Obviously the Green Plumbing movement is in full swing. Anytime you have this big of an ideological shift in how we view and use potable and waste water, electric and gas power, companies around the world will develop their own best versions of how to minimize and save the aforementioned.
The First Steps
The adoption of the 1.6 GPF toilet and the 1.6 GPF urinal significantly improved flushing efficiency which in turn decreased water consumption. However in the last few years the demand for more efficient and more water friendly plumbing fixtures has increased dramatically. Dual flush, HET (High Efficiency Toilet), .5 GPF Ultra Low Consumption Urinals and Zurn even makes a “Nano Pint” .125 GPF Urinal. All of the above are becoming commonplace in the commercial, industrial and institutional bathroom.
Not to be outdone, the lavatory faucet has gone through it’s changes in the last few years. The faucets have been installed with flow reducing aerators and retain most of the performance of their water guzzling counterparts.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that faucets and flush valves with infrared sensors that used either battery power or hard wired power began hitting the market. (Just a clarification, Sloan introduced their hard wired infrared flush valves in 1977 and the faucet shortly after, however it wasn’t until 1992 that Sloan introduced the Optima Plus battery operated flush valve. There were quite a few automatic faucets that were introduced by Sloan in the early to mid nineties but they were in working test sites and they were never given a full release). These automatic fixtures improved hygienic conditions in the bathroom by eliminating the need for the user to have to have to press a handle or operate a faucet with their hands and it controlled the amount of waste water produced.
However the performance of these early automatic faucets and flush valves were less than perfect. In fact their user dissatisfaction rate rate was quite high. Most of the issues had to do with how the infrared sensor picked up a user. If the user wore bright clothes the sensor would bounce off and not activate, if the lights were too bright the sensor would activate whenever it felt like activating and bathroom stall doors would activate a flush valve.
BTW I feel it’s only right to mention that Zurn industries made a retrofit automatic flush valve kit the ZR to retrofit onto their own flush valves and ZRK series to retrofit onto the Sloan flush valve. This was and is a great product and worked effectively right out of the box.
Believe us when we say quite a few automatic flush valves from every manufacturer were taken out and the Zurn ZRs were installed. Their ease of installation and simplicity of design made them one of the finest early Eco friendly plumbing products.
Smoothing it Out
Regardless of the past history of infrared sensors, all of the manufacturers have pretty much figured out how to eliminate the issues. At first they installed beam deflectors to deflect the beam down to the user to improve beam engagement, then the infrared sensors literally needed micro adjustment. Finally with the improvement of computing technology and processing, this technology has matured into what you’ve seen in the last couple of years. Faucets and flush valves from several manufacturers can be adjusted for run time or auto flush with a down loadable app on your mobile smart phone.
What’s Up Now? What is Next?
As mentioned above, everyone seems to truly want to conserve energy, waste less fresh water and burn less fossil fuels and that brings us to our next generation of energy friendly plumbing fixtures.
Hydro Electric Power – The Toto EcoPower and the Zurn Industries Hydro Vantage flush valves and faucets both use hydro power turbines to power on-board batteries. During usage water flows over the turbines to charge the batteries for future use. Both have advanced sensors that continuously monitor things like traffic patterns and ambient lighting conditions to virtually eliminate ghost flushing. Both Toto and Zurn make these valve in 1.6 and 1.28 GPF models for toilets and 1.0 and .5 GPF models for urinals. The faucets from both manufactures work on the exact same principle. They claim the batteries can work for up to ten years. More about that in a second.
Solar Power – Very recently Sloan valve company introduced the SOLIS line of flush valves and faucets. This line of products use a photovoltaic solar cell for power not unlike a solar calculator. The solar cell will collect power from ambient light whether it be sunlight or artificial incandescent or florescent light. The Solis line has very similar sensing technology used in Sloan’s G2 infrared units and uses four (4) standard AA batteries for back-up power.
So What is the Verdict?
Let me say that both the above technologies are fine examples of ingenuity and engineering and with mature infrared sensing technology and fairly reliable power both work well. I’m going to point out a few things and you can draw your own conclusions.
- The Toto and Zurn hydro powered models need flow to charge the battery. Both units use a proprietary on board lithium battery. If these are installed in a seasonal building, like for instance a school, there are going to be some units that don’t get used for months at a time. This will cut down the battery life of the unit. When the battery in no longer functional a new one will have to be purchased from Zurn/Toto.
- As mentioned above Zurn Hydro Vantage models need flow to charge. With the Zurn model if you want to put a water saver aerator of .5 GPM or 1.0 GPM the faucet WILL NOT function properly. It needs flow of at least 1.5 GPM. So as of todays date the Zurn faucet will not conserve as much water as some of the others on the market. The Zurn Hydro Vantage flush valve is offered in 1.6 GPF and 1.28 GPF and the Ultra Low Consumption Urinal Flush Valves with 1.0 GPF and .5 GPF will be available in December of 2010. (According to my friends at Zurn the low flow faucets will also be available in December of 2010)
- The Toto Eco also needs flow to charge and needs at least five (5) cycles a day to charge the battery but is not charged fully unless cycled ten (10) times per day. Toto offers all flush valves with ultra low consumption options and settings. 1.6 GPF, 1.28 GPF, 1.0 GPF and .5 GPF flush valves and low flow faucet settings or 1.0 GPM and .5 GPM.
- The Sloan Solis faucet and flush valves use a photovoltaic cells and standard double AA batteries. During long periods of disuse the AA batteries act as a back-up until the solar cell is charged. Sloan manufactures the flush valves and faucets in all standard water settings including all ultra low consumption settings. Sloan’s philosophy is that the more moving parts you introduce into a product the more potential problems you may have in the future. Also I think it’s relevant to point out that the Solis is built piggybacking on existing technology. Please stay tuned to our future article regarding chronicling Sloan Valve from the first flush valve sold on consignment to the newest valves and product like the Solis.