The public has recently grown increasingly aware, and wary, of germs-particularly in public restrooms and other areas where crowds congregate. This has resulted in the increased demand for hands-free faucets, fixtures and accessories in public facilities.

With regular warnings about the threat of a bird flu pandemic, plus periodic scares over local E. coli outbreaks, especially in warm weather, the public has grown increasingly aware, and wary, of germs-particularly in public restrooms and other areas where crowds congregate or frequently pass through. This has resulted in the increased demand for hands-free faucets, fixtures and accessories in public facilities, as well as homes.

Plumbing and mechanical engineers, building owners and facility managers like touchless fixtures for another reason: They conserve water and reduce drainage discharge. Not surprisingly, a recent survey of International Facility Management Association (IFMA) members commissioned by Bradley Corp. found that touchless or hands-free technology is the most popular trend in commercial washrooms.

Seen from the public's point of view, hands-free faucets in public facilities can encourage more hand washing, which scientists say is a critical step in resisting infections. Studies have shown that only 67% of restroom patrons actually wash their hands before exiting.

In older restrooms, even conscientious patrons who carefully wash their hands, then turn off the faucet, are at risk. Why? In restrooms, germs tend to concentrate in damp areas and on door handles. Conventional faucet handles in public washrooms also house germs, so touching the handle, even after washing, may recontaminate the just-cleaned hands. The problem multiplies when patrons use unwieldy manual cloth or paper towel dispensers, or even air blowers that require a button to be pressed. When exiting the restroom, contact with the door or door handle exposes the patron to more germs.

When all those steps are combined, most of the hygienic benefits of hand washing are essentially eliminated. No surprise that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that after using a public restroom, a person's hand can host as many as 200 million bacteria.

Understandably, many people don't want to touch any common fixtures in public restrooms. Many restrooms are being designed with "Z"

The patented Express® Lavatory systems with ndite technology™ from Bradley Corp. have been installed in experimental "green"

Water Conservation and Cost Savings

For engineers, building owners and facility managers, water conservation is the primary reason for specifying touchless fixtures. Touchless fixtures can save up to 30% of an average commercial facility's water consumption, as a result of the water shutting off automatically when a user's presence is no longer detected.

Price is always a factor in restroom design, but ease of installation is important, too. Installing touch-free fixtures is generally no more difficult than installing manually operated fixtures. Many sensor-activated faucets feature above-deck electronics, which means that they install as easily as mechanical faucets.

Touchless Accessories

It is important to specify hands-free accessories such as hand dryers, paper towel dispensers and even soap dispensers. New hand dryers feature infrared sensors that activate the dryer when hands are placed 3 to 6 inches below the nozzle for touch-free use. Improved units dry hands in less than 25 seconds and are designed to automatically adjust voltage to all power conditions.

Not only do touchless soap dispensers increase hygiene, these fixtures also increase the overall cleanliness of the restroom. Touchless soap dispensers let users obtain soap without removing their hands from the bowl, reducing the amount of water or soap splatter on the countertop.

Other popular accessories are infrared flush valves, sensor-activated lighting and hands-free faucets, according to a majority of participants in the IFMA members' survey. Touchless faucets are becoming popular in residential settings. Designers say they are popular choices for children's bathrooms because they make hand washing easier. The kitchen is another area to address concerns about contaminating different surfaces. Residential design challenges include touchless temperature adjustment, water run-on and, of course, incorporating new technology that's aesthetically appealing.

Faucets with new capacitive sensing technology are easier to use and activate than traditional "touch-free"

New Designs and Technology

Traditional touchless fixtures feature infrared sensors that trigger activation when a user enters the detection zone. Initially, touchless hand-washing fixtures were unreliable and frustrating for users. However, through dedicated product improvements, new fixtures are incorporating a self-adjusting detection zone that allows the sensor to automatically adjust to the surrounding environment. This eliminates interference from reflective surfaces, soap scum buildup or different user skin tones that can affect the fixture's performance.

Another innovation is capacitive sensing technology. It creates an omni-directional detection zone that surrounds the entire spout of a faucet, rather than a restricted detection zone commonly found with infrared-controlled faucets. That eliminates the clapping and wild gestures we have all made, trying to find "the sweet spot"

Keeping Restrooms Clean and Appealing

Unsightly, unsanitary restrooms can create negative perceptions of the entire building. By reducing the number of surfaces users must come in contact with, facility managers can ensure that their restrooms look tidy and help promote hygiene. Some of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to ensure that restrooms stay clean and sanitary are to install automatic flush valves on urinals and toilets, and touchless fixtures such as faucets, soap dispensers and hand dryers.

The return on investment is substantial: Touch-free fixtures make users feel comfortable and confident in the building's maintenance. Owners realize cost savings from reduced water use.