Our Friend the Flushometer
To hear most people talking these days, you'd think the whole eco-friendly plumbing thing is a modern idea. The fact is concern for energy- and water savings is as old as the concept of paying for water, electricity and other services. When you make people pay for something they are going to find ways to lighten their fiscal burden.
Back in the early 20th Century, the world was going through something of a manufacturing boom. New technologies were appearing on the scene back then almost as quickly as they show up today. Back in 1906, for example, some of the new technologies coming to market included developments in medicine, radio, motion pictures and, in plumbing, the flushometer was invented and introduced by a Missourian named William E. Sloan.
Sloan's early flushometers, like today's units, used pressurized water directly from the supply to power wastes down the line. Using pressurized water from the supply line provided faster recycling times between flushes, and the high-pressure water delivery also reduced the amount of water used over the long term when compared to a traditional tanked toilet.
The absence of a tank also means a flushometer-equipped toilet will be more compact than a tanked unit and, in the commercial environment where flushometers are commonly found, the lack of a porcelain tank filled with water removes a potential-and attractive-target for vandalism as well.
Flushometers--or "flush valves," as some manufacturers refer to their products--are available in two very basic types. But whether they use a piston valve or a diaphragm valve the functionality are basically the same-activating the mechanism results in a pressure change between the units' internal chambers, thus releasing water through the valve.
Today's flushometers are available with a host of activation methods, the earliest being the manual, hand-operated single-flush type, which is offered by most leading manufacturers, even today. American Standard's Manual FloWise Urinal Flush Valve, for example, boasts 0.5 gpf operation and a self-cleaning brass piston with an integral wiper spring to reduce both clogging and maintenance requirements.
Also available are infrared sensor-operated flushometers. These use either hard-wired or battery operated sensors to activate the flush sequence when the user moves away, for example. Chances are you were surprised by one of these the first time you ran into one of this type.
Again, most leading manufacturers today offer sensor-operated flushometers, but Zurn's Hydro Vantage Flush Valves go one step farther by creating their own energy every flush thanks to an onboard hydro generator system. Flushing the unit creates a water flow that passes over an internal turbine that spins, creating electrical energy which is then stored in a rechargeable cell. The company said this stored energy will then serve the electrical needs of the device, eliminating the need for external electrical power or battery replacement for more than 10 years under normal operating conditions. The HydroVantage flush valve also features Environmental Trending and 4.0 Sensor Technology, the company said, which continuously monitors ambient light levels and traffic patterns within the restroom to minimize "false flushing."
Of course, as consumers demand and manufacturers develop ever more water- and energy-friendly flushometers, it's a natural that refinements will continue and retrofit kits aimed at upgrading existing units to modern technology would come to market. Take, for example, the sensor-operated flushometer retrofit kits from Sloan. The company offers numerous retrofit kits, including the solar-powered Sloan SOLIS and the battery-powered Sloan ECOS and G2 Optima Plus.
Solar-powered Sloan SOLIS retrofit kits offer either single-flush or dual-flush capability, and its solar panel harnesses energy from any available natural or artificial light source, including occupancy-controlled lighting, to power the sensor. The dual-flush Sloan SOLIS model automatically selects a regular or reduced flush volume based on how long the visitor remains in sensor range, the company said. Override buttons enable visitors to manually flush at their discretion. The dual-flush Sloan ECOS works in much the same way as the Sloan SOLIS; the only operational difference is that it runs on batteries.
Delany Products has likewise introduced dual-flush retrofit kits for its existing installed base of its Flushboy and Rex lines of flushometer valves. Once installed, users just need to move the lever up for liquid waste and down for solids. The company said any units ordered with the SmartHandle or the retrofit kit could reduce used water volume by as much as 30 percent. The company also offers an extensive line of manual and and electronic flushometer valves as well.
Continued development of standby products such as the tried-and-true flushometer are certain to continue moving forward. As times change, of course, so do the needs of the consumer and today's regulatory environment. This heightened eco-awarenesss from consumers, coupled with ever-more stringent water use regulations are sure to continue driving flushometer refinement to new heights of efficiency.