Touch-Free Washroom Retrofit Benefits

07/24/2012 | By Janelle Penny

Touch-free washroom retrofits can cut down on waste and cross-contamination with automation

Retrofit your washroom with touchless fixtures to increase the likelihood of proper handwashing practices.

Whether you’re trying to decrease natural resource consumption or absenteeism, touchless washroom fixtures may benefit your facility’s efforts.

The rapidly evolving technology eliminates the need for manual fixture operation, lowering the risk of cross-contamination. Meanwhile, the equipment dispenses only as much water, soap, warm air, or paper toweling as needed to cut down on waste.

Fewer Resources and Sick Days
Sustainability initiatives and hygiene considerations are frequent motivators for touchless retrofits. Eliminating the risk of wasteful practices, like faucets left running, can result in considerable savings, says Rick Nortier, product manager for faucets with manufacturer Sloan Valve.

“The CDC recommendations call for a rinse, soap for 15 seconds, a final rinse, and using a paper towel to turn off the manual faucet,” Nortier explains. “The whole time you’re soaping and drying your hands, the water is still running. If you don’t rely on the user to turn the water off, however, you’ll save water and money.”

Many users are loath to touch washroom handles, levers, and buttons for fear of cross-contamination, Nortier adds, which can lead to fewer users washing their hands properly.

“People would prefer to touch as little as possible while in a restroom, such as avoiding cranks on paper towel dispensers,” says Bill Gagnon, vice president of marketing and key accounts for Excel Dryer. “Having a hands-free environment eliminates those concerns and increases usability.”

Features That Fit Your Facility
Look at occupancy patterns to determine the right specifications. In many cases, an infrared sensor detects a visitor’s presence correctly. Some newer products require a hand wave – if the fixture is in a narrow area, wave technology keeps it from activating when people pass by at close range.

Settings like the distance required for dispenser activation can often be changed in-house with no special tools, says Vince Rountree, Sr., marketing manager of the office building segment at Georgia-Pacific Professional.

If sustainability is your main reason for updating the washroom, look for products certified by an independent third-party organization. Besides UL, ASME, and other minimum requirements, ask about certifications like:

  • WaterSense: Indicates water efficiency in irrigation and plumbing products.
  • GreenSpec: Shows inclusion in a database of green products, specifications, and practices.
  • Maximum Performance (MaP): Compliance with a voluntary testing protocol aimed at quantifying how effectively various water-efficient flushometer-bowl combinations evacuate waste.

Some washroom fixtures, such as Sloan’s Basys faucets, can also feed data into your building management system, allowing you to monitor faucet usage. Excel plans to equip its Excelerator dryers with the technology by the end of 2012.

Troubleshoot Post-Install Issues
If the sensor isn’t functioning like it should after the installation, troubleshoot first – the problem might be as simple as a dead battery, which is often the culprit with otherwise low-maintenance fixtures.

“Most batteries are good for a certain number of uses, usually over18 months to two years,” says Bob Benazzi, former senior partner at Jaros Baum & Bolles, a mechanical and electrical consulting and engineering firm. “With a two-year battery life, I would replace all the batteries in the building in the 18th month.”

Sensors in a wired fixture may go out of alignment if a vandal tampers with the electronic eye or hits the fixture so hard that the sensor inside is jostled out of place, Benazzi says.

“Manufacturers have become more sophisticated with sensing systems,” adds Dave Fisher, engineer of research and development at World Dryer. “For example, if something is continually in the sensing zone, our system assumes that someone’s vandalized the unit. It may not operate, but it’s not continually running or switching on and off.”

Touchfree products typically require less maintenance because eliminating the need to touch the product reduces the potential for abuse, Nortier says. If your area has high sediment, check your faucet’s solenoid valve and filter for damage. Continue regular soap and towel checks to ensure an adequate supply.

Otherwise, you may be able to decrease more time-intensive maintenance to annual or semiannual tasks, such as blowing out the hand dryer’s insides with compressed air.

“You can lower energy and operational costs with touchless hand dryers and other products and reduce water use with touchless faucets,” Gagnon says. “All of those costs are eliminated by using high-efficiency touchless fixtures.”


Janelle Penny ( is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


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