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It has become a cliché, but because it is true and impacting so many industries it bears repeating: COVID-19 is changing everything. Nothing will be the same, and this applies to the construction industry.

One of the big changes that many architects, building planners and others involved in construction are now envisioning is a total revamping of commercial restrooms. The industry should view most of what is being considered as proactive steps to help stop the spread of the infection.

There are no studies—so far—that indicate restrooms are COVID-19 transmission points. However, looking at the broader picture, we do know that in the past some viruses and diseases have been transmitted from using public restrooms. This makes contracting COVID-19 from a public restroom a possibility building owners need to be genuinely concerned about.

However, what is also happening is that building users want to feel “safe” when using a restroom in a commercial facility. The following steps to be discussed all point in that direction. Construction professionals need to stay up to date regarding these considerations, because they likely will impact the ways facilities are built and remodeled in the future.

Among the items on the drawing table at this time are the following.

Separate enter and exit doors

Some large theaters already have this setup, and those that do not wish they did. Having patrons enter through one set of doors and exit through another, facilitates flow, reduces close interaction that helps to prevent the spread of the infection. In a theater setting, it helps get people in, out and back to their seats much more expeditiously.

Automatic doors

When it comes to restrooms, the key words in the post-COVID-19 era are touch-less. This might include doors that open and close automatically. Eliminating doors entirely, which has already become modus operandi in many large facilities, will become even more common.

More and/or larger soap dispensers

Studies indicate that we are washing our hands a lot more in the workplace due to the novel coronavirus. One study found that some people are washing their hands as often as 16 times per day. This means that if paper towel dispensers are installed, a lot more towels will likely be needed as well as soap. To accommodate this growing demand, manufacturers will likely design larger dispensers, which may require more wall space.

All supplies close by

Another option is to install more dispensers. Designers believe restroom users will want all the supplies they need—soap and paper towels, automatic or manually operated—right near the sink. This reduces interaction with other restroom users. It also means that a larger paper towel dispenser near the counter and two or three shared soap dispensers may be things of the past.

Sinks in the center

While it is considered avant-garde in the United States, in Europe it is quite common to have the sink (with soap dispensers) in the center of the restroom with the toilets and urinals surrounding it. This can eliminate several people congregating at one wall area.

Floor-to-ceiling partitions

Again, in Europe, many toilets are in separate rooms enclosed with floor-to-ceiling doors, walls, or partitions. There is a reason for this: it contains toilet plume. This happens when the toilet is flushed. Tiny particulates are released into the air with flushing. These particulates typically carry germs and bacteria with them, including those that can cause COVID-19. By enclosing the toilet, the plume is confined.

Urinal plume

The same thing happens when urinals are flushed. It just does not get as much attention. To address this, expect more designers to suggest waterless urinals. There is no plume with waterless urinals, and they are less costly to purchase and install, which can help offset some of the increased construction costs of post-COVID-19 restrooms. Further, there tends to be less splash-back with waterless urinals, so that traces of the virus, which can be found in urine, are not splashed back onto clothing, hands or surrounding surfaces.

Smart toilets

There may be several changes to toilets in the post-COVID-19 era. For instance, lids may return to help mitigate toilet plume. The lid will automatically descend before the toilet can be flushed. Further, disease-tracker toilets may become more commonplace. Prototypes that are now available can detect anything out of the ordinary in human waste. They can also detect health problems related to colon cancer. Future prototypes may be able to detect viruses.

Out-flow ventilation

Enhanced ventilation systems with more advanced minimum efficiency reporting value filters have already been introduced that allow commercial facilities to address COVID-19 issues. These filters help remove microbes and particulates from the air. However, in restrooms specifically, what experts suggest is that ventilation be enhanced so that it removes air from the restroom. This could be related to toilet and urinal plume and is suggested because it helps remove germs and bacteria from the confined restroom space.

Finally, the industry may see more restroom regulations in the coming years, mostly pertaining to health and safety issues related to COVID-19. It already has regulations on how many restrooms and fixtures a facility should have based on the number of people using the facility. The Americans with Disabilities Act has regulations about the height and placement of fixtures and stipulates that restrooms have clear floor space, grab bars and other items to accommodate disabled individuals.

COVID-19-related regulations may require that restrooms be designed to reduce congregating and provide more distancing and space. Cleaning requirements may also become regulated. Nothing will be the same, including restrooms.

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