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Waterless Urinals: A Conservation Practice Now Widely Accepted

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Robert Kravitz

Several years ago, when many hotel properties around the world were first starting to get serious about sustainability, they paid close attention to a book, Responsible Hospitality, written by Rebecca Hawkins and Paulina Bohdanowicz. This book is considered the first book to bring together environmental and sustainability concepts and help define how far the hospitality industry should go to achieve them. The book listed taking conservation measures, many of which were revolutionary for the day. Among them were the following:

  • Older windows should be replaced with double- and triple- glazed windows to reduce energy consumption.
  • High thermal mass construction materials such as stone, masonry, and concrete should be used because they help insulate properties.
  • Highly efficient lighting systems are necessary to reduce energy consumption.
  • Solar hot water heaters, electricity timers, occupancy sensors, and similar measures should be considered.

The authors also claimed that taking these steps would not only help a hotel property become more sustainability-focused but produce significant cost savings that would more than pay for themselves. They estimated, for instance, that the average payback period should be three to possibly seven years, depending on several factors such as the age of the facility, climate, use, what steps were taken, and other factors.

Possibly following their advice and recommendations, several years ago, the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts took steps the authors recommended to help reduce consumption, their environmental footprint, and by so doing, operating costs. Doing so, paid off and paid off big time especially in one property. A $460,00 retrofit at Alberta, Canada’s Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a large hotel built in the late 19th century, achieved more than $250,000 in annual cost savings. In other words, in less than two years, the sustainability initiatives implemented were paying for themselves.

Water Use Responsibility

While several other environmental and sustainability-focused issues were addressed in their book, what would deserve much greater highlight today is water, and the need to use it more responsibly and efficiently in hotel properties. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hotels use about 15 percent of all the water consumed in this country of all commercial and institutional facilities.

Further, McGraw-Hill Construction suggests that by implementing water-efficient practices in these commercial and institutional facilities, owners and managers can decrease operating costs by approximately 11 percent. Once again, we see cost savings and sustainability going together, and this is why many hotel properties are now considering the installation of no-water or waterless urinals in their properties. Many already have. This includes super high-end hotels in Beverly Hills, Calif., to less luxurious, but certainly comfortable and popular properties all over the country.

While waterless urinals are certainly not new—having been available in the United States for nearly 30 years—hotel owners and managers often have several questions about these urinals before selecting them, according to Klaus Reichardt, whose company introduced waterless urinals to the United States three decades ago. Among them are the following:

How do they work? All the systems work primarily the same way. Urine flows down the bowl past a cylinder placed at the bottom of the urinal. This serves as a strainer, catching debris, but also allows urine to flow under the cylinder and past a sealing liquid. This oil-based liquid prevents odors from being released into the restroom.

If they all operate the same, are they all the same? No. The critical difference is in the cylinders just referenced. Some cylinders are more costly than others, while others last longer than others (based on usage). This can play a role in the return on their investment. “It is essential that owners/managers thoroughly investigate the different no-water urinal technologies before making a purchasing decision,” Reichardt says.

What do they look like? This question, Reichardt says, is not heard that often any longer because so many waterless urinals are now installed. However, so we are all on the same page, they look virtually the same as a traditional urinal but without a flush handle.

Do we need them? When Reichardt is asked this question, which does come up frequently, he turns it around. “I ask them, do you want to reduce water consumption? Do you want to reduce operating costs? If not, no you do not need waterless urinals. [However] water is getting more and more precious around the world, and as it does, the costs to deliver, remove, and treat water are going up. It just makes business sense to consider installing them.”

Can they help us get LEED credits? Yes, many of the credits hotels can earn are related to the steps they have taken to reduce water consumption.

Compared to traditional urinals, do they cost more or less to install? Usually less. There are fewer “moving parts,” such as plumbing and flush handles, to be concerned about.

What is the average return on the investment? This can vary depending on many factors, including use and the cost of water, and what types of systems are selected. However, in most cases, it is about two years.

Another question that frequently comes up, says Reichardt, is guest reaction to no-water urinals. At one time, virtually all the manufacturers provided little instruction plates to attach above the urinal, instructing their male users how to use the urinal. These all said about the same thing: use it and walk away. We no longer need those. “Most reactions today, however, are approval,” he says. “People like to frequent businesses that are doing their part to become more environmentally- and sustainability-focused. Installing water-reducing technologies such as no-water urinals is certainly one of them.”

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the hotel industry.

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