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Kevin Belben, technical applications manager at water management specialists Cistermiser and Keraflo, discusses how with all of us living under the threat of COVID-19, washrooms are now firmly placed at the forefront of hygienic solutions to help combat the spread of the virus
At the time of writing, we’re all living in a world that’s changing hour by hour. As the NHS gears up for battle, restrictions have been placed on travel and socialising, the economy is teetering, and nobody can forecast what will happen next. One thing however is for certain, and that is what we are living through now, will have a fundamental and long-lasting impact on how society functions in a post COVID-19 world. Hygienic living is going to change from something we all ‘should’ practise, to something we ‘must’ practise, an imperative that will no doubt be driven by even more stringent legislation.
The good news, among all this doom and gloom, is that specialist suppliers have solutions available to achieve this, both for short term support for the NHS and businesses, and also in readiness for the future. Infrared (IR) technology activating touch-free solutions, whether washbasin taps, mains-fed or cistern-fed urinals and toilets, is leading this charge. Removing the need for physical contact, protecting users against cross-contamination and viruses such as COVID-19, these IR solutions offer easy to install products and most importantly, products that are suitable for retrofit projects, especially in busy commercial washrooms where high levels of hygiene are a must.
Infrared at the heart of washroom design and user-behaviour
Infrared technology touches all of our lives on a daily basis when we pick up a TV control unit or turn on a heater. In more specialist applications, IR is at the core of thermal imaging and night vision cameras for the military and police; it’s found in hospitals across the UK and even plays a role in art conservation. When it comes to specifying, refurbishing and designing bathrooms and washrooms in the residential and commercial arenas, occupancy-sensing product developments incorporating IR, have resulted in intelligent water management systems that deliver more energy and water resource saving and significantly, increased hygiene.
With the focus being firmly placed on hand washing to try to kill off the virus at individual touchpoints and prevent its spread, taps and basins are under the spotlight. But when properly specified and installed, toilets and urinals themselves have an important role to play. Over recent years, IR has started to consign traditional toilet flush handles to history in commercial and even domestic settings, thanks to its ability to offer hygienic, water-saving solutions. A range of infrared sensor-activated WC flushing valves for both new bathrooms and retrofit projects can be specified. With options for both cistern-fed and also mains-fed (cistern-free) systems for commercial applications, solutions are programmable in a variety of ways, giving full control over the volume of water used, and whether the toilet flush is activated by ‘touchless’ operation, with a wave of the hand, or ‘occupancy sensing’, simply by standing up and walking away. The precise positioning of IR sensors should be carefully considered during installation, to optimise either ‘Wave’ or ‘Walkaway’ no-touch toilet activation.
Highest levels of hygiene from minimum water volume
IR controlled urinal solutions are popular for commercial washrooms, not only due to their water efficiency, but also thanks to the options for hygiene they offer. Products like the IRC® which automatically manage supply to the urinal cistern, activated when the PIR sensor detects movement and triggers the solenoid valve, can reduce water consumption by a staggering 80%. Alternatively, infrared sensor-controlled ‘Direct Flush’ mains-fed urinal valves are also available. These automatically flush individual urinals after use, thus ensuring the highest levels of hygiene from the minimum volume of water. ‘Discreet’ sensor and ‘Accessible’ sensor plate with solenoid valve configurations can be specified, depending on the desired aesthetic effect.
IR also plays a role in controlling individual elements within a washroom, like the basin taps themselves and we’re also seeing significant demand for deck-mounted IR taps providing hygienic, hands-free operation, which are typically supplied with either 3.5 or 5 litres per minute flow rate nozzle options. For example, with Cistermiser’s Vectatap, water flow is turned on when the user presents their hands to the IR sensor located on the lower body. When the user’s hands are moved away, the flow of water stops after a 2-second delay.
Welcome to the world of no touch living
Bathroom and washroom design will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of our society and IR is certainly entrenched in the heart of ongoing product development. Prior to COVID-19, societal changes have quickly started to impact on the specification and design of washrooms, like for example, gender neutral washrooms in schools, coffee shops and theatres. The housing shortage has led to a rise in multi-generational households. Not only do WCs need to be appropriate for toddlers and young children, they are also increasingly being called on to be suitable for an ageing population, possibly living with dementia and requiring help when using the toilet. And at the heart of all these changes is a requirement to deliver maximum hygiene using minimum resource. Rest assured, the Cistermiser and Keraflo product development team are working tirelessly to support societal changes caused not only by the current crisis, but also by the forward-looking trend to ensure that our washrooms of the future are truly hygienic and fit for purpose.