Cleaning up standards: a look at vacuum toilet technology
After a long and drawn-out process, a standard for vacuum toilet systems has now been accepted into the Plumbing Code of Australia. Cameron Grimes takes a look at the road to standardisation and how three companies have implemented this new technology.
When discussing the benefits of vacuum toilet technology with companies that design and manufacture systems, one word came up more than any other; flexibility.
Due to the flexibility in how companies and clients can plan, place and adjust installed fixtures, vacuum systems are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to traditional waste systems for the disposal of both human and commercial wastes.
Despite all the potential vacuum systems have shown, the lack of an industry standard prevented it from becoming a mainstream waste solution.
A special interest group organised under the Plumbing Product Industry Group (PPIG) and led by Avac Australia managing director Marc Buman, has worked closely with the industry and Standards Australia in order bring a standard into being.
“People are a little unsure of what vacuum technology is from a technical perspective, which has affected the delay in a standard being implemented,” Marc says.
“I wouldn’t say there has been deliberate push back or anything like that, it has just been a slow and stilted process promoting this new technology.”
After years of deliberation, a standard for vacuum toilet technology has now been accepted into the Plumbing Code of Australia (PCA) by the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), which has resulted in an amendment to the AS/NZS 3500.2:2015 Sanitary Plumbing and Drainage to include vacuum drainage.
Despite delays developing the Standard, Australian companies have been able to successfully implement vacuum waste systems into a wide range of projects, such as sporting stadiums, supermarkets, residential and commercial buildings, medical facilities, universities, shopping centres and correctional facilities.
The following three companies have all provided Plumbing Connection with a look at how they implemented vacuum drainage systems into their most recent projects.
Avac Australia – Optus Stadium
Sydney-based Avac Australia has been delivering land based vacuum drainage solutions for over 20 years. The company’s first major project involved providing a maximum security prison with a vacuum installation, which was a world first at the time of completion.
More recently, Avac has been tasked with providing a vacuum solution for the newly opened Perth Stadium, known by naming rights sponsorship as Optus Stadium.
The main issue during the design stage was the location chosen for the Optus Stadium. The stadium, located in the suburb of Burswood, was built on uneven, sandy marshlands, with the expectation that the stadium would naturally shift over time due to its size.
Due to these poor ground conditions, contractor Multiplex and its hydraulics consultant, SPP Group, decided that the risks of environmental damage to the Swan River were substantial, given the likelihood of building movement possibly resulting in pipe fracture. Because of this, a decision was made to avoid installing under-slab drainage, and Avac was approached to develop the vacuum solution.
“The stadium project was borne out of a couple of factors for us, and the consulting firm had experience with our vacuum systems from our correctional facility projects in Queensland,” Marc says.
“All these issues with drainage that would normally apply in the ground with traditional plumbing solutions can be eradicated.
“One of the major benefits of vacuum technology is that it takes you off that critical path.”
To add to the challenge, the pre-existing water supply and waste network located underneath the stadium would be unable to facilitate a stadium of this size at full capacity. Optus Stadium can hold 60,000 spectators, compared to Subiaco Oval and the WACA which can only hold 43,500 and 24,500 spectators respectively.
It is important to note that Avac’s solution only accommodates for the waste taken from the stadium’s event level areas (commercial kitchens, concert greenrooms, bar areas), sporting team change rooms and media amenities, not the 900 general public toilets installed at the facility.
“Accommodating all toilets was a proposition for Multiplex and it was something that was deeply considered through the value engineering process on the project,” Marc says.
“Our original proposal did include that, but like Etihad Stadium and the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), you get a lot of waste during breaks in sporting events and higher flush volumes, which would require a huge plant to be able to deal with that simultaneous load across 1,000 toilets.
“Those other 900 toilets can be dealt with outside the environmental concern Multiplex had for the event level, which is essentially ground level, because of the elevated pipe work we installed as part of our system.”
Vacuum Toilets Australia (WA) – Intercontinental Hotel
Perth-based Vacuum Toilets Australia partnered with fellow local plumbing company Johnson & Co Plumbing & Gas to implement vacuum drainage systems for the new Intercontinental Hotel, which required waste water drainage solutions for the hotel kitchen and staff amenities.
The project was the first of its kind to be commissioned in Western Australia, with Johnson & Co and Vacuum Toilets Australia being awarded the Project Excellence in Commercial Construction (Plumbing) Award at the 2017 Master Plumbers Awards for Excellence.
The Intercontinental Hotel project involved the refurbishment of the pre-existing Rydges Hotel on Hay Street, and due to the limitations of the structure, project developers were unable to implement a traditional gravity drainage system.
Due to the flexibility that vacuum drainage provides, designers of the project used Vacuum Toilets Australia’s Jets vacuum system. This system is the first in Australia to achieve both a 6-star Water Efficiency Labelling System (WELS) rating and WaterMark certification.
“We supply a vacuum pump that macerates and discharges all in the same motion,” Vacuum Toilets Australia director of operations Andrew Okines says.
“This is now considered the most advanced method of vacuum generation for sanitary vacuum drainage systems in the world.”
This method ensures all waste water from the hotel’s kitchen is collected and released via a single pump connected to the on-site grease arrestor.
The Jets system’s smaller pipe diameters (50mm) provided flexibility when installing the piping into wall cavities. A Blucher push-fit stainless pipe system was implemented into the design.
The smaller pipe diameter ensured that existing service pipes and ducts were neither affected nor an obstacle during the installation of the new system.
The staff amenities also take advantage of the Jets urinal and pump systems, which only require 0.8L per flush. This is reportedly the lowest flush volume of any toilet fixtures available on the Australian market.
“There are two items that our products had to adhere with; the WaterMark certification and the AS/NZS 3500 installation Standard,” Andrew says. “Both these items took the industry more than six years to develop.
“As there were no Australian WaterMark technical specifications or plumbing installation standards specific to vacuum sanitary fixtures, development of the new Standard was undertaken.
“This Standard has now been realised after many years of committee development, with a review now to be published and used for certification and installation under the states and territory regulatory controls.”
H.I. Fraser Group – supermarket chain
H.I Fraser Group has specialised in supplying gas, liquid and waste systems since 1989, with a strong focus on hydraulic, pneumatic and vacuum system designs. The company provides vacuum drainage and collection systems through its wholly-owned subsidiary Australian Vacuum Systems (AVS). In 2017, H.I. Fraser was approached by a major Victorian-based supermarket chain to design and supply a vacuum waste management system, with the sole purpose to dispose of the condensate generated by its refrigerated cases.
“Typically, this would not have been a significant challenge, however the site they (the supermarket chain) had chosen for the remodel was built on a post tensioned slab,” H.I. Fraser commercial projects manager Chris Herbert says.
Because of this, the site owner requested that no impact was to be made on the pre-existing slab.
“With limited existing penetrations, vacuum drainage using overhead piping was the only solution,” Chris says.
H.I. Fraser was able to successfully implement a solution that ensured waste water from the supermarket’s refrigerated cases and hand sinks is transported through an overhead pipe network, which was connected to a central vacuum station.
The project resulted in a 140m³ combined hydraulic and pneumatic vacuum system being installed, as well as 35 condensate collection interface valves.
The construction of the system allowed the client to progressively re-open refurbished sections of the supermarket, with minimal impact on stock and supermarket customer sales.
H.I. Fraser’s system design can also accommodate last minute changes in refrigerated display case locations during new builds and potential store remodelling.
“For the duration of the project, we provided training and installation guidance for the selected installer, as well as full commissioning support,” Chris says.
“This ensured that a robust and efficient system was successfully delivered.
“While this major customer came to us with a challenging site constraint, we were able to deliver not only a waste water solution to allow their design to be fully realised, but also additional benefits during construction and for the future re-development of the store.”