Bathroom monitoring systems

Concern about the environment has led to developments in integrated control systems for energy and water use, especially in big buildings and facilities.

Climate change and water shortages in many countries constitute a powerful force behind the development of new water and energy conservation technologies and products.

Such technologies include integrated systems for monitoring and controlling water use.

In the United States, for example, the Sloan Valve Company has invested heavily in the development of Sloan Monitored Systems (SMS), involving a holistic approach to managing a facility’s plumbing systems, on an individual fixture basis or collectively.

This includes a focus on development of the fully automated and monitored restroom.

To help promote the development of this technology, Sloan became a member of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA).

Earlier this year CABA started a new research project, the Convergence of Green and Intelligent Buildings, with a variety of industry stakeholders.

The result is an extensive report that outlines the nature and benefits of intelligent and green buildings and includes several case studies, one of which was prepared by Sloan on restroom monitoring systems.

As marketing research manager Rick Nortier points out, population growth in the US has substantially increased the demand for water, to the point that some degree of water scarcity will be experienced in at least 36 States by 2013.

“Commercial properties and institutional establishments are large consumers of water,” Nortier says.

“There are about five million buildings in the US with an estimated daily water consumption rate that exceeds 10 billion gallons (38ML) a day.

“Our SMS approach is designed to help building owners and facility managers increase the overall water efficiency of such buildings by enabling them to monitor and control water usage.

“We see SMS as the next level in building automation, whereby the restroom is added as a fully monitored sub-system in building automation with a variety of monitoring and control functions.

“The system, which incorporates advanced microprocessor technology, allows automated plumbing fixtures such as urinals, water closets and faucets to be networked and monitored.

“This brings a range of benefits, including the scheduling of usage-based maintenance and automatic alarm notification of any problems with the system.”

In addition to sending alerts, the system can be programmed to send a signal to an automated ball valve, installed upstream of the restroom, to turn off the water to that zone.

The second most prevalent complaint in public facilities relates to restrooms – poor cleanliness, no toilet paper, no soap, no paper towels and an overflowing toilet or hand basin.

“SMS can also be used to monitor restroom consumable items,” Nortier says.

“For example, the system will send a signal to alert that a dispenser has provided a set number of dispenses of soap and needs replenishing.

“And in relation to waterless urinals, Sloan is developing modules to monitor the number of times the fixture is used so that the system can notify the building manager that the cartridge needs to be replaced.”

Nortier says effective monitoring involves gathering information on variables including flow rate, fixture use, traffic patterns and occupancy.

At a big retail establishment in the US, Sloan installed usage monitors on all plumbing fixtures, as well as a traffic counter on the main ladies’ restroom with a view to correlating fixture use to restroom traffic and enabling prediction of usage patterns.

“Usage was measured at 300 per day, which was a 50% increase in estimated traffic and nearly double the original estimate for all restrooms in the store,” Nortier says.

“This monitoring exercise showed variations in usage patterns and indicated that demand on the plumbing system and restroom consumables was substantially underestimated.”

Agile Waves in the US has developed the Resource Monitor, a web-based system that monitors electricity, gas and water usage in real time, while automatically calculating the carbon footprint.

Vice-president of business development Collin Breakstone says the system is designed to help home and business owners track and manage resource consumption, reduce environmental effects and save money.

“This system closes the loop between feedback and control and is capable of enabling water, gas and electricity usage to be reduced by 20% or more,” he says.

“Real-time alerts are provided on-screen or via text or email in relation to events such as water leakage or excessive energy use. Utility costs can be monitored and information is provided on how much is being used and where in the building.

“This is an advanced system that can give usage details by floor, room, appliance, circuit, or utility and also provides trend analysis and historical comparisons.”

On offer from GE Security in the US is the GE SmartCommand home security and automation system, which now incorporates SmartCommand Enviro Monitor.

An interactive wall panel provides current and historical feedback on electricity use and water consumption, as well as serving as the home’s programmable thermostat and security system interface. Other options include control of whole-home lighting, intercom and home audio.

The company’s Steve Hill says the system is designed to help home-owners achieve at least a 20% reduction in household energy and water consumption.

“This system is designed to help residential builders and developers construct homes that release fewer household emissions, as well as helping home-owners to track their current and historical energy and water usage,” Hill says.

In the UK, Franke Sissons head of sales and marketing Paul Markwell says developments in new technology are having a huge effect on hygiene, cleanliness, water conservation and monitoring in the washroom sector.

“The sanitaryware industry has made huge progress with the advent of ‘no touch’ self-closing technology, which forms a key element of complete washroom water management systems,” he says.

“Many building designers and facility managers are finding that incorporating water management systems is an effective way of increasing hygiene standards in washrooms.

“This applies particularly to those with a high level of usage, such as hospitals, schools and public buildings, which can now benefit from sophisticated systems that control the automated functions of all WCs, basins, faucets and showers from one central point.

“Other benefits are better monitoring of usage, the identification of faults and lower maintenance.

“Intelligent water management systems can be divided into two levels – the water fittings, and networking those fittings so they can communicate with each other via standardized data technology.

“At the fittings level, an intelligent electronic module provides a wide range of control functions, including time-scheduled hygiene flushing, thermal disinfections, peak load optimization and saving of system settings.

“By combining the system with the newly developed ECC (Ethernet Can Coupler) function controller, additional functions can be achieved. At the network level, innovative software provides the system with facilities to centrally control and manage any number of sanitary fittings.”

Markwell says that rather than having individual transformers for each water control, some water management systems operate from a central transformer for up to 64 fittings, which reduces power consumption as well as installation costs.

Franke Aquarotter, which is part of the Franke Group and based in Berlin, has developed the Aqua3000 Open water management system. Markwell says it is the latest generation of technology for the control, monitoring and disinfection flushing of water systems in commercial buildings.

“This system is built up of components that can work independently or be networked to provide the control and monitoring functions.

“It is being used successfully in numerous security installations and in airports where central control and monitoring of the faucets and flushing devices is required. The system is linked to the computer network of the building and can be monitored and controlled from a central location or remotely.

“Besides being able to set flow times of the different services – such as soap, air and water – the system can perform and record hygiene flushes and thermal disinfections, as well as having an alarm for malfunctioning fittings.”

In Australia, Enware has launched the Smartflow Water Management System, which is designed to provide total operational and water management control in penal institutions.

The system consists of a control panel with user interface in each cell to operate individual fixtures, flow control hubs, a central PC and Smartflow software.

The company’s Tim Fisher says the system, which operates on a 24-hour cycle, can control the supply of water to any fitting in any cell and can quickly isolate delivery of water to any fixture in a cell.

It can also enable isolation of a cell, cellblock or cellblock wing and is able to change any fixture timing individually or in groups, including run time and lockout periods.

“The control module for each flow control hub is the operating interface for all solenoid valves, controlling hand basin, shower and toilet with an operating relay for an exhaust fan,” Fisher says.

“Solenoid valves are activated by the control module for appropriate periods as specified by the software, and the control module can also provide an audible lockout signal to allow the user to hear when a lockout is in force.

“The primary role of the central control PC is to run the proprietary Smartflow software and communicate with the hardware on the network.

“All the flow control hubs in the system are controlled by the software and the PC can remotely program specified settings in a hub or override the operation of each water fixture controlled by the hub.

“In addition, the PC is able to collect data from the hub, thus providing a complete record of all fixture use and water consumption in the facility.

“In areas where there is multiple-person access, such as in communal shower environments, the Smartflow Pin Tag can recognize six users and log their consumption against their individual time account.

“With an initial focus on penal applications, the Smartflow Water Management System can also be adapted to all commercial facilities, providing enormous scope for the effective control, monitoring and management of all water-using fixtures.”

Also in Australia, the Water Conservation Group, which offers water-efficient design and build services for existing and new buildings and facilities, has developed a unique shower monitoring device.

Managing director Guenter Hauber-Davidson says the Shower Monitor is designed to influence user behavior.

“Research has shown that simply by providing the user with feedback, including information on the shower temperature and the time of day, a 25% reduction in water and energy can be achieved,” he says.

“Installed between the wall outlet and the shower head, the Shower Monitor has a built-in calibrated sensor to measure the flow rate and water temperature.

“This information is used for displaying a ‘countdown’ of shower time left. A beep indicates when the set time is up.”

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