Green Bathrooms

July 9, 2009
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus determined that a green restroom rehab would support its newly developed drive toward sustainability.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus is an architectural gem that was designed by Paul Rudolph and built in the 1970s. Few changes have been made to the buildings since they were originally built; by 2007, however, student, faculty, and staff clamor for washroom upgrades could no longer be ignored.

The original fixtures were 1970-vintage, clean, and sleek, but hopelessly outdated. The wall finishes were a specially cast architectural concrete block that was sealed or painted, but, nonetheless, retained the un-cleanable characteristics of concrete block. The floors were small ceramic tiles with grout lines that were difficult to maintain.

The university determined that, since total rehabs were required, it would proceed in a way that supported its newly developed drive toward sustainability, with goals of lowering operating costs and maintenance requirements. The university chose fixtures, systems, and finishes that maximized green potential. Its primary selection criteria:

  1. Preserving a sanitary and easily maintained environment.
  2. Maximizing water-conservation and energy-conservation opportunities.
  3. Using recycled and recyclable materials where possible.

It quickly became apparent that these criteria were sometimes incompatible. For example, for hand-drying purposes, should launderable cloth rolls, efficient electric hand dryers, or recycled paper towels be used? All of these options have benefits and deficits. The university’s design committee discussed all of the possible options until a consensus was reached, and it came up with what it felt was a good mix of fixtures, systems, and finishes for the environment.

The university specified waterless urinals, low-water-usage toilets, and low-flow faucets with automatic on/off controls that are operated by a proximity sensor. The toilets and faucets work well, but there were initial problems with one of the washrooms’ waterless urinals – the waste line was so long that odors could build up if constant maintenance wasn’t pursued.

Low-energy lighting that’s controlled by occupancy sensors was installed as part of the project, along with low-energy, high-speed hand dryers that are controlled by an automatic sensor, and touchless technology for door openers and soap dispensers. The lighting and hand dryers are acclaimed by all, though the soap dispensers had to be disconnected due to the difficulty of accessing them for re-filling.

The university specified scrubbable, mold-resistant, fire-rated ceiling tiles; partitions, countertops, and wall surfaces made of scrubbable, recycled materials; and anti-microbacterial unitary flooring. Two years after the first set of washroom rehabs were completed, all finishes still remain in pristine condition and are loved by users and custodians.

For “opening day” of the new washrooms, the university posted lists of the washrooms’ green features at each site. Feedback from the campus community has been supportive of the effort and has helped spark conversations across the campus about the waterless urinals, touchless technology, and spiffy finishes. This washroom upgrade project has definitely been a worthwhile program that’s recommended for any school with aspirations for sustainability. Not only are they sustainable washrooms now, but operating costs are lower as well.

Lee Nason is director of facilities planning, design, and construction at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in Dartmouth, MA.

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