Remember a time when people used to travel mask-less and carefree? It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic swept around the world, changing life as we knew it. Instead of traveling around the U.S. to industry events and meetings, I now sit in my home office and login to virtual conferences. And when I am out in public — usually shopping for the essentials — I avoid public restrooms like the plague.
The pandemic has affected just about every industry, but especially the commercial plumbing market. First, there were concerns of stagnation in plumbing systems as commercial buildings were shut down when states — countries even — issued stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of the virus. Then, when buildings opened back up, health and hygiene considerations were top-of-mind — especially in public restrooms.
I recently came across an article from NHK World — Japan about a coronavirus outbreak among 39 drivers and staff of the Toei Oedo subway line. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government pointed to shared water faucets as the source of the outbreak. These faucets were used by drivers and staff to wash their hands, brush their teeth and gargle, and experts believe the faucets were contaminated by saliva. The article goes on to say Transportation Bureau officials are considering switching to sensor-type touchless faucets and other preventative measures.
Reading this article just reinforced my aversion to public restrooms until I am fully vaccinated, and even then, I will never look at a sink the same way. I will also be avoiding older-style touch faucets at all costs!
Touchless faucets were already a growing trend in commercial restrooms before the pandemic. Now, they are in high demand. According to Bradley Corp.’s Healthy Handwashing Survey, 91% of Americans think it’s important for commercial restrooms to be equipped with touchless fixtures, and 90% say their preference for touchless handwashing fixtures has risen since the pandemic.
“The ‘hands-free’ trend has been growing for years,” says Kris Alderson, senior marketing manager, Bradley Corp. “Touchless benefits such as user convenience, minimizing germs, cleanliness and ease of maintenance have always resonated with the commercial plumbing market. But in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated demand for touchless technology, making it the new gold standard in restrooms.”
Mark Lawinger, senior product line manager, Flushometers and Fixtures for Sloan, says, “Restroom guests feel most comfortable in an entirely touch-free environment, where flush valves, faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers and more are all sensor-operated.”
Touchless is here to stay, it seems. I know I feel more comfortable in a restroom with these features. Specifying engineers should keep this trend in mind when designing public restrooms in the future. In the meantime, read more from Alderson and Lawinger in our cover story on commercial plumbing trends.