The Plumbing Electronic Retrofit Option:vWhy contractors should consider electronics for upgrading restrooms
As buildings age, decisions must be made on whether to retrofit (remodel, renovate, etc.) or perform new construction. Deciding between these options is not always easy from a plumbing point of view, as there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. However, as new construction costs continue to escalate and more communities recognize the value of the existing structures, the plumbing retrofit option is becoming more attractive.
First, a plumbing retrofit is more affordable and probably will fit within a facility's budget. Even though existing structures may present more of a "challenge" from a plumbing systems design point of view, careful planning and analysis can meet that challenge successfully-especially with "the electronic option." In the end, maintaining the outside building envelope if possible, is generally more cost effective than constructing a new building.
Second, plumbing retrofit techniques and products have vastly improved in terms of quality. Frankly, it is often difficult to tell between retrofit and new construction. This is especially true in light of recent electronic developments that can be applied to restroom fixtures.
Finally, plumbing retrofit makes sense from both hygiene and water conservation points of view. Building owners are being drawn into the battle to control the increasingly complex world of viruses and bacteria - which tend to flourish in public restrooms.
Fortunately, technology exists today to help control these annoying bacteria-and it is affordable. Before discussing this advantage, however, it is important to touch on the very real contribution that a plumbing retrofit provides: water conservation.
Water, Water, Everywhere And Not A Drop to Drink
Besides improved hygiene, water conservation is one of the main reasons to consider a retrofit of an educational facility's plumbing system. Water is an essential resource, and we cannot survive without a reliable supply of clean water. In considering the retrofit of the plumbing system, conservation of this natural resource is, arguably, the highest objective an owner can set for one's building.
The implications of doing a plumbing retrofit to help control water use extend beyond preserving clean supplies of this necessary resource. They include the impact of a retrofit on water supply and wastewater treatment as well. In some instances, moves toward water conservation have actually delayed high-cost investments in water treatment facilities. In retrofitting an older plumbing system, a building owner is "doing the right thing" in terms of guarding this natural resource. Reducing water consumption through a retrofit also reduces the water and sewer bills.
Many building owners do not have the funds to accomplish a complete restroom replacement. Therefore, replacement in stages becomes a more viable, economically sensible approach. Retrofitting in stages is also very practical from a plumbing point of view, since renovations can take place in a logical progression without significant interruption of other building activities. Here are some suggestions on how to guide the retrofit on one of the most used (and abused) parts of that system: the restrooms.
Fixtures and the Restroom meet A.D.A.Retrofitting restrooms with the proper fixtures involves consideration of many variables, not the least of which is the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.). This important law governs fixture requirements, both in terms of number and installation requirements. Restrooms designed for the general public use especially have a responsibility to meet this law, so careful work with designers and engineers should be emphasized by contractors doing restroom retrofitting.
The Electronic OptionOne of the most effective ways to meet A.D.A. and help the water conservation and hygiene efforts is through the use of electronic technology. Advances in sensors, materials design and functionality of the flushometer have made it possible to provide "no hands" and "on demand" operating fixtures for restrooms at a cost-effective price. These devices ensure A.D.A. compliance, while helping to conserve the use of water. Most important, they limit the "touching" of fixtures, and contribute to controlling the spread of bacteria. In considering the plumbing retrofit, contractors, building owners and facilities managers should take a close look at electronic options for the following reasons.
Multiple Flushing-In any environment, there is the risk of losing control over the restroom even after a successful retrofit, especially when it comes to urinal flushing. A user may flush one, two, three or more times per visit. Each flush beyond the first wastes water. Installing an electronic flushometer onto a urinal abolishes this multiple flushing because an electronic system controls the "timing" of the flush and eliminates the manual handle control used by traditional flushometers. In terms of retrofit, a battery-operated flushometer is a viable recommendation here. Battery-operated flushometers are an easy retrofit to existing flushometers. Many models have long battery life (three years or more, averaging 4,000 flushes per month). A building owner can select between traditional and "heavy duty" models for particularly rough environments. The maintenance department should be encouraged to examine these options, often available from manufacturers on a trial basis. One strategy is to place a few in service prior to the retrofit itself and monitor the performance.
Chemicals-Often, a building will try to "cover up" restroom odors with the use of expensive chemicals. These chemicals are purchased to cover up the odors from fixtures that are not evacuated routinely. Guaranteed activation through the use of electronically controlled fixtures eliminates the need for chemicals and saves money. Electronically controlled flushometers on urinals and closets operate automatically by sensing the presence or absence of a user. Once a user's presence is detected in range of the unit, usually a timing sequence is started, that "counts" for a period of time to assure the device that there is a "real" user in range. When the user leaves and is no longer in range of the sensor, the unit activates its flushing cycle, all automatically. It then "readies" itself for the next operation.
Waste Pipe Buildup-Mineral buildup can develop in the urinal and waste pipe over time if the unit is not activated periodically. For schools and universities, this is an important consideration since there are longer-than-normal periods during vacations and breaks when the fixtures see no usage whatsoever. Some models of electronic flushometers have what is known as a "sentinel" flush, which ensures that a urinal fixture is evacuated at least once every 24 hours. This helps reduce the need for periodic rodding of the waste pipes, and saves the costs of labor.
Manual Handles-In some environments, people seem to "test" the durability of the flushometer by kicking it. A handle is especially vulnerable to such abuse. Over a period of time this causes premature handle failure and leaks. This results in costly repairs. The electronic flushometer has no handle; thus, all handle-related problems or repairs are eliminated. Besides, the handle is the location that people activate a flushometer by "touch", and is where bacteria is deposited and harbored. Bacteria deposited by touch are eliminated, assuring improved hygiene.
Installation Expenses-With a battery-operated flushometer, there is no need for an electrical hookup expense. While in some cases, hardwire electronics will be selected, the battery option offers a convenient and cost-effective way to retrofit to the convenience of electronics. In fact, a manual flushometer can be modified into an electronic, battery-operated unit in about ten minutes, without the need to employ an electrician.
A.D.A. Compliance-Electronic fixtures assure that A.D.A. requirements are met. For example, one of the A.D.A. requirements - that five pounds of force activate the flushometer - is automatically met by the use of an electronic fixture, since it involves "no hands" or zero pounds of force.