As technology continues to be increasingly important in today’s digital world, the concept of the smart building is now well established among building owners, architects and facility management companies. However, an area of the building that is only beginning to see the benefits of smart technology infrastructure is the washroom. Making washrooms smart, by adding digital hygiene solutions, not only delivers greater efficiency savings, but also has a significant impact on brand reputation and can help support social distancing measures. While the public becomes more focused on issues – such as sustainability and infection control measures that reduce the spread of germs – smart hygiene solutions can help businesses offer a safer, more environmentally friendly experience designed for the modern washroom user.
The drastic effects of climate change are consistently featured in the media. We’re more informed than ever of the importance of protecting the environment and are increasingly seeing how people ow prioritise sustainability in decision-making. A survey in 2019, for example, showed that sustainable business practices are the second most important reason for customers to return to a brand.
This environmental awareness extends to building design, too. Since the launch of the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method in 1990, various sustainable design initiatives have been created and organisations are able to demonstrate their commitment to the environment by following green building standards.
Huge amounts of waste can be generated in washroom facilities, yet how smart solutions can help meet green building requirements and improve sustainability in washrooms is a concept that’s only starting to be fully recognised. To create more environmentally friendly facilities, architects and building owners should consider smart hygiene solutions that reduce water, plastic and consumable waste.
Washrooms use vast amounts of water when users flush toilets or wash their hands. According to the European Cleaning Journal, ‘around 30 per cent of the water we employ at home is used for flushing the toilet, which means the quantity of water used in public washrooms worldwide – where automatic flush systems are in place and where taps are often left to run unchecked – is incalculably huge.’
To help combat water waste, sensor-operated taps can stop water flow as soon as hands are moved away. Some smart taps even use ultra-low flow rates to save up to two litres per handwash. Smart flush systems can also offer an efficient alternative to waterless urinals, significantly reducing the frequency of flushes while avoiding the ongoing odour and maintenance issues of waterless systems. Installing Initial’s smart hygiene solutions at one location saw a 68% reduction in water usage when a smart toilet and urinal cleaning system were installed.
Plastic waste is a huge topic on the sustainability agenda. However, many basic washroom essentials, such as cleaning agents and soap, are housed in plastic containers.
Smart dispensing solutions can reduce both plastic and consumable waste by adjusting volumes of soap dispensed and providing an optional buffer time between soap use. This prevents users from extracting more soap than they need and saves on waste. Our smart systems offer an effective wash from as little as 0.3ml of soap, saving businesses money while maximising outputs from consumable containers and reducing associated waste. One site saw an impressive 90% reduction in soap used when Initial’s smart technology was installed. Systems that can accommodate larger containers of consumable also cut out the amount of plastic waste generated compared to smaller containers.
Look out for smart hygiene systems that are engineered for robustness to withstand demanding, high-footfall environments. Some solutions, such as our Rapid>SmartHygiene range, use durable materials such as marine-grade stainless steel that are corrosion-resistant with no chrome plating or lacquer that can wear over time. In solutions that feature removable working parts, individual parts can be replaced, if needed, for greater cost-effectiveness and less waste.
As the world adjusts to a ‘new normal’ following the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts, designers and architects have ‘exposed fundamental flaws in the design of public toilets that risk spreading a second wave of coronavirus, and possibly even new pandemics’. They stress how important it is that infection control measures are considered in washroom designs to help reduce the spread of germs in the air and on surfaces.
The need for better hygiene solutions in washrooms has been emphasised recently by accredited bodies, such as the CDC, that recommend washroom users use a paper towel to turn off the tap after washing their hands. Issues related to tap design have also been acknowledged by Peter Collington, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at the Australian National University who states that: “we need to have public bathrooms open up as lockdowns ease, but the more non-touch we have the better. Taps that you activate by sensor need to be considered.”
By entirely removing touchpoints from the handwashing process, contactless smart dispensers and taps are a more hygienic alternative to older systems and can help reduce the spread of viruses and faecal matter that cause health problems. Touching locks, latches or cubicle doors can also be minimised with ‘occupancy systems’, such as smart lights that use integrated heat-sensor technologies to determine and indicate cubicle usage.
Having an attendant present in washrooms could help to reassure users that they’re safe to use by demonstrating the facilities are being regularly serviced. However, posting a dedicated attendant at each washroom may not be feasible or cost-effective for many businesses and not a feature that architects can incorporate into designs.
This is where connected hygiene solutions, such as Rapid>SmartHygiene, can help by monitoring washroom usage, tracking numbers of users and facilitating more efficient cleaning regimes. This data removes guesswork and allows cleaning teams to service washrooms when they need to, leaving facilities clean and consumables topped up and available – showing users that facilities are closely monitored and that any issues are attended to. For additional reassurance, it may even be worth facilities managers putting up notices to inform users of the discreet, new measures being used in washrooms to keep them safe and protected.
The new social distancing measures may also present challenges in washrooms by restricting the number of users allowed in at one time or reducing the number of facilities available. Smart lights can help here by clearly indicating to users which cubicles are available and so can reduce the time spent in queues where keeping a sufficient distance apart may not be possible. Footfall control technologies and people counters with visible displays can help monitor the number of people in a washroom and inform users or cleaners if they’re able to enter an area or should wait because maximum occupancy levels have been reached.
By collecting key statistical data that can be analysed to reveal usage patterns, smart solutions provide businesses with insights that reveal the ‘personality’ of a washroom: its peaks and troughs, the most-used cubicles or basins and the areas with the greatest interaction. Data helps to make washroom management more efficient and allows the best possible user experience: reduced queues, topped-up consumables and clean environments after busy periods.
Smart systems can be innovative, robust and stylish. Dispensers and taps can look modern, sleek and sophisticated to meet the expectations of users, while toilet cleaning systems that contain dyes that mask stains, foam and fragrance cubicles offer every user a ‘just been cleaned’ experience.
As buildings become smarter and digital technology advances, washrooms should also reap the benefits of these innovations. Initial’s digital offering is sleek, modern and built for high-footfall washrooms. The Rapid>SmartHygiene range meets the needs of businesses, helps create more sustainable environments and uses connected, cloud-based technology and real-time trend data to create more hygienic and user-friendly washrooms. Our smart solutions are innovatively designed with building management, cleaners, and washroom users in mind. Learn more about smart hygiene solutions for your designs.
Initial’s holistic approach to hygiene solutions ensures businesses are covered in all key risk areas.