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EXCLUSIVE: Royal Flush at RBS Premier Place in London

02 December 2015

RBS Premier Place, located at 2½ Devonshire Square in Bishopsgate, recently replaced its toilets during a trial period that has been widely acknowledged as a success

It may not be the sexiest subject matter in FM, but there's no doubt it’s one of the most essential. In fact, toilets are one of the few items in a building that won’t be phased out by technology – at least not in the foreseeable future. With that in mind, the more efficiently they work, and the less resources they consume, the better for all concerned.

RBS Premier Place, located at 2½ Devonshire Square in Bishopsgate, recently replaced its toilets during a trial period that has been widely acknowledged as a success. The company it selected was Propelair, the designer and manufacturer of a new flush system, based in Basildon, whose technology has reduced the amount of water used for toilet flushing at Premier Place by 81%.

Back in November 2014, RBS selected Propelair to participate in the RBS Innovation Gateway after 26 finalists pitched their ‘green’ inventions to a panel of judges, in a bid to test their new products in selected RBS buildings and branches in the UK.

The RBS Innovation Gateway has three aims: help RBS save more energy, water and waste; nurture new, brilliant ideas; and help local innovators and SMEs accelerate their ideas to market.

Marcela Navarro from RBS, who is leading the Innovation Gateway initiative, said at the time: “Everyone connected with the RBS Innovation Gateway has been incredibly impressed by the innovators’ creativity and dedication to resource efficiency. The quality and the range of ideas have been phenomenal and Propelair stands out from a great group of brilliant innovators.”

Garry Moore, founder and CEO of Propelair, responded with: “The RBS Innovation Gateway proves the effectiveness of our technology and is an important step in our advance into new markets. Installing Propelair in RBS facilities is a big opportunity for us and provides a chance of further projects with the bank.”

The trial commenced in February this year when Propelair founder and CEO Garry Moore met with RBS’s property services to plan an on-site washroom survey to scope out the work, and to install flush counters and water meters to establish accurate water usage and flush frequency patterns of the existing toilets and users.

It was decided the first trial would take place on the eighth floor of RBS Premier Place. Moore met the property FM, George White, on 13 February, and showed him a sample of the water meter / flush counter so he could acquaint himself with the equipment he’d use to measure water use and flush frequency.

With assistance from Carillion, which is responsible for the external maintenance of RBS Premier Place, and which needed to collate information in preparation for the installation, the process began in March. A Carillion representative was shown how to remove the washroom panels and take accurate readings on the water meters and flush counters on the existing toilets so the water used by the existing toilets could be recorded and the savings established once Propelair was installed.

It’s all been a success, says George White, who adds that working with Propelair meant everything ran smoothly. “There was great communication from the client, punctuated by a tidy work ethic. I didn’t have staff complaints about people leaving rubbish around once they'd completed.”

White says he speaks regularly to Garry Moore and his team with their updates. “Garry’s communication skills – regardless of issues we had such as parking and deliveries – were excellent. As soon as we contacted him, he resolved any issues.”

The challenges weren’t always straightforward. Access control was the main one – getting all the equipment upstairs with the installation. And because the work took place out-of-hours, security became an important consideration. Nonetheless, White points out that these were the only teething issues, along with educating the contracted cleaners from ISS how to clean the toilets.

“We had one or two complaints in the beginning,” White says. “People said the toilets were ‘tight’ in the cubicles, and some weren’t happy touching the toilet seats, either. But after we explained, via a comms e-mail out to all the staff in the building, that the surfaces are all hygienically treated and that the new toilets offer a number of hygiene benefits, they’ve now gone on to complain about the lifts. There’s always something – you can’t keep everyone happy.”

The Propelair system does not require any routine maintenance, and the hinge area has been redesigned to make it more robust and easier to clean than a conventional toilet. In terms of how hygiene has improved with the Propelair toilets, sixty times more waterborne contaminants are removed with each flush, and germs are stopped from getting airborne, where they currently infect users.

White points out that maintenance hasn’t essentially changed from the previous toilets – the only difference is that a different type of trigger spray is being used to clean the seal of the toilet. “The cleaners have been shown how to clean the seal, which allows the lid to form an air tight seal when closed. Now, when you look at the back of the toilet there are no urine stains owing to the new high ridge design at the back.”

A principal aim of installing the new toilets was to be environmentally friendly, and it appears this goal has certainly been attained by Propelair. “Propelair uses roughly between 1.2 and 1.4 litres of water compared to a ‘normal’ flush type toilet which uses between 7 and 9 litres,” White points out. “The savings are there – not just for RBS but for the environment as well. That means we’ll soon extend the trial to the sixth floor of the building.”

White was particularly impressed with the ease of the installation. “You wouldn’t even have known the work was being done, and these days that’s something quite special,” he says. “External contractors can sometimes cause all sorts of disruptions. Not so with Propelair.”

So what’s so special about Propelair’s flush system? According to a user manual obtained by PFM, pressing the flush button triggers a three-stage cycle. In the first stage, water washes the pan; air then ‘flushes’ the water away, after which water refills the pan.

Propelair maintains that using the toilet is ‘simplicity itself’. The lid is closed after use and the flush button pressed. The lid is fitted with a sensor to ensure the toilet only flushes when the lid is closed.

There are also benefits with respect to the cleaning of the pan. Smooth contours, rimless design and the side-hinges on the lid and seat result in flushes of unparalleled hygiene. Easy removal of the lid and seat make cleaning simple and effective says Propelair.

When it comes to actually cleaning the pan, Propelair advises using usual toilet cleaning products. Disinfectant spray or wipes can be used on the top surface of the pan and around the hinges if required.

The idea behind Propelair's toilets occurred to founder and CEO Gary Moore back in the 1990s. He reflected that toilets use such a huge amount of clean water, an increasingly valuable commodity in Britain and elsewhere for carrying out such a simple, but essential task.

The energy needed to produce that water only adds to the burden on Britain’s depleting fossil fuel reserves and balance of payments, and existing water-saving toilets simply do not work very well. So Moore came up with the idea of using displaced air instead of water to give a powerful and hygienic flush requiring 84% less water. The rest is now history as the system has gone into production and now promises to halve the water bills at RBS.

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