Feature Article - October 2020
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(Rest)room for Improvement

Adding or Upgrading Restroom Facilities to Meet Visitor Expectations

By Dave Ramont


Utilizing a standard design is typically most cost-effective, according to Smith, though they will do custom designs when needed. "In some cases, due to space constraints, design utilization or aesthetic reasons, a custom option may be the way to go. Precast concrete has the flexibility to match most surrounding architecture and is very flexible in finishes available to the customer." Most models feature chase areas that can be used for storage, and many models can be expanded to include additional storage where needed.

Combination buildings—such as restroom and concession structures—are also an option, and Smith said these are popular with larger sports complexes and smaller neighborhood parks as well. "Loudon County (in Northern Virginia) has bought dozens of buildings over the years, including a number of larger combo buildings for their numerous sports complexes. Even as one of the top two richest counties in the U.S., they see the cost and time benefits of using prefabricated-designed buildings."

Burger said the restroom/shower combo buildings are very popular in developed campgrounds, which are found in many state parks, for instance. "They provide campgrounds with showers and toilets that are easy to maintain and are very well-received with campers. We also add other rooms such as laundry, changing rooms, campground storage rooms and locker rooms, which add more utility to each location."

When it comes to restroom fixtures, Smith explained that stainless-steel fixtures are popular as they're "the most vandal-resistant and fairly easy to maintain. Porcelain fixtures are still installed in certain locations where they want a 'less industrialized' look. In remote dry restrooms, a sturdy, plastic toilet riser is still the norm."

Of course, in more remote parks and wilderness areas without water and sewer access, vault or "dry" restroom versions are often utilized. These feature a concrete waste vault that is periodically pumped out, and each single vault may have a 1,000-gallon capacity. In fact, Burger said they've installed more vault buildings than flush buildings, "about 15,000 vault buildings and 10,000 flush/shower."

When it comes to keeping the vault structures more inviting, Burger said they use the "tried and true Sweet Smelling Technology that the U.S. Forest Service designed and developed over years of testing. The system eliminates odors without fans or a need for mechanical equipment that can break. We have added solar fans that can enhance the system."

Smith expounded on the FAN (Fresh Air Naturally) ventilation process, based on the long-standing National Park Service directive regarding dry restroom installation and use. "When a dry restroom is designed and installed with the site location prevailing winds and sun direction taken into account, the vault odor is greatly controlled, making the restroom experience much more pleasant for the park-goers." They also offer the solar fans in the top of the vent stacks to increase airflow. Solar light packages are also available, and the use of opaque windows can help utilize daylight.

These days it's also possible to provide a vault restroom with flush toilets and hand wash sinks. Kyle Earlywine is co-owner of a Vancouver, Wash.-based company specializing in flush restrooms that don't require utilities. The self-contained flush vault restrooms utilize a water storage tank installed in a mechanical room, with enough on-board storage capacity of sinks, flush and wastewater for thousands of uses. "The water comes from either an onsite connection or hauling water to the restroom," said Earlywine. If potable water is unavailable, flush water can be processed through high-efficiency filters and can come from harvested rainwater, irrigation or another non-potable water source.

Earlywine's company strives to maximize energy and water conservation, reducing water consumption up to 70% compared with conventional flush restrooms by using one-quart toilets, waterless urinals and low-flow faucets. Used sink water can be filtered and reused for flushing. Optional solar power can provide any power needed for electrical components, though grid or battery power can also be utilized.

Conventional flush restrooms are also offered by Earlywine's company, and he points out how much less expensive modular restrooms are compared to site-built versions. He explained how the conventionally-plumbed restrooms can come with a small basement that allows for more sustainable features. "With the basement, fixtures can flush down rather than behind, which uses less water. The basement acts as the foundation, which can allow for less ground disturbance in sensitive areas. There is also a root cellar effect that can help keep the restroom warm in the winter and cool in the summer rather than relying solely on heaters and air conditioners."