Buildings Buzz

Locking Technology for the Bathroom

New locking technologies continue to find their way into mainstream applications that we encounter during our daily course of activities. One such application involves the use of shared restrooms typically found in college dorms, medical facilities, and schools.  The fact is, shared restrooms are becoming increasingly popular in new construction as the cost of installing bathrooms can be steep. For plumbing alone, the national average cost for commercial construction ranges from $6 per square foot to more than $8 per square foot, depending on the building type and location and including materials and labor. What it doesn’t include is the cost of framing walls, drywall, fixtures, tiling and/or other finish work. Building one restroom for every two rooms rather than one-to-one, building owners can cut these costs in half and in a multi-story building, those savings can be significant. 

However, there are a couple of challenges associated with this type of restroom setup that may give building managers pause. Ensuring the privacy and safety of those who enter the restroom is foremost among these challenges. This requires the person to make sure all entrances to the restroom are locked upon entering, which leads to the second challenge – ensuring all doors are unlocked when a person exits the restroom to provide free access for all connected rooms.

When a restroom door is locked from the inside, the natural assumption is that it is in use. If it remains locked for a lengthy period of time, an individual from one adjacent room must visit the other room to see if the restroom is in fact still occupied or whether the last user forgot to unlock one of the doors. This can be time-consuming and can also add another layer of privacy concerns, particularly in nursing home or medical facility applications. Worse yet, is if all doors are accidentally locked no one will be able to access the restroom until a key-holder arrives – a poor use of manpower and operating overhead.

These are certainly valid concerns that in some cases could compromise the safety and security of restroom users, and contractors and building owners are right to consider these factors carefully. Thankfully, there are several technology solutions designed specifically to mitigate these concerns, making shared bathrooms more palatable and realistic. Called communicating bathroom systems, these solutions can be used to ensure the safety and privacy of those who use the restroom and eliminate the possibility of accidental lockouts. There are systems designed to work with a variety of electric lock types and are well-suited for retrofitting existing shared bathrooms.

Here’s how they work: When installed in a shared restroom with entrances from two separate rooms, communicating bathroom systems ensure that all doors are unlocked when the bathroom is unoccupied. This allows access through the door leading to either adjacent room. Once someone enters and both doors are closed, they simply press a button to activate the system’s privacy function. This sends a signal that engages the electric locks on each door. An “occupied” indicator located outside of each door is simultaneously illuminated. With many systems, the button or switch inside the bathroom also illuminates to show the user that both doors have been locked. Some systems require the individual to press the privacy button to end the privacy function and exit the restroom. With other systems, simply opening either door unlocks both and turns off the “occupied” indicators.

For added safety, bathroom communication systems include an emergency release button or switch installed outside of each door. In case of a medical or other emergency, either button can be pressed to unlock both doors immediately. Once activated, the emergency release must be pressed again to reset the system. Because the locks used with bathroom communication systems are electric, a fail-safe feature automatically unlocks both doors in the case of power loss. The door locks used for these systems can be electrified locksets, electric strikes with mechanical locksets or maglocks. Some systems are wired into a building’s fire alarm system control panel to ensure doors are automatically unlocked during a fire emergency to ensure free egress in any condition. Additionally, many manufacturers offer the ability to customize the system to fit your particular need, including customization of controller and lock types which can be invaluable for retrofit applications.

When installed as part of a new construction or as retrofit solution, bathroom communication systems offer the ability to overcome the challenges that impede the benefits of shared bathrooms, namely privacy, safety and convenience. For existing shared restrooms, bathroom communication systems can easily be installed to eliminate those same concerns, which many users may already have experienced in the past. In short, by assuring hassle-free delivery of the privacy, safety and convenience promised by shared restrooms, these systems can prove to be a winning formula for all involved.

Bryan Sanderford is national sales manager for Dortronics Systems, Inc., reach him at

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