Don’t Turn Up Your Nose at Waterless Technology

Every year more than 20 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater escape from overflowing sewer and malfunctioning septic systems into waterways and groundwater in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties. One method to control sewage problems is to reduce the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated. Green building practices encourage designs that mitigate stormwater run off, as well as high-performance, water-saving technologies. One example of the latter is the no-flush urinal, of which there are currently two manufacturers, Waterless Company and Falcon Waterfree Technologies.  Various models of their water-free urinals not only save a precious resource, but also save money through design and maintenance, and, believe it or not, offer hygienic advantages over traditional flush urinals.

The founders of Waterless and Falcon were once partners, but disagreements on design issues caused them to separate. The new competition between these two companies has been good for advancing the development of this sustainable commercial technology.  In principal, their two systems are similar: urine flows to a disposable trap-cartridge and is contained under a layer of lighter-than-water liquid; excess urine flows down the drain without the need for a water flush, saving between one to three gallons of water with each use. Both companies claim their product can save an average of 40,000 to 45,000 gallons of water per urinal annually.  With acceptance from local code agencies and wider implementation in area facilities, this technology could have a wide-ranging impact on the region’s water usage and subsequent treatment, while producing significant savings on water bills for building owners.

Aside from these benefits, the no-flush urinals can decrease installation and maintenance costs.  If specified for new construction there is a notable savings through decreased plumbing costs, as the systems need no water supply, only a drain.  Although Waterless Company estimates a related annual savings of $80 to$120 per toilet, mainly through the elimination of mechanical components that regularly clog or break, there are material and labor costs associated with replacement of the trap-cartridges approximately every three to four months.

Philadelphia architect Scott Kelly needed a way to convince clients to use waterless urinals for their projects so he brought several of them to Harrisburg to tour the Turnpike Authority’s office building where 14 units are housed. “After I initially toured this building with its users, we did a few calculations to determine the increase in construction costs for the waterless urinals over standard urinals. While the increase was $2,500, the owner is now saving $2,200 per year in water bills. That’s an 88 percent return on investment—without even including the money saved in flush valves!”

As one could guess, the major obstacle to widespread use of waterless urinals is the perception about hygiene and odor.  Although a valid concern, both brands of flush-free urinals are actually a hygienic improvement over their water-flushing cohorts.  Falcon and Waterless models are designed to dry out completely after each use, thereby eliminating the moist environment in which airborne bacteria (from co-existing flush toilets) settles and thrives.

The use of the lighter-than-water trap fluid, BlueSeal(R), separates urine from outside air, subsequently containing unpleasant smells.  The design of Waterless Company’s cartridge removes a small portion of BlueSeal(R) with each use, so more of the agent must be added after every 1500 uses.  The addition of this liquid is unnecessary in the more complex (and expensive) trap design used by Falcon.

Comparison of Waterless Company and Falcon Waterfree Technologies:

  Waterless Company Falcon Waterfree Technologies
Bowl Material Fiberglass; vitreous china being developed Vitreous china
Costs More expensive upfront; less expensive operation Less expensive upfront; more expensive operation
Trap Less complex, cheaper trap must be changed after 6000 uses at $5.50 per trap, plus $5 in maintenance. Additional BlueSeal(R) added every 1500 uses at $3.50 for materials and labor More complex, more expensive trap must be changed every 7000 uses at a rate of $35 per trap, plus $5 in labor. Addition of BlueSeal(R) is unnecessary.
Maintenance  More sensitive to lack of regular maintenance; necessary to add BlueSeal(R) in-between replacement of cartridges Developing a built-in LED system to signal an alert when a cartridge is in need of replacement

As communities struggle with Combined Sewer Overflows and related issues, water-reducing technologies such as these urinals will play a much more important role.  Also, as the public gains an understanding of the environmental, economic and health advantages of this equipment, its acceptance in the marketplace will grow.

For further information, visit the Waterless Company and Falcon Waterfree Technologies.

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