By now, most people who manage and maintain facilities know that COVID-19 primarily spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets. This knowledge is now being used to design buildings and deploy new technologies that minimize both direct and indirect contact, while managing the flow of people in indoor spaces. According to the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health, transmission in a public restroom is of great concern—for instance, physical distancing as washrooms tend to be tight spaces.
As referenced in a recent seminar at PM EXPO: Revisiting Restroom Hygiene & Planning After COVID-19, Alan Gettelman, vice-president of external affairs at Bobrick, said in order to evolve the design of a restroom, key areas of focus include, traffic planning, physical distancing in small spaces, increased sanitation space, minimizing contact surfaces and heightening the durability of materials.
Traffic planning: This involves minimizing the number of people using the restroom at one time, as well as the contact between people who enter and exit. Solutions include, determining how many people can safely be in the restroom, improving signage as a reminder for physical distancing, signalling the number of stalls in use or the number of people in the restroom and, when possible, creating one door for entry and one door for exit.
Physical distancing in small spaces: One challenge is to maintain six feet of spacing at the lavatory and urinal or in line for toilet compartments, and creating physical barriers. Solutions include increasing the space between operational stalls, minimizing the open space between the stalls, creating a more room-like stall, and creating physical barriers between hand-washing stations.
Minimizing contact surfaces: There are two touch points for patrons entering the restroom: the entry door and the door to the toilet compartment. Entrance solutions include using touch-less automatic door openers on restroom entry doors or removing entry doors completely to eliminate that touchpoint, as well as maintenance and cleaning on a daily basis. Indicators outside the toilet compartment can signal which ones are vacant or in use. Another thought is to use a personal antiviral touch key on restroom entry and toilet compartment doors.
Clement Yoanidis, field sales manager at Bobrick Washroom Equipment Of Canada, added there are about nine to ten touchpoints in the restroom using standard design principles. Some active-use solutions can include, sensor-operated items like flush valves, faucets, toilet seat covers, soap dispensers, hand dryers, paper towel dispensers and automatic tampon and napkin disposal. Solutions to minimizie contact when exiting the restroom include a waste receptacle near the door if it complies with barrier-free codes, an automatic door (wave or motion-sensored), and a sanitation station outside the restroom in a common area with open access on both sides, which is easily accessible to everyone in the office.
Increasing hand-washing solutions: This can be a challenge when managing traffic and usage flow. Some manufacturers have developed free-standing hand-washing stations, which come with their own water and power supply, as well as standalone hand sanitizer stations.
Durability of materials: Research has shown that, depending on the material, a virus can live anywhere from four hours on copper to 72 hours on stainless steel, prompting the need for more aggressive cleaning agents, which can alter the life expectancy of certain materials. “We have already seen that many materials, especially plastics, cannot stand up to the aggressive agents, and are needed to be replaced in eight months time, after rigorous cleaning,” said Yoanidis. Solutions include using materials with an antimicrobial finish, ideally manufactured in the finish as opposed to being a topical application. For more effective cleaning, non-porous surfaces prevent bacteria from accumulating, while fixtures should feature minimal crevices and smooth edges.
Considerations for the future
According to Nicolas Vanegas, architectural solutions representative, ATS – Allied Technical Solutions, future restroom upgrades to consider include: single-occupancy, gender neutral stalls that are complete with sinks and hand dryers; floor-to-ceiling partitions; a public area for washing and grooming; and turn-around-corners for entryways. “More than likely we will see policy changes in building codes, which will make automatic solutions the new standard for public buildings,” he said.
Facility managers and designers should also work alongside HVAC designers to improve air filtration and ventilation. Upgrades to HVAC systems may mean more vents in a space and large ducts and equipment.
Innovations in smart tech
While smart restroom technology from building product manufacturers has been around for a few years, there are ongoing enhancements to the data analytics and visualization of the data, says April Bertram, senior business development director of GOJO Industries.
In light of COVID-19, more facility teams are considering this technology. Others have already incorporated it—not only to help mitigate virus transmission in general, but to enliven the tenant experience and boost sustainability goals.
Dream is one commercial real estate company ushering in the latest restroom tech, with installations in Adelaide Place, an office complex composed of two buildings at Bay and Adelaide Streets in Toronto.
“Many office buildings across the market have been focused on leveraging technology to make buildings more energy efficient, encouraging better use of space and helping the elevators to move people more quickly throughout the towers,” says Michael Hasko, senior property manager at Dream. “One facet of building operations that often gets overlooked is the washroom experience. In the past, the expectation for washrooms was to be clean and stocked with paper products. Today’s washrooms are viewed as an opportunity for tenant experience.”
To improve efficiencies in washroom labour and reduce the wasted paper products often seen in restroom maintenance, Dream became the first in Canada to install Onvation 2.0. The technology, which Hasko hasn’t seen elsewhere in the market, is a partnership between Kimberly Clark and GOJO Industries. Said to reduce waste by up to 80 per cent, it lets cleaners know when to refill soap and towels via an app, and is said to support “greater accuracy in inventory management and dispenser servicing.”
As the pandemic unfolded, Dream was able to “track washroom usage in real time with AI technology, dispatching cleaners to various washrooms for disinfecting based on real usage numbers.”
Such technology is expected to stay in demand, long after a COVID-19 vaccine is vastly deployed.
“COVID-19 created a new level of awareness and it is imperative that we continue to employ best practises even in a post-COVID world,” Hasko notes. “Businesses and tenants are more concerned than ever about the cleanliness of their office and public spaces.
“The hybrid workplace will forever be a part of the workforce,” adds Bertram. “This means that traffic will change day-to-day and by space. Cleaners can no longer rely on old assumptions and cleaning patterns. Data will be necessary to manage and clean buildings effectively.”