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Low-Flow Urinals Conserve Water

June 22, 2015

Reduce your demand by hundreds of gallons.

Let’s talk about a dirty problem – how much water your urinals are wasting.

These staples of men’s restrooms use an average of 1 to 3 gallons to flush, according to the EPA. Working a five-day week and using the facilities three times a day, a single employee could flush a urinal 780 times a year. Multiply that volume by the number of male workers and you can see why urinals should be the target of your next project.

Retrofit your urinals with waterless or high-efficiency models. You can go as far as a full fixture replacement or simply upgrade the values with flushometers. Any option that puts your urinals at less than 1 gallon per flush will yield immediate savings.

How Low Can You Go?
While the federal standard for new urinals is 1.0 gallons per flush (gpf), some legacy models that use 3-5 gallons might remain in use, notes the EPA.

“Urinals are designed to last for long periods of time. Usually the only part that breaks down is the flush valve, and this can be fixed relatively easily,” notes Klaus Reichardt, founder and managing partner of the manufacturer Waterless Co. “Because urinals can function for many years and rarely go out of style, facilities seldom need to replace them unless a restroom is being remodeled.”

A number of high-efficiency urinals have entered the market in recent years. A 0.5 gpf model will cut your water use by 50% if you’re switching from a 1-gallon version. For additional conservation, there are 0.25 and 0.125 gpf versions, which use a mere pint to flush. That’s a savings of over 87% from one gallon or the difference between 780 gallons a year vs. 32.5 gallons.

Look for the WaterSense label, which requires that a model use no more than 0.5 gpf – there are over 360 options to choose from between fixtures, values, and systems.

If water savings aren’t enough to motivate you, state or city regulations may require you to switch, says Tracy Quinn, policy analyst and registered civilian engineer with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

For example, Los Angeles has mandated that urinals consume no more than 0.125 gpf since 2010 and there’s a proposal for New York City that stipulates that urinals must use no more than 0.2 gallons. After January 2016, urinals are required to flush with one pint or less under Title 24 in California. With the number of droughts increases in the U.S., more municipalities may codify water efficiency at the point of sale.

Eliminate Water Use Completely
If you want to jettison flushing altogether, switch to a waterless urinal. These units have the same look and footprint as a traditional model but do not use any water, explains Reichardt.

“Prior to a retrofit project, it is imperative that facilities ensure that the slope of the drain line is ample, route drain lines to avoid problems such as sediment build up, and check that drain heights are appropriate to the brand purchased,” notes a 2008 report prepared for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs by the consulting firm Industrial Economics.

Maintenance isn’t significantly different but you will need to pay attention to sealing liquids and cartridges, notes Reichardt. He also recommends that you ask these questions of your manufacturer so you fully understand how to maintain your waterless urinal:

  • What chemicals and cleaning tools are required?
  • How long do the trap and cylinder last? How much do replacement parts cost?
  • Does the urinal require a sealant to help seal the trap and prevent sewer odors? If so, what kind is recommended, how much should be used, and what does it cost?

Some models may need fresh water poured down occasionally, Reichardt adds. If this is the case with your unit, make sure to verify how often this should occur to maintain performance.

Measure for Success
Whichever urinal option you use to reduce water consumption, it’s vital to establish your usage levels prior to the retrofit. This baseline allows you to verify how much efficiency has improved after switching to new gpf rate.

“You can use a whole building analysis of water usage by examining your utility bills for changes. A program like ENERGY STAR’s Porfolio Manager also includes a focus on water conservation,” notes Quinn.

However, it can be hard to attribute a usage decrease to an improvement if there are concurrent changes in occupant behavior or other conservation initiatives, she cautions. While submeters and data loggers have a higher initial cost, they can empower you to go dive deeper into your water habits.

Jennie Morton [email protected] is senior editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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