Feature Article - September 2019
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For Your Convenience

Prefabricated Restroom Structures Provide Ease, Comfort & Durability

By Joseph Bush

In 1992, the U.S. Forest Service turned to a Spokane, Wash.-headquartered manufacturer of concrete restroom buildings, asking it to "manufacture a vaulted restroom building that didn't smell, could be placed in a remote area and stand up to extreme weather, forest fires and vandalism with a minimal amount of maintenance," according to Northeast Sales Manager Gregg Zentarsky.

Some 27 years later, Zentarsky's company made its 6,723rd building of the type it first delivered per that request—a single, 1,000-gallon waste vault. It now has a multitude of styles and sizes, both wet and dry.

"The benefits to using a premanufactured restroom for any new or existing restroom project are many," said Zentarsky. "Most importantly, we keep the costs down, due to lower construction costs, reduced ongoing maintenance and a significant increase in the longevity of their restroom."

It's not too hard to sell the idea of prefabricated restrooms over cheaper alternatives to recreation and park facilities, such as porta-potties and pit toilets.

Just ask Kyle Earylwine, co-owner of a Washington-based manufacturer of prefabricated restrooms.

Why would a park district or forest preserve district or golf course spend tens of thousands of dollars on bathrooms that more closely resemble ones at home or in businesses?

"What's the advantage of not having to hold your child over a vault toilet riser hoping they don't fall into an eight-foot-deep vault of sewage?" Earlywine said. "The advantage is totally obvious once you get the picture of the alternative. It's a giant amount of sewage, and if the air is not properly moving, you're able to smell it. I don't like that, I don't know anybody who does. And there's also seeing it."

Earlywine's company makes prefab restrooms that allow for flushing toilets and running water without being hooked up to a municipal water source, and the company guarantees an odor-free experience. For remote areas or in situations where the cost of utility hookup exceeds the cost of the units, users can enjoy the same experience they have at home.

"If someone calls me and says it's going to cost $10,000 to connect to sewer and water, I would tell them connect to sewer and water," Earlywine said. "That's a no-brainer."

Earlywine's company also makes restrooms that work with municipal connections, but its niche is the non-utility version that offers flushing toilets and running water sinks. One tank, in a mechanical room, holds potable water, brought to the tank in a number of ways, and that water supplies the sinks for hand washing. The drainage from the sinks goes to a partitioned underground vault that provides the flushing water. The other side of the underground vault holds waste.

"A lot of us like to wash our hands," Earlywine said. "We don't do it to be good; we do it because we like to. Some people would rather use hand sanitizer, but for most of us, in order to have a full comfortable familiar restroom experience, we like to end it with a hand-washing in order to clean our hands off and feel clean and also be hygienic."

Earlywine said clients can choose to augment their water supply with the rainwater capture feature that adds gutters that direct rain to the flush water vault. He said most clients have access to water to fill the tank, but choosing the rainwater capture option makes an environmentally friendly statement.

The agility of a non-utility restroom is ideal for situations like the U.S. National Park Service's Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

"We didn't know this until we started excavating, but it used to be a landfill," Earlywine said. "You can't put a septic system on top of an old landfill or excavate for a sewer pipe, so putting in our restroom in a very different kind of environment like that was a perfect fit for them. It was either going to be porta potties or our restroom, and they were getting too much use (for porta potties) to keep up, and it would get disgusting."

The City of Wildwood, Mo., also had a situation perfect for the versatility offered by a utility-free restroom: Users of a popular trailhead did not want portable restrooms, but because the area is in a floodplain, regulations on water for new buildings were restrictive. The Wildwood unit has separate male and female sides, and the male side has a non-flush urinal with a freshener insert in the drain.

The restroom was selected for its self-contained nature, according to Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Gary Crews. "For the most part, once it was installed, all that is needed is routine maintenance and cleaning."

Crews said he learned the hard way that the flush water levels had to be monitored but once that was understood, the only issues have been maintenance and cleaning. Crews said the unit is pumped out once a month, regardless of its levels, so cleaning is the main regular duty. He said it gets inspected daily and sometimes twice a day.

"Clean restrooms are a must!" Crews said. "You will get few accolades for having wonderfully clean restrooms, but the minute they become unclean, or stinky, you will immediately garner complaints! This particular restroom gets cleaned on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday."