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No area within institutional and commercial facilities is getting more scrutiny or going through more changes than restrooms. High-profile issues such as water conservation, infection control, and user accessibility all converge in these spaces, and both manufacturers and standard-setting organizations are revamping their offerings to keep pace.
As facilities in the West and parts of the southeast continue to grapple with water shortages, policy makers are responding with guidance on specifying water-waving products and systems. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final specification in October 2007 for high-efficiency bathroom sink faucets and faucet aerators. Manufacturers that produce faucets and aerators meeting WaterSense efficiency and performance criteria can apply to have their products certified.
Also, California enacted a new law that requires new construction of schools and office buildings in the state to use more efficient toilets and urinals. The requirements set new standards for water flush volume by making use of existing high-efficiency toilet technology.
Waterless urinals are attracting more attention from managers in hospitals, schools, commercial and government buildings. Government agencies, such as military bases, the U.S. Postal Service, NASA, national parks, and General Services Administration buildings, use waterless urinals that conform to U.S. Department of Defense standards.
The changes don’t stop at the restroom door. Mechanical systems also are drawing scrutiny. The state of California estimates that 19 percent of all electricity and 30 percent of natural gas is used to convey, treat, distribute, and use water and wastewater in the state.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers is working with several organizations to develop a standard to set baseline requirements for the design of building sites and mechanical systems to minimize water use in operating heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, plumbing, and irrigation systems.
Another EPA action could affect managers' decisions on plumbing specification and maintenance. The EPA in March approved the registration of antimicrobial copper alloys with public-health claims. These claims acknowledge copper, brass and bronze can kill harmful, potentially deadly bacteria.
The registration is based on independent testing using EPA-prescribed protocols demonstrating the metals’ ability to kill specific disease-causing bacteria, including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a cause of hospital-acquired infections.
— Dan Hounsell, Editor