By Thaddeus P. Gallizzi
Sales Engineering Manager
Manufacturers of commercial plumbing products have been meeting the ever-changing needs of the public for the past century.
From the basics, such as providing clean drinking water, flushable water closets, hot water, and supply and wastewater systems to refinements, such as wheelchair accessibility, water conservation, durability, and designer aesthetics, manufacturers have risen to the occasion.
Manufacturers have even met the public’s unspoken needs through a variety of innovations, including hands-free controls, high-efficiency toilet flushing, low-flow faucets and showerheads, and even water bottle filling stations.
With a worldwide pandemic and concern for increased health and public safety, the commercial plumbing marketplace is responding to a renewed demand for fixture designs with an emphasis on proper and frequent hand washing.
And although the original criteria for product performance still exist, there’s a new focus on adapting to existing site conditions and new construction with practical solutions. For example, where there was once no need for a wash station, now there may be. Or when accommodations already exist, the owner may require additional wash stations or site alterations to improve social distancing.
Given the nature of how germs and viruses spread, limiting touchpoints in the washroom is a top priority.
High-traffic destinations, such as airports and stadiums, have incorporated open entrances that eliminate door handles. This works well for such applications, but open entrances remain a challenge for most office buildings due to the space required for open entry, as well as noise and privacy considerations. Swinging doors are common; however, typical door hardware still requires contact with a handle. More recently, “arm pull” door handles have been introduced to eliminate the need to grasp the handle with the hand.
Notwithstanding the touchpoints that privacy compartment latches present, the designs of typical washroom fixtures and accessories have undergone significant improvements to facilitate a hands-free experience. Touchless features include sensor-operated controls for toilet and urinal flushing, lavatory faucets, paper towel and soap dispensers, and automatic hand dryers. Sensor-activated hand dryers have the added benefit of reducing both the costs of stocking paper towels and the landfill waste they create; however, consideration should be paid to the need for filtering recycled air using HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters or other technologies.
Healthcare environments, especially, present a heightened need for safe, sanitary hand washing fixtures. Beyond design, facilities and maintenance personnel need to be extra diligent in proper cleaning and servicing of all washroom equipment.
Providing Tempered Water
Since proper hand washing has taken center stage, delivering tempered water to faucets is receiving greater consideration.
Commercial buildings with a variety of hot water demands utilize thermostatic mixing valves as part of their hot water supply systems. These valves come in a variety of sizes and applications ranging from a 2″ high-capacity master mixing valve, potentially supplying 140°F, down to a 0.5″ point-of-use mixer under a remote sink, supplying 105°F for hand washing.
Ultimately, thermostatic mixing valves are there to ensure hot water remains at the proper temperature to prevent accidental scalding.
If, for instance, a facility needs to add a wash station but must locate the unit away from any existing tempered supply line, an electric tankless water heater at the point of use would be ideal for converting a cold-only line to a tempered supply. Although the lavatory would require electrical power and a waste line, the heater would eliminate the need to run both hot and cold water lines, as well as ensure the tempered water is immediately available for the user. Another potential issue is that many facilities without hot water recirculation systems may be subjecting users to the cold water, or “slug,” that exists between their water heater and the faucet.
Even recirculated hot water systems often present a “dead leg” in the supply line between the recirculation piping loop and the supply line drop to the faucet. High-efficiency faucets, with flow rates as low as 0.5 gallons per minute, take too long to expel the tepid, uncirculated water before the user finishes washing.
To solve the issue, however, an electric tankless water heater at the point of use may also serve as a booster heater to provide instantaneous hot water at the faucet until the tempered supply arrives. As a result, the slug of cold water is eliminated, and the amount of time the faucet needs to run is reduced, potentially adding up to significant water savings. When serving as a booster heater, a built-in modulator will throttle down its heating elements when it senses the change from tepid to tempered in the incoming supply water.
Lavatory Design Selections
You can’t facilitate public health and safety through hand washing without a lavatory! Thankfully, commercial plumbing fixture manufacturers offer an array of designs to accommodate nearly every application.
Because of the increased demand for hand washing stations, creative approaches to add them effectively and inexpensively is essential. Given that the demand is for hand washing stations and not restrooms, a wall-mounted, single-station lavatory may resolve the need for some, while a multi-user wash station may be more appropriate for others.
Given the wide variety of lavatory styles, a number of factors should be considered when making a selection:
- The number of stations needed
- Existing site conditions
- The expense for both the fixture, itself, as well as the installation
Site work to retrofit the unit may be as minimal as providing a water supply line, a waste line, and possibly an electrical outlet and wall reinforcing. Whether wheelchair accessibility is needed depends on several factors since the current ratio of accessible wash stations may satisfy requirements. If ADA consultation is needed, an accredited accessibility professional may serve as a valuable resource.
The role of hand washing in public places continues to evolve. Triage operations, construction job sites, and public buildings are, in the absence of plumbed hot water, searching for creative ways to make hand washing stations available to workers and visitors.
Portable hand washing stations serve as an economical answer, especially in places where facilities don’t already exist or weren’t previously considered necessary. These portable, self-contained lavatories make hand washing instantly possible even when site conditions have minimal resources.
Additionally, outdoor recreational areas, such as regional parks, playgrounds, and dog parks, are looking beyond traditional washroom buildings to bring hand washing to visitors right where they are. As such, outdoor drinking fountains and water bottle filling stations are modified to incorporate a hand wash basin to accommodate these remote locations.
Manufacturers are dedicated to meeting the needs of both specifiers and end users as requirements for commercial plumbing fixtures continue to evolve and expand.