Madonna requires a new toilet seat for her exclusive use in every dressing room she uses, plus she sends a staffer wearing a mask and gloves to thoroughly scrub it. Jerry Seinfeld threw out his belt when it touched the side of a urinal and trashed a shoelace when it touched the ground in a public bathroom. He also made the news for refusing to hug other celebrities on the red carpet, because of an aversion to germs. Megan Fox says that eating in restaurants and using public restrooms are very difficult for her. She brings toilet seat covers with her wherever she goes.
Celebrities have the money, staff and time to take their hygiene issues to an eccentric level. For the rest of us, we might have to rely on some of the efforts that plumbing fixture manufacturers have made to reduce germs in our bathrooms and kitchens.
Are Seinfeld, Madonna and Megan Fox paranoid? Maybe their fears are totally reasonable. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other credible organizations publish reports about germs in public bathrooms, health care facilities and restaurant kitchens, and about our poor handwashing procedures. Only 20 percent of foodservice people are washing properly before preparing food or after handling raw chicken. A huge percentage come to work when they are sick because they don’t get paid if they don’t.
Even health care professionals, who are washing their hands all day, are still washing them only half as often as they should. That’s why states have been bringing in legislation to correct some of these problems. Some 80 percent of communicable diseases are spread by touch. Although we might think most of the germs in the bathroom are around the toilets or urinals, studies show that the sink and faucet are where most of the bad news bacteria is growing.
Electronic faucets for better health
These were some of the concerns at Froedtert Hospital complex in Wisconsin when it decided to add touch-free faucets outside patient rooms. Monitored handwashing before and after entering patient rooms is now required for all caregivers.
Froedtert rejected battery-powered faucets, thinking they might not be reliable enough. But hardwired faucets would cost more and take longer. The health network’s three hospitals have 784 beds and nearly 40,000 annual admissions. In the end, it selected HyTronic units from Chicago Faucets because they were hands-free, battery-free and hardwire-free, so the retrofit would be fast and relatively inexpensive. The unit’s SSPS system uses water flow to spin a little turbine, creating and storing power for the faucet’s operation. Even after periods of non-use the unit activates the faucet and generates power. The hospital says it saved about $35,000 in electrical wiring costs.
About five years ago, concerns were raised that electronic faucets might be more vulnerable to Legionella-causing bacterial growth, and manufacturers began looking into strainers, check valves, flow levels and flushing features.
“We addressed those concerns, analyzed our HyTronic series and did a few rounds of testing in a Pittsburgh laboratory,” says Richard Nortier, Chicago Faucets director of marketing. “It’s always a concern and the CDC has published good papers on it.”
A June 2017 CDC report on the ASHRAE site suggested that up to 17 percent of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the 21 jurisdictions under review were potentially associated with the health care facility itself. That’s nearly a fifth of the 725,000 cases contracted in the U.S. each year by people while they are in hospitals.
As for handwashing behavior, Chicago Faucets now has another electronic faucet product called the EFS system that delivers water and soap in a pre-defined sequence. The idea is to adjust the settings for a properly-timed three-step process, that includes a soap-scrubbing period, and supports the CDC hand-washing recommendations to help reduce hospital-acquired infections.
Hybrid capacitor system at muse school
Kohler also offers a workaround for the hardwire, battery quandary. It’s Hybrid Energy System uses a low-draw sensor, integrated capacitor and long-life lithium cell that it says provides maintenance-free power for up to 30 years. “This design requires very little energy for the process, and we get about 875,000 cycles,” says Orkun Onur, senior product manager. “Touchless technology is the ultimate for good hygiene, and you save water because it shuts off when you remove your hands.”
The solar-powered, zero waste Muse School in California is dedicated to healthy living, a healthy planet and a philosophy of environmental harmony in its teachings. It was founded by actor Suzy Amis Cameron, her sister Rebecca Amis, and her director-producer husband, James Cameron. He is known for “Avatar,” “Titanic” and the “Terminator” movies.
The school has installed Sculpted Touchless faucets that use the Kohler hybrid energy system. It also selected the company’s waterless urinals and low flow toilets. Everything they do there is designed to minimize water and energy, and of course, rely on cleanly generated energy from their solar panel array.
Starbucks & 7-Eleven care about mopping up
Saving water is one way that the Advocate from Bradley reduces operating costs for businesses. It combines sink, faucet, soap and hand drying into one unit in a way that minimizes water on the floor, which is a customer safety hazard and potential liability issue. It also saves paper towels and staffing costs. According to Will Haas, product manager, in some operations, like Starbucks coffee shops, or 7-Eleven convenience stores, mopping the bathroom floor a couple of times each day rather than five or six times is a significant reduction.
7-Eleven is the world’s largest convenience store chain and has more than 11,000 locations in North America. In the Denver area, some of the stores have been testing the Advocate. The franchise owner, Dave Carpenter is happy with the result. He was seeking a solution that is low maintenance, low cost, safe, easier for people with mobility issues, and visually appealing. The system is ADA-compliant, has a basin made of recycled material, an efficient hand dryer, and the faucet reduces water use by 24 percent.
“We’re at .38 GPM and the code is .5 GPM,” Haas says. “If your bathroom is getting a few hundred visitors each day you might save 6,000 gallons, which could be worth more than $500. You might also save a few thousand dollars on paper towels. And it keeps the water off the floor and walls. You add the reduced maintenance, and in most of these cases it’s worth doing a retrofit immediately. The ROI can be one or two years.”
Urinal upgrade at Caltech
The California Institute of Technology replaced its urinals with electronic models and saved a huge amount of money and water, but not really because they were electronic. “You can even argue that electronic flushing with urinals and toilets increases water use,” says Michael Benisek of Mainline Sales Inc., a Zurn manufacturer’s rep. In this case, the savings were created by a significant reduction in flush volume.
“They were very old 3-gallon units, maybe even the original urinals, that had never been updated. We replaced them with a Zurn one-pint flush system.” The project involved 152 urinals and saves the school $42,393 each year. It also saves California more than 6 million gallons of precious water.
Benisek says electronic faucets save water, but it might not be very much, depending on what you are comparing. He points out that they definitely save water wherever there is an issue with users leaving the faucet running or dribbling. “Some people don’t turn it off properly because they don’t want to touch it for too long.”
High-tech and low-tech
He points out that push-button slow-close faucets achieve the same end goal without the electronics. He tells the story of Disneyland and other very large operations, in which the nightly routine is to pressure wash the entire bathroom from top to bottom, sterilizing it with very hot water. “In that case the water was getting into the electronics and they were failing, so Disney went back to the slow-close valves.”
His other low-tech story is about hockey arenas. It seems the mostly male NHL fans in Las Vegas and Winnipeg have made it known to team management that they prefer the old-fashioned trough urinals. By the end of the second period, many of them have downed three or four beers and don’t want to line up to relieve themselves. The beginning of the third period is usually a key part in the game, and they don’t want to miss it. The troughs are waterless and Benisek mentions the importance of cleaning them right after the event. Yes, there’s definitely an ick-factor connected to that concept.
Disneyland and hockey fans notwithstanding, most industry observers see continuing growth for electronic bathrooms. Chicago Faucets and some of the other manufacturers now provide facility managers with the ability to monitor all their electronic fixtures online, using a desktop or other kind of device. They can see what’s functioning, what’s leaking, what needs a battery and so on.
High-tech fixtures are also making inroads into residential markets. Beautifully designed one-touch and no-touch kitchen faucets are popular, and the next wave seems to be making everything in the kitchen and bathroom part of the smart home movement. You can ask Alexa for a 7-ounce glass of water, or music in the shower, or to power up the LED lights around your toilet at night. Feel like a celebrity!
Really, it’s about our health
In the big bad world of public facilities, perceived water savings are driving some of the growth for electronics, but industry people think their popularity continues to increase, mostly, for some of the other advantages. Benisek says, “In high volume operations like airports, electronic faucets are good for getting people in and out quickly because they don’t lend themselves to hanging around and shaving, or cleaning things. One important effect is that electronic faucets promote more handwashing because it’s just faster and more convenient.”
He stresses the hygiene aspect: “In most small foodservice operations, they don’t have enough sinks for people to wash up, so if you can make it fast and easy, using a touchless electronic faucet, you get more handwashing and less bacteria, less salmonella and all the rest. It’s really about health. I mean this year and every year it seems like flu season is getting worse. Colds, flu, sickness — those are the best reasons for electronic fixtures.”
Gwyneth Paltrow sends an assistant to scrub any shower stall that she might use and refuses to touch toilet paper unless it comes in a sealed package.
We should tell these people about some of the advances of modern plumbing fixtures. Or maybe not. It probably wouldn’t help.