The first time I heard the terms “paruresis” and “parcopresis” was in the mid-1980s at a plumbing code hearing. In those days, there was no Google to look up the words. I listened to the chief plumbing inspector from a Midwestern state explain why this was an important issue in the plumbing profession.

Paruresis is often called shy bladder syndrome. If you do Google the term, you will find that it is identified as a social phobia, second only to the fear of public speaking. It is when an individual has a difficult time urinating when other people are around, or when there is inadequate privacy. From my further research, there are different levels of paruresis, wherein the most severe case, an individual cannot urinate in a public toilet room.

Parcopresis is also identified as psychogenic fecal retention, or simply called, shy bowel syndrome. It is the fear of defecation when other people are nearby. This fear can be related to people being nearby, or being able to hear or smell. On some levels, an individual has difficulty defecating, while more severe cases result in the inability to defecate.

When this was presented in the 1980s, the request was to mandate privacy partitions for urinals. Prior to this time, urinals were simply lined up in a men’s room, one after another. Go back far enough in history, and men used to congregate around a trough urinal. The new requirement added partitions separating each urinal to provide privacy. It should be noted that trough urinals were eliminated from the model plumbing codes long before the 1980s.

The BOCA National Plumbing Code was the first code to mandate urinal partitions. This requirement appeared in the same section mandating water closet partitions.

Move forward to 1995, and the first edition of the ICC International Plumbing Code included water closet partitions but forgot about urinal partitions. It wasn’t until 2006 that urinal partitions were first mandated in the International Plumbing Code.

Many engineers ignored the water closet and urinal partition requirements. In their view, partitions were the responsibility of the architect. Because the partition requirements were often ignored, the plumbing profession asked that ICC add the partition requirements to the International Building Code. The 2012 edition, and all subsequent editions of the Building Code, have had water closet and urinal partition requirements. The requirements are extracted from the International Plumbing Code.

Interestingly, the Uniform Plumbing Code has never had requirements for water closet partitions, urinal partitions, or any privacy for plumbing fixtures. The philosophy is that privacy and partitions are Building Code requirements. But are they? 

The Plumbing Code protects public health and safety. So does the Building Code. This is an area where the plumbing and building requirements cross paths. However, it is the plumbing professional that knows the most regarding the use of plumbing fixtures. Included in the use of plumbing fixtures is privacy and security. Paruresis and parcopresis cannot be ignored.

Fast forward to today. The Building Code and Plumbing Code are both allowing all-gender or gender-neutral toilet rooms. As a part of that discussion, the American Restroom Association (ARA) identified the need for the codes to further regulate privacy and security. ARA has been at the forefront of advancing restroom privacy, security, and cleanliness. 

The result of these discussions is the development of a new standard for water closet and urinal partitions. That standard is IAPMO Z124.10. If you don’t own the standard, you should. You also need to inform architects of the existence of this standard.

IAPMO Z124.10 has three different privacy requirements for partitions: Type A, Type B, and Type C. The Type A partition has the highest level of privacy and security. The partition cannot be located more than 4 inches above the finished floor, including the door to the partition. The partition and door must extend a minimum of 84 inches above the finished floor. The partition and door must prevent visual observation from outside the partition to the inside. Finally, the partition must have an indicator on the outside that the door is locked. This prevents individuals from knocking on the door to see if the fixture is in use. 

My colleagues at ARA refer to Type A partitions as European-style water closet partitions. Even some manufacturers refer to them as European-style. ARA’s goal is to have all water closet partitions required to be Type A. At the current time, Type A partitions are considered mandatory for all-gender or gender-neutral toilet rooms.

Type B partitions are your standard water closet partitions that have been installed for years. Type B partitions can have a maximum 1/2-inch gap between the door and partition wall. None of the additional privacy requirements for a Type A appear for Type B partitions.

Type C partitions are urinal privacy partitions. The requirements provide privacy to prevent visual observation between urinals when in use.

In addition to the privacy requirements, IAPMO Z124.10 includes loading, material performance, coating, surface performance, abrasion resistance, stain resistance and colorfastness requirements to name a few. As a new standard, it will take some time for manufacturers to have their partitions listed to this standard.

The first acceptance of this standard in the Plumbing Code will be considered in September at the IAPMO Annual Conference. A code change is proposed to mandate Type A partitions for all-gender or gender-neutral toilet rooms. The code change would also mandate Type B for gender-specific toilet rooms and Type C for urinals located in men’s rooms.

In the meantime, plumbing and mechanical engineers should not ignore water closet and urinal partitions. Work with your architect, don’t just rely on the architect getting it right.

I believe the time has come for our industry to promote Type A privacy partitions. ARA has it right that Type A privacy partitions provide better health, privacy and security. Maybe you should be proposing a switch to Type A privacy partition to the architects. 

The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily represent PM Engineer or BNP Media.