How long has it been since you updated your restroom? Often neglected during office renovations, an outdated restroom speaks volumes about the organization that owns it.
“An outdated restroom looks worst on the building owner, especially in multi-tenant buildings,” notes Jacob Arlein, LEED AP and Partner at stok, a vertically integrated real estate services firm. “It shows the tenant that the building owner doesn’t necessarily think about these things.”
Don’t let your restrooms reflect poorly on your organization. Ensure a successful renovation project with these five tips.
1) Embrace Timeless Aesthetics
Classic design ages well and will still look welcoming and modern years down the line. Trendy colors can backfire when the fad fades, notes Robin Menge, Vice President of Commercial Interiors at GTM Architects. Pair the restroom’s general design themes with a similar look for corridors or common areas, as a radically different appearance just for the restrooms can be jarring.
“We stick with more neutral colors unless it’s a product that’s easily changeable like paint,” Menge says. “The floor tile or countertop material are typically neutral, and we also try to stick with neutral colors on toilet partitions. Most of the time we try to do stainless steel partitions because they’re timeless and also hold up very well.”
When the application calls for it, incorporating residential- and hospitality-inspired design – for example, individual mirrors above sinks with wall sconces between them rather than one continuous mirror – gives the space a warm, welcoming feeling.
Texture, too, can add an important aesthetic element to a renovated restroom. GTM frequently uses glass tile on vertical surfaces, especially the wall behind the toilets, to add visual interest to the walls while utilizing a durable, easily cleaned material. Dave Carpenter, President and CEO of JD Carpenter Companies and owner of several 7-11 franchises, used this strategy when renovating the restrooms at his stores. They resemble sleek airport restrooms with full-tile walls, stainless steel partitions and all-in-one Bradley Advocate sinks where the faucet, soap dispenser, and dryer are built into one continuous counter.
“It makes for a great impression when you’re trying to offer fresh food,” Carpenter notes. “If you don’t have clean bathrooms, people aren’t going to trust you. It’s also a win for the employees because they’re easier to maintain.”
2) Investigate Technology
If you haven’t updated your restroom in a while, it’s likely that water-efficient technology has made considerable strides since the last time you replaced restroom fixtures. Every time your guests use a non-low-flow fixture, they’re flushing your money down the toilet, says Arlein.
“Sometimes you can save more money by saving water than you can by saving energy, especially in jurisdictions like San Francisco,” Arlein explains. “Some buildings still have old toilets that have been there for 20 or 30 years and have been neglected. That’s a lot of money.”
You don’t necessarily need a high-end replacement for your old fixtures, Arlein says: “I tend to recommend the simpler fixtures – I like the single-flush low-flow fixtures more than dual-flush ones because I think you can use the lower low and have it work in all scenarios. There are a couple toilets on the market with a 1.0 or 1.1 gallon per flush rate that work great. Low-flow fixtures work better than the old high-flow fixtures in terms of flushability, in my opinion.”
Touchless fixtures are growing in popularity, as many visitors prefer to touch as little in the restroom as possible, Arlein observes. However, all touchless fixtures are not created equal. Cory Kovach, Strategic Account Manager for Moen Commercial, recommends looking beyond the infrared sensor that detects a user’s presence and examining features that meet your other needs.
“The life expectancy of a battery-powered product varies depending on the manufacturer, so it’s important to research and determine which ones last the longest,” Kovach says. “Another feature to look into is sentinel flow, which emits a quick burst of water every 24 hours to make sure the traps are continually primed and eliminate the chance of the water harboring legionella.”
If your touchless toilet includes a solar-rechargeable flush valve, make sure the solar panel can still recharge if you have occupancy sensors turning the lights off when the restroom is unoccupied, says Ben Fisher, Senior Segment Manager – Commercial, Hospitality, Architect and Design for Moen Commercial. For touchless faucets and soap dispensers, ensure that the maintenance staff has access to the soap refills under the counter. Dryers or towel dispensers that aren’t located over a counter may lead users to drip onto the floor as they approach with wet hands, which can damage wall or floor finishes.
3) Ensure Cleanliness
Maintaining a clean space is vital, so make sure that your newly renovated restroom is both easy for your staff to clean and encourages better hygiene for guests. One easy trick that can make a big impact is simply ensuring that the trash can is big enough, Menge suggests.
“One of the biggest things you see in restrooms is overflowing waste baskets, which people associate with not being clean,” Menge adds. “Grout is another issue that lends itself to the perception of a restroom being unclean – make sure you select the right type and colors of grout for minimal staining and discoloration.”
The materials should be able to handle intense cleanings, Carpenter says. “The biggest problem areas are corners and the joints where the floor tile meets the wall tile. We’re starting to do stainless coping there because it’s hard to keep clean. Think about if you had to clean the space eight times a day, what would you want and how would it hold up? We’ll sometimes go in there and power-wash and steam clean the grout lines to get that deep clean. Always think from the standpoint of how hard it is to take care of that restroom.”
Specifying a solid surface product with an undermounted sink means water drips are easily wiped into the sink, Menge adds. Products like quartz are easily cleaned and have a long life, but carry a high upfront cost.
4) Pick Tough Products
If your portfolio includes schools or similar facilities where building occupants are rough on fixtures, vandal resistance is likely at top of mind. Look for products with tough brass tabs and waterways and Torx-head screws that prevent tampering, Kovach recommends.
“Another feature to resist vandalism is a recessed aerator,” Fisher says. “Sometimes kids like to take that screen out. If you recess it, they can’t get to it.”
“Most schools want to go to electronic products, but durability and vandal resistance are concerns,” Kovach adds. “There are other ways to find water savings without electronics. There are metering faucets that are more durable and still cost-effective for that application.”
5) Take a Holistic View
Make sure to step back and view the planned project as a whole. Consider the restroom experience from all angles, both from the guest’s point of view and your team’s.
“For applications in hospitality environments, the bathroom is one of the main focuses of the guest experience,” explains Fisher. “Hotel guests expect that bathroom to be inspiring and better than what they have in their home. It can really impact their opinion of a hotel.”
In multiple-user restrooms, strategies like using solid walls or partitions rather than the popular metal dividers can both enhance guests’ perceptions of the space and make maintenance easier for the facilities team, Carpenter says.
“Solid walls feel more private for the customer and I also think they’re easier to maintain,” Carpenter explains. “I have them in some stores and when you put tile on them, people don’t scratch on them like they do with dividers – whether they’re painted or stainless, for some reason those get graffitied.”
However you decide to renovate, remember that the space reflects your organization, Carpenter adds: “Don’t underestimate the importance of bathrooms to the consumer and their willingness to come back to you.”
Janelle Penny firstname.lastname@example.org is senior editor of BUILDINGS.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GTM Architects, Bradley and moen