Considerations for commercial product specification and designs

With the economy apparently on the mend, the commercial construction market has been an area of positive growth for the industry. There is optimism for 2015 and good returns for the current year.

“Business has continued to grow in 2014, and we expect the commercial market to grow by 3 to 5 percent for the year,” said Tony D’Amato, product marketing of Commercial Fittings at American Standard Brands.

“In some sectors, such as commercial, we do see an uptick,” said John Aykroyd, vice president of Business Development at Sloan Valve. “I believe this is because of the amount of construction and renovation being done. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is a great early warning detection system. Their performance indicators are showing that commercial in several sectors is up in double digits.”

With a rise in demand, commercial restrooms present a variety of opportunities and challenges for designers, installers and product manufacturers. Today’s owners are interested not only in things like durability and maintenance, but also in efficiency, sustainability and lifecycle costs.

“There are certain staples that are part of every commercial restroom design,” Aykroyd said. “Our niche addresses the need to use water more efficiently, whether it is with Flushometers or faucets, and provide complete solutions that will maximize efficiency and operating costs.

“One of the more important things happening with commercial applications is that more and more commercial facilities are looking very carefully at their total acquisition cost,” explained Bill Strang, president of Operations for the Americas at TOTO USA. “That includes the total maintenance costs over the long term to run that facility. In fact, one of the strategies that is part of the new LEED v. 4 requirement [from the U.S. Green Building Council] is to look at not only how you build the building, but how does the building operate after you have taken occupancy of the facility and begun to use the components and products within that building.”

Owners are looking for solutions that will stand the test of time and deliver a reasonable operating cost over the life of the facility.

“With commercial bathrooms, we’re always looking at heavy-duty designs because it’s a rougher environment than you would get in other applications,” said Conrad Haller, group manager in new product development at Moen. “We use a lot of design rigor and look for thoughtful design to meet the market’s needs. We’re not interested in the lowest cost, we’re interested in the lowest cost of ownership.”

“The challenge, from a manufacturer’s point of view, is to deliver reliable product performance for extreme circumstances, such as high traffic, harsh water conditions, low or fluctuating water pressure and reduced water flow,” Aykroyd said. “In essence, it’s doing more with less.”

The impact a product makes over its lifespan is front-of-mind for those designing, specifying and purchasing commercial restroom solutions.

“Not only does the product need to install easily, it needs to be designed to minimize the total cost of ownership over the life of product,” said David Scelsi, director of product management and engineering of Commercial Brass at Zurn Industries. “Features like long-lasting diaphragm kits or long-life batteries can help lower the cost of ownership over time. Keep in mind the total lifecycle of a product, not just the up-front cost.”

Even the up-front cost encompasses more than just the price tag on the component.

“Ease of installation and labor savings are another consideration manufacturers need to address,” Scelsi continued. “It’s important that we design products that are easy for a contractor to install in order to save up-front time and labor.”

Part of the long-term operating cost comes not only from the obvious things like water flow and maintenance, but also from a growing understanding of the connection between water and energy. Installing water efficient products and systems in commercial restrooms will not only save on a facility’s water bill, but its power consumption as well.

“When you take advantage of water reduction opportunities in a building, that means you are pumping less water up that vertical shaft into the various risers that you have going up a 40-story building,” Strang said. “Let me use the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as an example. When we talked to them about water saving opportunities, they switched their products from high-flow to TOTO’s WaterSense standard toilets, urinals and faucets. With 135,000 passengers per day moving through the facility, they were able to save about 3.7 million gallons of water per month. That also worked out to save 13,600 kilowatts of electricity not generated that would have been used to pump and treat that amount of water.”

“Be aware of sustainability and design requirements, including LEED, and make sure the products specified meet or exceed those requirements,” Scelsi added. “Low flow systems are a great way to earn LEED points. Zurn understands this and makes sure our designs work across a wide range of pressures and flow rates.”

Efficiency has become an ever-larger point of emphasis. But, it is important to remember that the products used in commercial restroom projects need to work well, too.

“[Designers and engineers] should choose water saving products with great performance,” D’Amato said. “Don’t sacrifice performance to achieve water savings.”

Certainly, drought conditions in the southwest and increasing concerns about freshwater scarcity worldwide are driving efforts for conservation in all building types. Water saving products for commercial installations are becoming more common and effective, but there are limits to what can be done in front of the wall.

“The new normal is low flow, but at the end of the day we have to ask how low can you go? As a company, we are doing a lot of work to look at drain line carry because that is going to be the limiting factor,” Strang said. “The embedded infrastructure will be the deciding factor in just how low we can go with flush volumes and flow rates.”

“Aging infrastructure can impact the performance of today’s water-efficient plumbing products, and as a result, the specification of water-efficient products is not so clear cut,” Aykroyd said. “When dealing with an older plumbing system, there are important factors that must be taken into consideration to ensure that the use of these lower flushing valves and fixtures will not impact fixture and system performance, thus negating the benefit of water savings that is trying to be achieved.”

Another challenge faced in commercial restroom projects is vandalism. Whatever glitch in the makeup of human beings that drives a desire to randomly break things in a restroom creates real headaches for designers, contractors and manufacturers. Staying a step ahead of it has required a focus on durability and specialized maintenance in design.

“We look at different operating conditions, and that includes vandal proofing,” Haller said. “We have pretty comprehensive field testing to see how our designs can withstand not just regular usage, but the complete life cycle within commercial restroom conditions. In terms of vandal resistance, when we’re determining the product specification at the beginning of a project, whether it’s handles or aerators or removable components that might need servicing, like changing batteries in an electronic lavatory faucet, we utilize torque head screws and set screws to try to keep products from being vandalized.”

“Vandalism continues to be a challenge in certain commercial applications,” Scelsi said. “One way Zurn has addressed this concern is by moving the sensor lens on some of our faucets so that it is hidden from sight, decreasing the chance vandals will target the lens.”

Ease of installation is another consideration when selecting solutions for a commercial restroom. That applies for new construction projects, as well as retrofits and replacements.

“With repair and replace especially, we have to address special configurations of how water is getting to our product,” Haller explained. “They’re not going to re-plumb the entire building, so we have to engineer products with enough flexibility to work with different types of installations and pressure variances so we can reduce the amount of maintenance needed over the life of a product. Our product has to be flexible enough to work with a unique installation on a building that is 100 years old, as well as a brand new construction that is set up to current code.”

The bar is constantly being raised in commercial restroom design. Product innovation in areas like water and energy efficiency, touchless operation, universal design and vandal resistance are giving owners and designers ever more flexibility.

“There will always be choices in technologies, in style, and in energy for engineers and contractors when it comes to choosing components for a commercial restroom,” Aykroyd said. “The plumbing landscape is more complex, yet full of new approaches and technologies to reduce water usage and operating costs while increasing efficiencies. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

“To be viable in the future, we need to bring something more than just a commodity product you slap on the wall and hope it will flush well and have success,” Strang said. “Today, more and more building owners are looking for companies that are clever, intuitive, and understand what their long term needs are so they can help draw down their products’ impacts and help their facilities be more successful.”

Case Study: Crowne Plaza Times Square, New York, N.Y.

The Crowne Plaza Times Square hotel recently improved guest satisfaction by solving its most embarrassing and common complaint: clogged toilets. Located in tourist-centric Times Square, the hotel boosted its triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial) by replacing the toilets in all 810 guest rooms with high-efficiency Champion models from American Standard.

“Clogged toilets were always in the top 10 complaints at the hotel each week, and very often the top complaint,” said Vincent Curcio, director of engineering at the Crowne Plaza.

But after the first 150 new units were installed during the second half of 2013, toilets dropped off the hotel’s top-10 list of customer complaints. Drawing largely on the quality and single-flush performance of its siphonic flushing platform, the Champion toilets consume just 1.28 gallons per flush, while still eliminating clogs, noisy flushes and overflow. The toilet is helping the hotel save more than one million gallons of water annually, as well as lowering its municipal sewer-usage costs.

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