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Cleaning by design

14 November 2014

How to avoid design mistakes in washrooms

In an age when washrooms matter not only in terms of design but also energy efficiency, FMs need to be aware of the potential pitfalls they can make when designing and cleaning their washrooms. When equipping  the washrooms of a public facility, many FMs make the mistake of assuming all washrooms to be the same, says Charlotte Branwhite, SCA product and segment manager.

“They consider the washroom as a cost rather than an investment – so they treat consumables such as soap, hand towels and toilet tissue as low priority purchases. Many FMs opt for the cheapest products they can find, forgetting that ‘cost’ and ‘cost-in-use’ are two entirely different things.”

Branwhite says FMs who equip their washrooms with cheap C-fold towel dispensers, bulk-fill soap systems and conventional toilet rolls, for instance, may quickly regret their decision as these types of items all come with hidden costs. “For example it is quite difficult to take just one paper towel out of a C-fold dispenser since the towels tend to come out in clumps. This over-consumption will send costs through the roof – and since many users simply discard any unwanted towels on the washroom units, cleaners will have to spend extra time clearing these away. And as every FM knows, time is money.”

Similarly, bulk-fill liquid soap systems that have to be manually topped up by the cleaner will create messy spills and also be time-consuming to refill, she adds. And loose conventional toilet rolls can easily be pilfered or left on the washroom floor to become wet and dirty.

The solution, according to Branwhite, is that FMs should think about what their washroom actually has to deliver in broader terms rather than treating it as a basic, functional facility. They should then install a cohesive washroom system that matches the facility’s needs. “For example a range of smart, design-led dispensers would be appropriate for a high-end office in a prestigious law firm, whereas more functional high-capacity dispensers would work well in a busy institution. Systems should be designed to reduce consumption and maintenance since this will reduce the overall running costs of the facility. And lower product consumption will also reduce the amount of waste to landfill, packaging and deliveries required which will bring sustainability benefits as well as cost benefits.”

Many hand towel dispensers these days are purpose-designed to give out only one towel at a time, which means users have to make a concerted effort to take out more than one towel, Branwhite says. “In many cases they won’t bother to do so – particularly if the towel they are given is large enough and sufficiently absorbent to dry their hands effectively. So a higher quality product in a smart dispenser can actually work out cheaper than low-cost towels that are dispensed in clumps.”

Similarly, many liquid and foam soap dispensers are now available in sealed cartridges that snap into place inside the dispenser in a matter of seconds. This saves maintenance costs and reduces the risk of soap being spills on the units, and a dispenser that has been designed to give out measured shots of soap will naturally reduce consumption. And some toilet tissue systems also give out measured lengths of toilet paper to prevent over-consumption.

How can washrooms be better designed to assist FMs? Is there a case for FMs getting more involved in washroom design? “Again the purpose and level of usage of the washroom is all-important,” says Branwhite. “If you’re equipping a very busy washroom you’ll want people to be able to move in and out quickly and there should be no ‘bottlenecks’. You’ll also want the washroom to be quick and easy to maintain so that the cleaner will not interrupt the flow of traffic. Systems should be reliable since breakdowns will lead to the washrooms being out of action. Surfaces and taps should be easy to clean and surfaces should be smooth and curved where possible, since dirt can easily collect in corners and crevices.”

Ruth O’Donoghue, head of corporate communications at PHS Group says that for employees or visitors, creating a clean and pleasant washroom environment is of great importance, and is often overlooked in a complacent workplace. “Top washroom facilities can impress visitors, making people feel comfortable and looked after. However the organisational pressure to reduce costs is an ever- increasing concern for many FMs – but this shouldn’t be at the expense of facilities users’ comfort – that would be a top mistake.”

The solution, according to O’Donoghue is that products and services should exist to be effective, hygienically clean, energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing. “PHS for example has a unique range of water and energy saving products that support FMs with the challenge of having the best look and feel for customers, with the knowledge they’re also saving water, energy and money.”

O’Donoghue ponders whether there's a case for FMs getting more involved in washroom design. “Who understands the needs of the washroom patron better than the FM custodian? There’s indeed an element of knowledge shaping overall design. However there’s an argument that it’s less  about how the washroom looks, and more about the experience of the patron.  A clean, hygienic washroom is more important that a modern day look, therefore FM service providers need to forward thinking in meeting the needs of the FM by creating innovative solutions.”

With respect to sustainability within washrooms, technical director at washroom management specialists Cistermiser, David Meacock, says certain control systems can effectively manage all aspects of the washroom as well as saving water and energy in busy commercial and public buildings with high visitor numbers. “In buildings where water management systems are lacking, the consequences, environmental and financial, can be substantial. The average domestic volumetric cost of water is roughly £2.33 per m3; commercial rates vary but this can still translate into a large annual water bill in busy buildings where the washrooms are in constant daily use and effective systems to prevent water wastage are missing.”

Thankfully, says Meacock, there are solutions in the form of holistic systems that offer a complete control for the facility’s management in one neat – and low-cost – package. “Such systems will run all aspects of the washrooms’ water and energy output – from lights and ventilation to urinal/WC flushing – while maintaining the highest standards in hygiene through ‘no-touch’ technology (ie infrared sensor control taps and flushing devices that ensure contact between user and washroom is minimised).”

The use of automatic flushing devices ensures the highest level of hygiene while minimising mains water use, Meacock explains. For example, they automatically flush each urinal after use – a particular benefit in washrooms that are in frequent use. They also ensure water isn't wasted through defective outlets, such as leaking taps, or failed flush valves, or through acts of vandalism.

“When a user enters the washroom the system’s infrared sensors detect their presence and then automatically enable the lights, ventilation and water supply.  They’re smart systems too - for example, some are fitted with an ambient light sensor which only activates the lights when natural light reaches a specified low level, again to lower energy usage.”

Furthermore, if the washroom is disused for some time (say about 12 hours overnight), hygiene and cleanliness standards are upheld by automatic valves that open for 30 minutes to fill the cistern and rinse the urinals and pipework. “All this may sound quite complex but in reality the systems are easily-installed, relatively inexpensive, low maintenance, highly-effective packages that can be specified within a new facility, but also fitted retrospectively into an existing washroom.”

The benefits of these systems in large, bustling buildings, with several washrooms on each floor, can be a major selling point, Meacock says.


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