Greener Public Restrooms

Whether installing a new restroom facility, renovating an existing one, or placing one in a remote location, you have several options to make it greener. Solar panels, solar-updraft tubes, micro-hydro generators, composting toilets and well-insulated buildings are only a few of the ways to improve the green rating of a park’s outdoor facility.

One example of green technology is at the well-known and photographed Maroon Bells twin-peak mountain, located in the White River National Forest in Aspen, Colo. The mostly below-ground restroom is at a popular destination spot at the end of a dead-end road and the beginning of several hiking trails. The 14-hole facility utilizes micro-hydro and solar-powered generation and composting toilets.

Reining In The Power Of The Sun and Water

Solar panels can provide a significant source of energy–enough to power the lights and well pumps, and run exhaust fans. The solar panel collects the energy, transfers it to a charge controller, and then the energy is stored in batteries. It is more efficient to run equipment off the direct current from the batteries rather than convert the energy to alternating current.

“Don’t worry about making the solar panels look pretty, and don’t place the panels flat on top of the building,” advises Jim Krischvink, realty specialist for the United States Forest Service in Aspen, who was involved in the installation of the Maroon Bells facility. “Position the solar panels where they won’t collect snow, and they’ll produce the most energy.” If you are in an area that has snow, Kirschvink advises wiring the panels horizontally, because if snow does build up on the lower panels, the upper panels still will be producing electricity.

In addition to solar power, add a micro-hydro generator to aid in developing electricity, especially during the winter months when solar-energy generation is typically lower. “We have a pipeline that goes 300 feet up the hill and generates one kilowatt of power,” says Kirschvink. “The solar unit produces about one kilowatt of power so there are about two kilowatts coming into the facility. This power runs all the equipment and lighting, and keeps the battery charged.”

Even in this remote area, water is available via a well located at a distance from the facility. “We filter the water and chlorinate it,” says Kirschvink. “We have drinking stations and a place where you can wash your hands.”

Composting Toilets

“Do a thorough job of designing the facility,” says Kirschvink. “The substructure foundation has to be solid, which means the prep work must be done properly.” Part of that pre-design work includes determining what the potential load will be on the facility, and getting a composting vault that can handle more than the expected load. The unit at Maroon Bells is touted as the largest composting toilet in the United States.

To increase air flow and decrease associated odors, several fans literally suck the air out of the vault. This air travels through a tube and exits several hundred feet away from the facility. Another way of creating an air current in a facility is to incorporate a solar-updraft vent. The large-diameter black tubes extend for several feet above the building. As the sun heats the tubes, natural convection currents occur as the hot air rises, and pulls the cooler air from below into the tubes to be heated by the sun. This also pulls along any noxious odors from the restroom. But it is wise to have another means of creating an air current, as on cloudy or rainy days the air currents will not be as strong.

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