evaporator toilet fits the low- to moderate-use preserve versus the high-intensity ones with a lot of high-end recreation opportunities and high usage rates."

He said the evaporation system means pumping must take place monthly, at most, and that's only for the units with multiple commodes and urinals. Another improvement from the old restrooms is privacy. Saloon-style doors and a large space from the ground to the bottom of the exterior walls left users of the former units more exposed.

"Even staff didn't like going in there," said Walenter.

Installation of the two-piece unit, from excavation to paving around the exterior to connect to parking lots, takes a couple of workdays, he said. The bottom, with the evaporator system tubing encased in concrete, is placed then connected to the floor and building piece. Because there is no running water, the only accessories necessary inside are toilet paper rolls and hand sanitizers.

"These are what we're doing going forward, for all developments without running water," said Walenter.