Feature Article - September 2019
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For Your Convenience

Prefabricated Restroom Structures Provide Ease, Comfort & Durability

By Joseph Bush

Jeremy Smith, products manager for a Virginia-based company that licenses precast concrete products, said parks has been the fastest-growing market segment in recent years. It licenses its designs to precast concrete manufacturers, who sell, make and install the buildings. The company also provides marketing help and sales leads.

"Our standard restroom is four walls, a roof and a floor," Smith said. "We'll erect that here at the plant, plumb it and go out and set it on a prepared pad and hook up to the utilities and it's ready to go."

When not hooked up to utilities, the restrooms are like concrete porta-potties, but fixed in place, with a vault that gets pumped. The main advantage is its sturdiness, said Smith.

"Vandal-resistant, bulletproof," he said. "They're used for high-value storage and military bases, too. If you're in a park setting, it's anything from a tree branch falling, where it would crush a normal roof, it would bounce off or break when it hits a concrete roof. It's essentially a set 'em and forget 'em, which when you have a lot of different parks that are remote and spread out you don't have nearly the amount of maintenance and upkeep.

"Day to day, month to month, year to year, it's really just the cleaning."

The doors are steel, and the toilets are porcelain or stainless steel, said Smith. The steel products are prison grade.

"They're not as comfortable or nice-looking as porcelain, so some places still opt for (porcelain)—especially if they don't have to worry about folks taking hammers to them," he said.

The dry restrooms have hand sanitizer or nothing, while those with water have flush toilets and soap dispensers. Lights and fans can be included as well, Smith said. Windows are Lexan with a pebble finish, to let in light without clarity. The vents are slanted to also not provide a view; one in the door and one in a wall for air crossflow.

Smith said potential customers need to be prepared when they pick up the phone. "Have an idea in their head and then we point them to different options," he said. "Some have drawn up plans and we say we have something similar because it's cheaper to use an existing design. Have an idea of how many people will use it and based on that we can determine how big it needs to be."

Earlywine said his company and its competitors can make their buildings as large as a customer wants, with some caveats.

"You can make the restroom as large as you want, but at some point if you're going to make the restroom really big, like the size of an airport restroom, you'd need to design it with modular in mind because if you didn't you could really blow up the budget or it would take too much in the way of resources and you would get lower-quality results," he said.

Earlywine said his pumping cost rule of thumb is 20 cents per use. Pumping frequency is based on usage but also where the restroom is and who's using it, he said. For example, at a golf course, the clientele is mostly men.

"They're mostly using the waterless urinal, producing less effluent, so the pumping charge and the water use cost is going to be a lot less than one next to a playground," he said.

Prefab manufacturers and dealers all have the goal of making ownership as worry-free as possible. The install is quick, the structure is durable and offers privacy, maintenance is designed to be limited, and the environment as odor-free as possible. Earlywine said yes, cleaning is the most labor-intensive part of featuring a prefabricated restroom in a recreational area, but again, consider the alternative.

"With a porta-potty or a compost toilet or a vault toilet where there's not nearly as much to clean, it's hard to quantify the benefit you get from a restroom that you have to clean," he said. "I tell folks, 'It's not that you have to clean your restroom, it's that you get to clean your restroom.'" RM