The Post-COVID Restroom

NATIONAL REPORT—Given their very nature, restrooms are an area where the spread of germs is a concern. Given the current pandemic, their design, materials and equipment are getting a new look from the hospitality industry.

“I do believe hospitality bathroom design will evolve and has already begun that transition to a new or renewed focus on space design that incorporates a stronger idea of healthy and hygiene, from the materials used to the mood evoked,” said Erin Lilly, design studio manager, Kohler Co. “Healthy goes well beyond the physical to encompass emotional, mental, spiritual well-being and the environments and spaces we live, work and play in all impact our sense of well-being. Materials that repel dirt or allow for easier cleaning/withstand stronger cleaners, products that function with minimal to no human touch…these will all become more important in the discussion about bathroom design.”

Jon Dommisse, director of global strategy, Bradley Corporation, has already seen the requests for changes. “We have been inundated with calls on changes to multiple types of commercial bathrooms and hotel bathrooms because they have been impacted so dramatically in the days of this crisis,” he said. “Hospitality is one of the markets that are taking this most seriously in realizing they need to make some dramatic change so they fully believe there is going to be not an evolutionary, but a revolutionary change going on in the hospitality market.”

Dommisse said that while restrooms are sometimes an afterthought for companies, they can have a great—and long-lasting—effect on customers. “In our handwashing survey, 76% of people have had an unpleasant bathroom experience, and that was before COVID hit,” he said. “We also found that 58% are unlikely to return to a business if they don’t have a good feeling that the bathroom is clean or easy to use. Even if they love what the business is selling, they won’t come back if they have bad bathroom experience. Now, instead of ‘If it looks ok, or it is not that bad,’ I think hotels and hospitality overall is really going to have to make it more visibly understood that they are taking safety, cleanliness and hygiene definitely to another level.”

Touchless technology has seen a greater interest. “In the post-COVID world, it’s important for brands to try to make their restroom as touch-free as possible, but doing so while staying within budget,” said Molly Forman, interior designer, //3877. “Having a regular maintenance process in place to ensure all touchless fixtures and motion sensors are in good working condition is crucial. Specific to restrooms, our design approach has focused on hands-free integration. Automatic and touchless features, previously viewed as expensive solutions, are now a necessity. Automatic entry door hardware, soap, water and flushing capabilities are now a must. Our firm is also seeing increased demand for self-contained basins, where handwashing and drying functions are wrapped into a single fixture to minimize movement within cramped restrooms.”

Kohler’s Lilly said the company has seen an increase in touchless technology for hospitality. “For many years, we really only used touchless flush toilets and touchless faucets in commercial settings—sports arenas, public bathrooms in malls or stores, restaurants and so on. But recently, we are seeing the integration of this technology in hospitality settings.”

She continued, “Touchless in the bathroom in both our homes and offices will be a crucial element to us all creating and enjoying more hygienic and clean spaces. And while some of us may remember a time when touchless in commercial settings was less than perfect in function and not desirable in form, the industry has advanced tremendously in the design and functionality that touchless bathroom products offer. From touchless soap dispensers and hand dryers to touchless faucets and toilets, there are new technologies available that make a touchless bathroom experience a reality and an eye-catching one at that.”

Dommisse said that Bradley Corporation only sells touchless products, and has also seen an increase in interest in them. “Our No. 1 calls by far are for touch-free faucets, soap dispensers and sanitizer dispensers,” he said. “We have never had levered faucets or anything, but especially on the hospitality side, we can literally be seeing the deaths of the handled, levered faucet because of this. It is going to be very difficult for those companies that had levered plumbing fixtures to even think that they are going to be close to the previous volumes that they had in projects.”

Designers are hoping that manufacturers will be able to provide touchless products that will have the right aesthetic. “Most designers, especially in high-end and boutique situations, we like those levered looks because they add aesthetics and style and there is way more options,” said Amber MacCracken, project designer/associate principal, Kahler Slater. “The sensored options are very limited. If we are going to replace that and the sensored options are going to be more of what we need to give the operators and the guests, then we need to see also innovation in design in the way those products come to market.”

In addition to touchless technology, the materials used in restrooms will also be changing, with the ease of cleaning a major factor. “I also think there is going to be a lot of change too, especially in the higher-end resorts and hotels, the more ornately designed surfaces, a lot of rustic materials that have been very en vogue recently, I think it is going to move to smoother, easier to clean surfaces with fewer crevices, corners, edges, just because there is going to be so much more cleaning put in place,” she said.

Lesley Hughes-Wyman, co-founder/principal, MatchLine Design Group, agreed, “As hotel designers, quite a few products we already use fairly often have at least some kind of antimicrobial properties. Wallcovering, for instance, already has antibacterial properties and can be bleached clean, unlike paint where it requires an additional touch up of the surface. Many of the high-pressure laminate (HPL) surfaces have antimicrobial protection built-in. We also use quartz products extensively, which is a non-porous product.”

Tamara Ainsworth, cofounder/principal, MatchLine Design Group, added, “Tile flooring using regular cement grout presents hidden challenges that hoteliers might not know about, as it traps water, stains and possibly infectious bacteria. We may see a switch to specifying more epoxy grout that resists staining and water penetration and can stand up to the more harsh chemicals that are now being used to clean everything. Epoxy grout is more challenging to install properly, but if done so, it has more longevity with the enhanced cleaning methods.”

Art Mintie, Sr, technical services director, Laticrete International, said that the use of finishes that are inherently easy to clean and hygienic will certainly be in demand. “For example, now more than ever, consumers and manufacturers are utilizing antimicrobial additive technology in products due to its effectiveness against bacteria,” he said. “Many of these solutions are known for being extremely effective against bacteria by up to 99% and proven to be successful at fighting a broad spectrum of bacteria. It’s not surprising why antimicrobial flooring is widely used in hospitals. As our world keeps evolving and learning to adjust to differing industry trends and requirements, it’s important to understand how the use of extended hygienic products are re-shaping the marketplace.”

While making the changes in materials and equipment is important, maintaining cleanliness is paramount. “One of the things that I have been that I have been learning more about is that you can have the best anti-microbial product, but if you don’t clean it, you are getting nowhere,” said MacCracken. “It is going to be up to the operators to really maintain the facility in a clean way. I work specifically in hospitality food and beverage and corporate for the firm, but we are looking at our team that focuses mainly on healthcare and saying, ‘What are the hospitals saying to you in the patient rooms or the waiting areas and a lot of it comes down the facility operation policies and making sure that it is cleaned regularly. I do think that those products have value, but there has to be both.”

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