Why go Waterless?

Many educational facilities are considering waterless urinals because they are regarded as an effective way to conserve water—making them a Green, environmentally preferable choice. Additionally, because water must be pumped by electricity, it is believed that a large sum of money can be saved each year in utility costs, if no water urinal systems are installed. Further because of these benefits, the installation of waterless urinals can help school administrators achieve credits toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Before 1990, the average urinal in North American and Western Europe used as much as two to four gallons of water per flush. Today, because of legislation in these countries and increased conservation measures, conventional urinals use about 1.6 gallons of water when flushed. However, this is still a significant amount of water—as much as 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of water per year per urinal. This amount of water is enough to fill a large swimming pool and more than the average person uses in a year for all his or her personal water needs.

Moreover, this water usage can prove to be quite detrimental in the country’s most drought-prone areas of the world. For instance, the average office building in the United States uses 14,695 gallons of water per day. Waterless urinals have the potential to significantly reduce this water usage so that water may be used for other reasons.

Not only can no-water urinals be environmentally responsible and help reduce water usage, the cost to install and maintain them is also catching the eyes of many facility managers. “The initial installation is easy and relatively inexpensive because you need only a drain line instead of both a water and a drain line,” says David Rose, a U.S. architect. “You also don’t have to contend with additional plumbing, flush valves, sensors, and the like, which can be costly maintenance headaches.”

Some school districts have also found less vandalism and restroom property damage because there are no valves, handles, or visible plumbing for students to tamper with.

How They Work
Waterless urinals are not new—actually they are more than 100 years old. They were first installed during the early 1890s in public marketplaces in Switzerland. These early models used sesame oil to keep urine below the urinal drain to minimize odors. However, they were essentially forgotten until the 1970s, when they were rediscovered during the “ecological movement” taking root during that period.

Essentially, a no-water urinal works the same way as a conventional urinal, except without the water.  A conventional flush urinal has a “trap” in the drain filled with a small amount of water that—as long as it does not evaporate—prevents odors and sewer gases from escaping.

Waterless urinals also have a trap or cylinder that sits atop the drain area of the urinal.  The cylinder is filled with a thin layer of liquid or sealant. Urine passes through the trap and sealant, forming a barrier, which prevents odors from escaping. It also helps to eliminate evaporation of the urine, which can harm indoor air quality.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Waterless urinals are essentially cleaned the same way as conventional urinals. In fact, many cleaning professionals believe they are easier to clean than conventional urinals because they have no water disbursement rims, which prevents the buildup of mineral deposits on the urinal.  And because they stay dry, there is less chance for bacteria which can cause odors to develop.

The urinal’s trap insert requires some attention and on some models there is a liquid sealant that must replenished, prolonging the trap’s life span and effectiveness.  These are very simple procedures and are often conducted by cleaning workers. 

There are now a few different manufacturers of no-water urinals in the market today and each uses a slightly different system, requiring different maintenance.  School and building managers should do their homework, analyze each system, and decide which works best for their facilities.

For instance, on some systems, the trap insert must be replaced more frequently than with other systems and the costs for these traps can vary significantly.  But it is clear that waterless urinals do have benefits.  Choose wisely to repeat the rewards these systems can offer.