phvac Dec 2006.qxd - Plumbing & HVAC

phvac Dec 2006.qxd - Plumbing & HVAC

Kitchen and Bath

The explosion in electronics

Health, conservation driving move to hands-free faucets

By Bruce Nagy

Save water. Im -

prove hygiene.

Support accessibility.

Save energy.

Today, they’re all

much more important.

That’s why electronic

faucets and flush valves, at one

time seen as troublesome novelties, are

now becoming a commercial plumbing

mainstay. They’ve been around for

about 20 years, but have really taken

off in the past five, appearing in public

buildings, retail operations, high rise

and industrial projects across the continent.

Manufacturers quote water savings

alone at 30 to 60 percent. The energy

cost to heat water that would otherwise

be wasted is also a savings.

In public institutions, especially

medical facilities; germ control is a

growing concern. Hands-free faucets

and efficient auto-flushing also address

guidelines on accessibility by physically

challenged individuals. They were

recently installed in every room at a

children’s hospital in Calgary. In sports

facilities, serving thousands of people,

“This was serious in

high volume

facilities because if the

toilet doesn’t flush five

percent of the time, that’s

a lot of odour.”

hygiene matters. Saputo Soccer Stadium

in Montreal installed 200+ electronic

fixtures (Please see page 11.)

Worries about contamination go further.

Antonio DeSousa recently in -

stalled electronics throughout a Peak

Freans cookie factory in Toronto. Child

fatalities due to allergic reaction are


“Food plants have to meet high standards,”

says DeSousa, president of

Desousa Construction Inc., Whitby,

Ont. “It’s peanut-free. You wash your

hands every time before entering.” In

other plants employee showers combine

push button activation and sensor based


Early challenges

With the growth of electronic fixtures

came unexpected technical problems. “A

customer installed electronic faucets

with stainless steel sinks and partitions,”

said Dave Nakashima, from Desco

Plumbing Supply, Etobicoke, Ont. “Every

time a door opened reflections bounced

around, activating the wrong sensors.”

“In the fine print of the guarantee one

manufacturer said the sensors might not

work for people wearing dark clothing,”

reported Peter DeMan, president of

DeMan Construction, Mississauga, Ont.

“This was serious in high volume

facilities because if the toilet doesn’t

flush five percent of the time, that’s a lot

of odour.” DeMan recently installed

solar-powered hands-free faucets and

flush valves during a renovation at the

ultra-green Toronto Congress Centre.

However, manufacturers have corrected

sensor problems. Jeff Gibson,

Delta commercial product manager

for Masco Canada, says sensors now

use triangulation to calculate the angle

of returning infra-red light, instead of

light intensity readings. This, and a

bank of receptors, make sensors more


What to ask

Major brands like American Standard,

Delta, Kohler, Moen, Sloan and Toto all

offer expanding product lines, as do

numerous other domestic and foreign

producers. Contractors

who are new to electronics

should ask questions

before deciding on a particular


Early on, technical

assistance, field support

and installation documents

are important.

Steve Perrone, showroom

sales manager for Wolseley

Canada, Vaughan, Ont.,

says contractors can get

cut-and-paste specs and

installation information

from some of the web sites.

Major manufacturers offer a high level

of telephone tech support, serving

customers in different time zones.

Defects and warranty

Dolvin Mechanical Contractors, North

York, Ont., has installed hundreds of

electronic fixtures at Walmart stores

and police stations. President Italo

DiBonaventura says: “In one office

building we installed 60 faucets and

they didn’t work. (The manufacturer)

was good about it. They came out

themselves and changed them.”

Most manufacturers offer warranties

of three to five years; but because there

are different designs and new players

entering the market, contractors should

check carefully. The warranty may not

apply if they are installed incorrectly.

And electronic fixtures are more expensive

than traditional ones.

Repairs and vandalism

Lower maintenance costs are an attractive

proposition for today’s building

owners. Today’s electronic faucets

require less general maintenance than

traditional ones, reports Nakashima.

“With the old ones you’re constantly

changing washers, seats, spindles and

handles. With these you change the batteries

or maybe the solenoid valve or

circuit board – that’s about it.”

Normal wear and tear is one thing,

but vandalism can also be a problem in

public washrooms. Mischief-makers

stick gum over the sensor to keep the

water running. Designs now include

automatic shut-off after about a

minute. Usually the default setting is

adjustable. If the sensor lens is blacked

out with a permanent marker or

scratched over, one model allows for

replacement of just the lens, rather than

the whole sensor.

“We prefer products made in North

America,” says Mel Prowse, president of

H. Griffiths Company, Woodbridge,

Ont. “Or if from elsewhere, we want

them to have a distributor here with


“Some of the bigger companies will

ship parts directly to the installer or end

user,” says Perrone.

Battery powered

Battery powered models have captured

a significant share of the market. They

are quicker and easier to install than

their hard-wired counterparts, but

require battery changes. Most installers

report a two or three year battery life;

but another said they can die in a matter

of months, depending on the number

of cycles.

Most models beep or flash when the

battery is running low. With some models

the batteries are above-deck in the

faucet, while others are in an electronics

enclosure. The number and type of batteries

vary too, which may account for

differences in life span. At least one manufacturer

is touting lithium batteries as

an advantage. Some contractors use battery

changes as a service call; others pass

the chore along to building maintenance.

Reliable hand washing facilities are

a must in food processing plants like

Peak Freans, reports Tony DeSousa.

Peter DeMan recently installed solar

powered faucets and flush valves at

the Toronto Congress Centre.

It’s important to fully discuss technology

options with the customer. “One

of our medical facilities has 180 rooms

using electronics continuously. They’re

not happy about battery changes,” said


Solar power

Solar powered units have also emerged

with adoption rates that would normally

be surprising, were it not for the shift

toward energy-conscious building

design. So far reports seem positive,

although in one instance sensors were

also used for bathroom lighting and this

limited the regenerative capability of

the solar-powered faucets.

Style and high-tech

Even high-volume public bathrooms

sometimes feature a high-end designer

feeling. Electronic faucets were already

sleek and some are becoming more stylish,

matching trends toward vessel sinks

and premium furniture.

The number of custom adjustments

that contractors can offer is also

increasing. One high-end entry provides

settings for response time, run-on

time, block time (between uses), sensor

distance and auto shut-off time. It also

offers a metered time option. Some

offer hand-held remote control units

for setting adjustments; or even off-site

control using handheld computers or

the computer back at the office.

Whatever the level of sophistication

and gadgetry; contractors should

remember that most of today’s commercial

installation conversations begin

with basics: Save water. Improve

hygiene. Support accessibility. Save


10 Plumbing & HVAC Product News – April 2009

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