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Smarter Lavatories Make for Smart Buildings

William Hughes
Feb 24, 2022


Lavatories in commercial buildings have a powerful influence on the experience of tenants and visitors and are a location of significant demand for paper, water, and maintenance resources. Building facilities are expected to provide an unlimited supply of water and paper products along with ongoing maintenance to ensure cleanliness. Despite the disproportionate use of resources, organizations have hesitated to automate operations within lavatories beyond adding touchless faucets, soap dispensers, and towel dispensers. 

This reluctance is starting to change. Several organizations have recently introduced innovations that offer insight into facility use. This kind of automation enables the building to use less resources while keeping lavatories at a more acceptable level of cleanliness. 

The Importance of Lavatory Automation

According to a survey commissioned by Kimberly-Clark Professional, “about three-quarters (74%) of consumers agree that if the restroom is not clean, they do not believe the rest of the facility is being cleaned properly.” The perception of cleanliness is a critical element to encouraging the return to public facilities following the closures and lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Facilities often take a manually intensive approach by having maintenance staff monitor cleanliness on a frequent timetable. While timetables are easy, they rarely coincide with usage patterns in a given facility. 

Automation that Informs Facilities Management of Actual Use 

The trend is to gain better insight into actual use. For example, the commercial division of TOTO offers the EcoPower product line for buildings. Each device—such as the water supply valve, toilet, urinal, faucet, soap dispenser, and hand dryer—has its own sensor to track usage and performance. Data from these sensors is managed by the KOLO Smart Monitoring System from GP PRO. This offering integrates with many building management systems through its application programming interfaces.

Resources are tracked in real time, and exceptional use results in a notification. Exceptionally high use is an obvious problem of wasted resources. However, exceptionally low use is an indication that a particular fixture may be broken or in an unusable condition. The sooner that such a situation is identified, the faster it can be resolved.

Complementing information on the use from the individual elements within the lavatory with occupancy sensors is helpful. The privacy afforded by lavatories can enable undesirable uses, including smoking and some illegal activities. Also, they can be places of respite when an individual is not feeling well. The presence of maintenance staff can discourage illicit use. Additionally, while not an everyday occurrence, occupancy sensors can be invaluable tools to notify building staff who can offer help if a person becomes too sick to get help on their own. 

The popularity of occupancy sensors within office space is growing. One problem with many occupancy sensors is that they can look like cameras. Xandar Kardian offers occupancy sensors that can track the number of users with exceptional precision by using ultra-wideband radar. By using radar, the form factor is about the size of a hockey puck. It is clearly not a camera.

Better Outcomes from Automation

As has proven to be the case in other circumstances, the presence of additional information offers management the necessary insight to simultaneously improve performance and reduce resource consumption. Maintenance staff can be freed from a fixed routine that requires complete cleaning when there has been little actual use and allows them to focus their energy on areas that are in greater need of attention. The result is an overall improvement in cleanliness while reassuring users that it is safe to return to a clean facility.