Facilies (Campus Spaces)

When You Got to Go -- Go Green

Bathrooms and locker roomsRunning the water when you brush your teeth, grabbing reams of paper towels to dry your hands and cleaning with harsh chemicals are all habits of the past. Today’s schools, and the students who inhabit them, know they’re responsible for the environment and are willing to make changes. What’s on the leading edge of green technology and trends in the bathroom? The answer may surprise you.

Don’t be a Drip

New York City used 125.8 gallons of water per person per day in 2009! True, no one person is drinking or showering or flushing that much, but that is how much water flows through the municipal system. “This is high-quality water that is clean enough to drink,” explains Winston Huff, senior project manager, MEP Practice, TRC Worldwide Engineering, Inc. “An average household will use 40 to 60 gallons of water per day. The rest of the water is used for building heating and cooling systems and industrial uses.”

“This is only half the story,” he continues. “The city sewer system has to treat almost the same amount of water and make it safe to put it back into the rivers.”

While no campus rivals NYC in size, colleges and cities share water use concerns — and solutions — in their green journeys. In trying to use less of the resource, schools often employ low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets. For instance, on the campus of Berea College in Berea, KY, the new Deep Green Residence Hall employs both technologies. Open since Fall 2013, the 120-bed hall was just awarded LEED Platinum certification with a score of 90 points, making it the highest LEED-rated residence hall in the world.

Deep Green’s dual-flush toilets use either 1.1 or 1.6 gallons per flush. Users choose the flush strength depending on need. If nothing is chosen, a sensor decides the right flush based on sitting or standing use. Sinks and showerheads have aerators that put out 0.5 and 1.5 gallons per minute respectively. “We looked at ultra and super low-flows, but there were problems,” says Derrick Singleton, Berea College’s vice president of operations and sustainability. Issues include excessive clogging and the fear that users would wash longer if there was less water available. “There’s leading edge and bleeding edge. We wanted proven technologies.”

The dual-flush commodes proved so effective that the school retrofitted with them throughout the campus. Today Singleton reports that that move, coupled with other strategies, saves the campus four million gallons of water per year.

While Deep Green’s restrooms are certainly advanced, local codes made grey- and black-water recycling out of the question. One reason might be keeping the old system working. “When thinking about flow rates and water conservation, we may have reached the point where we can’t go lower, since water systems need an adequate amount of water to provide enough flow to get the job done,” explains Kris Alderson, LEED-AP, senior marketing manager for Bradley Corporation.

There’s also the “ick” factor. Black and grey water contain human soils and waste. Recycling it on site is a bold, and possibly liable, proposition. “Once you start collecting and reusing water you are taking it upon yourself to maintain that system 24/7,” says Huff.

Still, schools, with their long-term thinking and planning, are uniquely poised to benefit from rainwater and grey-water reclamation. “You can double the capacity of a built reclamation system for just 10 percent of the original cost,” continues Huff. This allows a school to connect an older building to a system instead of tearing that structure down.

Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH, has taken water reclamation to new levels with The Living Machine in the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies (AJLC). The Living Machine (LM) is an ecologically engineered, decentralized, on-site wastewater treatment system that replicates the biogeochemical processes that wetland ecosystems use to clean all of the wastewater in the Adam Joseph Lewis Center. Treatment includes using plants and bacteria to remove organic solids, nutrients and pathogens from wastewater, which is then reused in toilets, urinals and landscape irrigation.

“It is cleaner than what most of the world drinks, but we do not have a permit to drink or clean (hands, dishes) with it,” says Sean Hays, facilities manager and community outreach coordinator for the Center. Still, even with its limitation, that reclaimed water accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the AJLC’s entire water consumption. Hays admits that the staff and equipment required to consistently test the water means that the technology would be better suited to a larger-scale application, instead of a single 14,200-squarefoot building.

“Personally, I would like to see an LM designed at the campus or small community scale, where the technology has the ability to make a more significant impact than just a single building,” he says. “We’ll have to wait and see if Oberlin (college and/or city) agrees with me!”

It’s a Lock

If other green practices, like employing daylighting, seem like a great idea for a bathroom or locker room, think again. “We considered daylighting for Deep Green’s bathrooms,” remembers Singleton, “but we feared that it would contribute to mold and mildew growth.” They did, however use products with as much recycled content as possible. The same holds true for the new $190-million patient care tower and Ellis Fischel Cancer Center at University of Missouri Heath Care. The LEED-certified building includes small victories like choosing lockers built with post-consumer recycled content.

Green Clean Machine

No matter where the water comes from or what fixtures are chosen, all bathroom and locker areas need to be cleaned and cleaned well. What does that mean exactly? The International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) has defined standards for cleaning. An ATP meter can verify that standard.

“An ATP monitoring system can detect the amount of organic matter that remains after cleaning an environmental surface,” according to Infection Control Today. The device works by picking up adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an enzyme that is present in all living cells. “A surface may look clean and smell clean, but unless it passes an ATP swab test it’s not really clean,” insists Tom Morrison, vice president of marketing, Kaivac, Inc. To get the most efficient, ATP-tested clean, Kaivac offers a no-touch system that uses cold water and limited chemicals. “The chemicals are automatically metered out,” says Morrison. Even without the chemicals, the system “remove 99.9 percent of targeted bacteria with pure water,” according to Morrison.

Advanced Vapor Technologies also offers hand-free cleaning. Their product uses no chemicals and hot water, “about a quart and a half an hour,” says Rick Hoverson, principal. This product helps schools gain or retain LEED certification for environmentally responsible cleaning while reducing the waste stream associated with the traditional cleaning process.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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