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“When and how often should we be cleaning our restrooms?” “How can I reduce germ transference in restrooms?” These questions have taken on new significance for facilities managers and commercial building owners in the post-pandemic world. Specifiers are helping them get the answers they need with smart plumbing products.
Plumbing is one of the latest categories to become connected. Similar to smart HVAC and smart energy management, the data generated by smart plumbing products is the value driver. Smart plumbing products have the power to significantly reduce costs, improve safety and enhance sustainability in commercial buildings.
Solving Pain Points with Data
COVID-19 has changed how buildings are occupied and designed for the future to accommodate these new patterns of use. The need for increased human hygiene and building cleanliness in airports, schools, retail stores and other public spaces is elevating maintenance requirements as well as costs.
Now, commercial buildings are depending on smart plumbing to solve these pain points and increase customer satisfaction, particularly with restrooms. According to studies, restroom cleanliness has a bottom-line impact:
• 94 percent of adults would avoid a business because of dirty restrooms;
• 46 percent of customer complaints stem from a not-ready restroom.
Smart finish plumbing products such as connected faucets and connected flush valves enable facilities managers to align cleaning schedules with traffic volume, predict maintenance needs and respond faster to unanticipated issues. Smart plumbing products are now being specified for multiple points in water systems within a building, from backflow preventers to grease interceptors to finish plumbing.
How Smart Plumbing Functions in Real Time
Smart plumbing products deliver real-time insights securely to a desktop or mobile dashboard:
• Sensors on the product gather data on water activations, water usage and detect anomalies.
• The data is communicated through a secure connection to cloud data storage.
• Software analyzes the data and delivers real-time insights to the dashboard.
Advanced smart plumbing applications such as Zurn’s plumbSMART can deliver analytics at the device, room and building levels. Facilities managers and building owners can use these insights to anticipate and manage maintenance more efficiently and clean more effectively.
When an unexpected issue arises, they become aware of it more quickly and respond with the right solution because they understand the problem sooner. By selecting smart products from the same supplier, specifiers can create an additional benefit for their customers: single-system management of multiple smart plumbing products with the building.
Smart Plumbing Essentials
Some of the first smart plumbing products are backflow preventers, grease interceptors, and restroom faucets and flush valves. By selecting these smart rough and finish plumbing solutions, plumbing engineers and other specifiers enable their customers to leverage water- and energy-saving opportunities and become more data-driven in building operations.
1. Smart backflow preventers. A popular first step into smart plumbing for specifiers is recommending smart backflow preventers to give their customers more data and control over this essential part of the building water systems. The original purpose of backflow preventers — to protect the water supply against backsiphonage and backpressure of contaminated water into the system — is still in force.
The new smart features in Zurn Wilkins backflows add remote monitoring and real-time alerts when water pressure falls outside of set parameters or when discharge events surpass customized tolerances. Remote monitoring enables facilities managers and building owners to know that a discharge event is happening and take appropriate action sooner, which is important since an 8-inch backflow preventer can discharge 33,000 gallons in one hour.
Smart features of connected backflow preventers include:
• Pressure readings;
• Relief discharge tracking;
• Automatic water shut-off;
• Flow meter;
• Historical analytics.
In addition, with flow monitoring by smart backflow preventers, facilities managers and building owners can better understand water consumption. This tracking enables the deployment of water conservation plans based on historical data and evaluation of use against consumption reduction plans. Specifiers also can gain LEED points for their customers by choosing smart backflow preventers with flow meters.
2. Smart grease interceptors. Innovation in smart grease interceptors enables facilities managers and owners to optimize maintenance and related costs and meet regulatory compliance requirements. Smart sensors in Zurn’s Proceptor monitor interceptor levels and, with the “when to pump notification” and 24/7 system data, facilities managers can pinpoint cleanings, reducing costs by avoiding premature cleanings and avoid expensive fines for noncompliance.
Cleanouts can be scheduled according to actual-use data rather than time-interval guesstimates. Interceptor temperature, sludge amount, total solids and liquid level can be checked remotely to prevent facility downtime.
There’s another benefit, too: Some smart grease protectors also are fabricated from long-lasting and lightweight fiberglass, eliminating the need for staging and use of heavy equipment at installation.
3. Smart restrooms. Finished plumbing in restrooms is like adding an odometer to fixtures. Options such as touchless smart faucets and touchless smart flush valves enable cleaning and maintenance based on actual usage data instead of guessing and set time intervals. This helps owners deliver more restroom uptime and a more hygienic and satisfactory guest experience.
As with all smart plumbing products, the value is in the data. Facilities managers have access to real-time data and analytics on usage, activations, as well as solenoid and battery life. They can see more of their facility, be in more places virtually, and identify areas to concentrate efforts for efficiency, improvement and conservation. With a smart plumbing platform such as plumbSMART, they also receive real-time handwashing scores, which can help promote hand hygiene best practices.
Specification and installation of smart restrooms are changing the way restroom operations are handled. Facilities managers are able to:
• Rapidly detect and proactively respond to restroom issues and abnormalities, so guests enjoy a cleaner, safe and stocked restroom experience.
• Remotely monitor 24/7 to locate and confirm issues before sending staff. When maintenance teams are stretched, this is an important benefit. Remote monitoring can eliminate daily walkaround testing of faucets and flush valves and reduce the need for after-hours and weekend plumbing maintenance, too.
• Predict maintenance tasks through data analytics such as battery life monitoring and alerts. With actual use data, facilities managers can optimize maintenance team productivity, which reduces cost.
• Efficiently manage cleaning schedules to match actual use and traffic volumes. Restroom downtime is reduced, as is the work, cost and waste from unnecessary cleanings.
• By understanding and predicting peak use times and occupancy levels, facilities managers can anticipate guest needs, which can help improve satisfaction scores and increase revenue potential.
The use of data-driven insights comes full-circle when architects can right-size restroom design and the number of fixtures needed based on historical use data collected by smart restroom sensors.
The Latest in Smart Restrooms: Smart Occupancy Lights
One of the most recent innovations in this category is smart restroom stall occupancy lights. The intuitive red and green light system overhead indicates occupancy status, enabling guests to easily spot open stalls, practice social distancing and avoid delays.
Smart occupancy lights collect usage data that can help facilities managers and building owners increase user satisfaction with their restroom experience. As a smart restroom product, they also provide valuable data on peak occupancy, stalls in use and stall turnovers that can be used to enhance decision-making and speed up response times.
Some of the more advanced smart stall occupancy light systems also feature:
• Restroom entrance displays indicating the current number of stalls available;
• Loitering alerts to detect occupied durations that are too long;
• Custom alerts to pinpoint unusual activity such as stall avoidance for fast troubleshooting.
Zurn’s smart occupancy lights allow facilities managers to know more about the restrooms and do more with data that increases efficiency and improves the public restroom experience.
The Smart Plumbing Dashboard
The smart plumbing application is the hub for all smart plumbing devices. Smart plumbing products deliver sensor insights securely in real time to mobile and desktop applications. The most advanced solutions, such as the plumbSMART app, offer sophisticated features enabling facilities managers and building owners to do more to increase safety, savings and sustainability. These features include:
• Customizable maintenance alerts for battery life, run-ons and more;
• Viewing peak traffic and historical usage patterns;
• Viewing water consumption trends by device, room and building to identify opportunities for improvement;
• AI analytics of normal use and deviations to alert teams of anomalies;
• Plumbing ecosystem remote viewing and management through one platform, on mobile and desktop;
• Secure and encrypted wireless and cloud data transmission;
• Data-push and pull application programming interfaces for convenient data exchange and building systems integrations.
When facilities managers use remote 24/7 monitoring of their backflow preventers, grease interceptors and restrooms, they can sense, respond to and anticipate issues with greater efficiency.
Smart plumbing products are here. They’re raising standards for the management of commercial building water systems as well as the experience for building occupants and visitors. By enabling facilities managers and building owners to sense, respond and anticipate using smart plumbing products, specifiers continue to shape the future of smart building management.
Nolan Bello is director of digital solutions at Zurn. He has been involved in IoT projects for the electrical, lighting, HVAC and plumbing industries for 11 years. He welcomes your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.