May 24, 2018

Sensory Overload

Sensor technology provides contaminant reduction & economic benefits

Sensor faucets reduce contaminants

Raise your hand if you know the biggest culprit for spreading germs. And there is your answer. Up to 80% of germs are spread through cross contamination from poor hand hygiene. Some viruses can live as long as a standard eight-hour work day on surfaces, fixtures and door handles. The more we grab, turn, tap, push or nudge with our hands, the more we share contaminants. That is why restroom users and building owners can benefit from sensor technologies.

One place to reduce cross contamination is the hand washing station. Hands-free sensor faucets conserve both water and heating energy, and cut down on the spread of germs. By eliminating one touch point at the source of cleansing, building owners can improve the sanitation of their restrooms and premises. However, not all sensor faucets are created equal.

Favorable Features

There are four features to look for in a sensory faucet before making a selection.

1. User Friendly. You have seen it before: The individual next to you confidently waves their hand back and forth, or they do the grand palm-up motion underneath the faucet. Nothing. No water comes out. They gesture faster with more emphasis. Soon, they are moving their hand like a mime trapped in a box. Meanwhile, soap splatters over the sink basin and counter as the individual moves from station to station in search of a “working” faucet.

The faucets either are delayed or not able to detect presence fast enough. The right sensors are timed around the average user and intuitively sense the user. These faucets turn on when they should and turn off when they are done.

2. Complementary. A sensor faucet should be in tune with its environment as much as it is with the user. Sensor faucet and soap dispensers should coordinate and collaborate with each other. The solution is not complete unless they are paired. The fixtures should work well and look good together. Whether the design is minimalistic or has sweeping lines, it should flow and fit within the style of the restroom atmosphere. It is important for the silhouettes of the faucet and soap dispenser to transition.

Performance should be just as integrated and seamless. One wave should be necessary to receive the ideal amount of soap and another for streaming water at a controlled temperature.

Complementary means having options available, because what may work for a historic building will not work for a modern establishment. Make sure you can choose from a variety of faucets and soap dispensers to create a pairing that also is suitable for your environment. With the right manufacturer, your considerations should include flow rate, configuration, mounting options, color and finish.

3. Cleanliness. The subject keeps returning to sanitation. In many ways, hygiene is out of your hands. You cannot control how well someone washes up or the germs they encounter throughout the day on their way to the washing station. However, you can control what they touch while they are at the handwashing station, as well as the soap they use. Even when individuals adequately wash their hands, germs can be transferred onto the faucet and soap dispenser if they must be manually turned on and off and pumped or tapped.

Aside from reducing surface germs, sensors can reduce what is growing on the inside of the faucet, too. Sensor faucets clear the line of water that can grow microorganisms or contain Legionella. Water can be a hotbed for contaminated conditions, especially in dark piping with no room to breathe or flow. Sensor faucets with line purge features keep the water from accumulating and sticking around in the faucet pipes and spout.

Hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap are current trends in hand-cleaning products. Like many trends, they may not deliver lasting power. Waterless hand soap does not provide adequate time for killing germs, nor the friction of a good scrub. As for anti-bacterial soap, some research suggests it does not resist today’s superbugs or new strains of the flu. Do your homework to choose soap that will clean effectively and will not clog the sensor soap dispensers.

4. Efficiency. Water and energy efficiency are not new; however, they are trends with lasting power. Water is the most precious shared resource on the planet. It also is vital for many aspects of everyday life. A day without water would add up to a day without getting much done. We waste water simply by running it continuously through faucets, whether brushing our teeth or washing our hands.

Sensor faucets save water via the sensor and time-out functionalities versus water left running too long or leaking when it is not properly turned off. Still, building owners can do even more to reduce their footprint and achieve LEED certification by choosing 0.5-gal-per-minute (gpm) low-flow aerators. Low-flow aerators conserve water without sacrificing performance, pressure or distribution. They also get users’ hands rinsed off just as well as faucets with higher flow rates.

Switching from a faucet with a 2.2-gpm flow to one with a 0.5-gpm flow (based on 15- second faucet use, a five-day week, 100 building occupants and two uses per day) can save more than 22,000 gal of water per year. That adds up to cost savings for building owners. Saving 22,000 gal of water equals at least $154 annually, which does not account for water heating costs.

Technology Evolution

Sensor technology continues to evolve, usually based on the type of operation, such as hardwired or long-life battery. Building owners also can customize detection sensitivity, hot and cold mixing and the time-out duration. Make sure your pick meets the four criteria listed above and the manufacturer explains the special features.

Upgrade projects do take budgeting, but the return on investment is worth it. Many building owners are getting around the upfront expense with rebates. Research to see if your local utilities offer rebates for water- or energy-saving measures.

The restroom experience is just that—an experience. It can leave a lasting impression on users. That experience includes everything working as it should, looking good, being clean and being environmentally friendly. Users notice these details more than ever and make decisions based on values of a business, not just products or services. 

About the author

Joel Marmion is product manager–finished plumbing group for Zurn Ind. Marmion can be reached at [email protected].

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