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There are some significant advantages to urinals when it comes to bathroom maintenance (I won't go into the messy details of splashing that happens when males stand and urinate into a toilet). With ultra-efficient urinals (often called one-pint urinals) and waterless urinals, there are also very significant water savings that are achieved.
The Waterless Company, which invented the non-water-using urinal in the early 1990s (see our February 1998 EBN product review of their first product--log-in required), has now introduced a waterless urinal designed specifically for the residential market. The Waterless Company's Baja urinal, which should start shipping this week, according to company president Klaus Reichardt, is somewhat smaller than a commercial urinal, and available in vitreous china for easy cleaning. The Baja urinal works on the same principle as other Waterless-brand urinals--using the company's EcoTrap system (see schematic). The EcoTrap uses a lighter-than-urine, plant-based oil (EcoBlue) that serves as the sanitary trap. The EcoBlue fluid is topped off as needed, and the entire trap is replaced about once per year, assuming typical usage. Because the urinal dries out between uses, waterless urinals are actually more sanitary than conventional urinals, according to the Waterless Company and other manufacturers.
In commercial buildings, with typical usage patterns, a waterless urinal saves about 40,000 gallons per year. For residential applications, the savings will be significantly lower. Reichardt estimates that if there are two males in a home, each using the urinal three uses per day, times 340 days at home, the Baja urinal will replace about 2,040 toilet flushes per year, providing annual water savings of about 3,250 gallons (assuming 1.6 gpf toilets). The savings go up with more males (family members or friends).
Reichardt told me that they're getting a lot of calls from diabetics who have to urinate frequently and who hate to waste all the water. While these water savings should not be dismissed, I suspect that the primary motivation for purchases--if it succeeds--will be more about sanitation and reduced cleaning needs than it is about water savings.
I should note that waterless urinals are not without problems. We've been using one at our office for 12 years or so, and salt build-up on the drain line forced us to remove and clean out those lines once, and it's showing signs of needing that servicing again. Some argue that it's important to periodically flush a urinal to prevent the build-up of deposits, or that ultra-efficient urinals make more sense than waterless models. Clearly, regular maintenance is required to ensure good performance.
The suggested retail price of the Waterless Baja urinal is $248. The product is distributed through plumbing wholesalers and the company's sales reps.
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Alex Wilson is the executive editor of Environmental Building News and founder of BuildingGreen, LLC. In addition to this product-of-the week blog, he writes the weekly Energy Solutions blog. To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feeds. Products covered in his product-of-the-week column are--or soon will be--listed in BuildingGreen's GreenSpec database.
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