Among the areas that are particularly vulnerable to the spread of viruses are public restrooms. Mark Design Studios has been evaluating ways to reduce the spread of disease in these areas for public schools and all public restrooms and associated areas. Much of the technology has been available for some time but the recent course of events pushes this need to the forefront as we prepare our buildings for reopening in a way that will not only protect people but increase the feeling of safety. Energy conservation has long required self-metering faucets that limit the amount of water usage but sensor-operated or “touchless” technology also reduces the contact of surfaces to further reduce exposure. This began with automatic faucets and flushometers for toilets and urinals but has evolved to now include drinking fountains, sensor wave-activated door operators as well as soap and paper towel dispensers.
School Districts, municipalities and any public facility should strongly consider taking these simple short-term steps to protect the public immediately as well as beginning the process of redesigning facilities for the long-term protection of building occupants. Other items that can be implemented to increase safety include reconfiguration of spaces to increase spacing (in addition to ADA and Accessibility requirements), elimination of some interior doors where possible, ultraviolet light disinfectant, ‘fogger’ systems that work when buildings are unoccupied, infrared body temperature sensors, and perhaps most importantly improved ventilation systems. This last area is where many of the public school buildings nationwide fall far short of what is required to keep occupants healthy and safe, but is also among the most difficult to resolve due to financial and spatial constraints.
With regard to restrooms, proper exhaust and ventilation is essential to remove the germs and bacteria that are emitted through the typical usage of the space. The Newsday article touches on the issues that can be created by improper design and usage of hand dryers. It should be noted that these can be resolved by specifying the proper units and locating them intelligently. Also mentioned is that the flushing of water closets releases “aerosolized particles that fly through the air” hence the need for proper exhaust to prevent the spread of these particles. Toilet exhaust goes beyond simply installing a fan but the unit must be sized properly and designed in accordance with each space with registers located in the correct areas to maximize effectiveness. For example, an exhaust grille by the door will draft the airborne germs from the toilet areas across the entire space. Further, these units must be maintained and kept operational and in use at all occupied times to prevent the spread of germs from these areas into the remainder of the facility. Separation at urinals is no longer solely for privacy but for protection as a health and safety issue.
Proper design of public restrooms is a complex and potentially costly issue but one that demands proper attention. Building design on a whole will learn and evolve through this but the change needs to happen before it is mandated. We applaud those already putting these changes into action and look forward to continuing the dialog and cooperation with our clients, vendors and colleagues.