Green Restrooms Of The Future

The Turner-Roberts Recreation Center in Austin, Texas, is designed to provide year-round activities for children and adults, including senior citizens. The building houses a 7,700-square-foot gymnasium, a full workout area, locker rooms for male and female participants, an arts-and-crafts room, a computer room, a kitchen area, a multi-purpose room, a meeting room, staff offices and a corridor art gallery.

However, other features of the complex are less noticeable. The facility has northern and southern exposures to maximize energy savings and cut costs. Renewable and recycled building materials are used throughout--often at a lower cost when compared to conventional materials--along with energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning systems. The restrooms have water-conserving fixtures.

Because toilets and urinals can be the most water-consuming items in a facility, installing fixtures that use less water than conventional fixtures is definitely a step in the green direction. However, this step--as significant as it is--is only the beginning. The green restroom of the future will incorporate many more environmentally responsible features, and many of these will likely prove to be a major cost savings as well.

More Than Meets The Eye

The Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT), designed by Farr Associates Architecture and Urban Design in Chicago, has restrooms that many believe are a perfect example of the green restroom of the future--its features can be incorporated into park and recreational restrooms as well. For instance, instead of metal partitions between stalls, recycled egg cartons, milk containers and cardboard are used. Although more fragile than standard partitions, they hold up well and can be cleaned using conventional means (handheld sprayers and cleaning cloths) as well as spray-and-vac cleaning systems. However, most important, they provide a new life for materials that would typically end up in landfills. Further, the recycled partitions have proven to be cost-effective.

Along with partitions made from everyday recycled materials, the restrooms’ walls and floors have all been constructed from recycled glass, tile, porcelain and ceramic materials. They look like conventional tiles, and have proven to be durable, easy-to-clean and resilient.

Dual-Flush Toilets

The toilets selected for the restrooms are dual-flush. Found in many areas of the world, these systems are relatively new in the United States. The user pulls the handle in one direction to flush liquid waste, and in the opposite direction for solid waste; the systems use .8 gallons and 1.25 gallons of water, respectively.

Some facility managers have questioned how much a savings these dual-flush, high-efficiency toilets (HET) can generate. A study conducted by Purdue University from June 2004 to June 2005 found a 43-percent reduction in water use after these systems were installed in the women’s restrooms of two campus buildings. This also resulted in a significant savings in sewer costs.

Waterless Urinals

Taking water-conservation steps further, CCGT decided to install waterless urinals in the men’s restrooms. According to Klaus Reichardt, founder of Waterless Co. LLC, the oldest no-water urinal manufacturer in the United States, the typical restroom urinal uses as many as 40,000 gallons of water per year, which is totally eliminated using a waterless system. “This can be a significant cost savings,” adds Reichardt. “But possibly a greater cost savings for park and recreational facilities is that these urinals are essentially tamper-proof. There are no flush handles, which are often the targets of vandals in public restrooms.”

Hand Dryers

Restrooms are also equipped with both hand towels made from recycled paper and electric hand dryers. The electric dryers use less energy than conventional ones, and are sensor-activated, minimizing the touch points in a restroom that can possibly spread disease. Both systems have been installed because so many users still prefer paper to dry their hands. However, it is hoped that building occupants will soon accept the electric system, which will be more cost-effective in the long run for CCGT.

Cleaning The Restroom Of The Future

After taking all these steps--installing partitions made of egg cartons, tiles of recycled glass, and water-conserving fixtures--it would be highly counter-productive to use conventional products and systems to clean the restroom of the future. At CCGT, only environmentally preferable cleaning products are used.

One exception is the waterless urinal system, which can still be cleaned using conventional products. However, some additional maintenance is required. According to Reichardt, the cylinders placed at the bottom of the urinals need to be changed on a regular basis. “This is very easy to do; however, the cylinders in some models last longer and are more expensive than those used in other systems,” he says. “Some due diligence is required to select the no-flush system that is most cost-effective over the long run.”

It is unlikely that the restroom of the future--especially in a park or recreational setting--will be cleaned using handheld sprayers, cloths, mops and buckets, as most are today. Instead, spray-and-vac systems using environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals are more likely to be employed. Some reasons supporting the switch to spray-and-vac systems include:

· Studies indicate these systems are more effective at eliminating C. diff, MRSA and other germs and bacteria found in public restrooms, especially locker rooms.*

· These systems clean restrooms as much as two-thirds faster than conventional cleaning systems do, helping to cut costs and labor expenses.**

Ahead Of The Game

The Turner-Roberts Recreation Center is just one of many public recreational facilities that have taken the green initiative seriously, and incorporated environmentally responsible designs, practices and operations. Even with budget cuts--and in some cases quite severe budget cuts--park and recreational facilities have often played a leadership role in not only becoming more environmentally responsible themselves but showing others what can--and many believe should--be done when constructing or retrofitting buildings for the future.

For this, they should be commended. As they have greened their own facilities, in the process they have helped spread the word that becoming more environmentally responsible not only is doable and practical but can result in significant cost savings as well.

*Source: Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) symposium held at the University of Maryland, June 2007.

**Source: 447 Cleaning Times, published by ISSA, the largest cleaning association in the world, Lincolnwood, IL.

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and now a writer for the professional cleaning and building industries. He may be reached at