Designing Restrooms That are Sustainable and Accessible

Oct. 15, 2019

Sloan explains how you can design restrooms that are sustainable and accessible in any commercial setting, as part of interiors+sources’ Continuing Education Series.

The restroom could quite possibly be the most important room in a commercial building. Everyone visits restrooms throughout the day with the expectation that they will be clean, safe and easy for all occupants to use. Designers and building owners are focusing more on the experience users have when they are in a commercial restroom and how to best design for this space. Designing for user experience helps facility owners, maintenance teams and restroom users by improving safety, accessibility and occupant comfort.

Designing accessible spaces empowers users with special needs and provides an easy-to-use restroom for all, including children, those of shorter stature and the elderly. Adding sustainable design into the mix serves to further improve the health and well-being of occupants while also conserving resources. Commercial restrooms designed with sustainability and accessibility in mind bridge the gap between practicality and physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Key Aspects of Restroom Design

The key aspects of designing a commercial restroom are aesthetics that tie to the rest of the building and ease of movement for the user, which includes accessibility, traffic patterns and getting users in and out quickly. This is especially important in large venues such as casinos and stadiums. Other specification considerations when designing commercial restrooms are layout, ventilation, materials, sustainability, installation, maintenance, and overall cost and timeline for the renovation or build-out.

Design Considerations

When beginning a restroom design, you should consider the following:

  • How to lay out the restroom most efficiently. What layout will serve the most users and comply with regulations?
  • Whether to automate the restroom or not. Automating faucets, soap dispensers and hand dryers can be more hygienic and save energy and maintenance costs.
  • Which varieties of products to use. Restroom components such as sinks, faucets, soap dispensers and hand dryers can be coordinated by style and finish. 

  • How environmentally-friendly to make the restroom. What is the water usage of fixtures and the power usage of accessories such as hand dryers? 

  • What materials to use. Materials should be stain-, chemical-, scratch- and impact-resistant to stand up to demanding commercial environments.
  • What products are most cost effective. Some products may cost more up front but result in lower costs over the lifetime of the product.

Introduction to Sink Options

Sinks are the most visible of the functional elements in a commercial restroom. Floors, walls and mirrors may set the tone, but sinks pull together the designer or architect’s vision.

From high-end hotels to government buildings, sleek offices to hospitals, there is a sink design for every setting. The most common sink materials are solid surface, quartz, stainless steel and bio-based materials. After selecting a sink material and color, enhance that vision by pairing the design with the manufacturer’s faucets, soap dispensers and hand dryers.

A designer’s first decision is if the sink will be molded or fabricated:


  • Pros: No seams for ease of cleaning, lower cost per station and shortened lead time
  • Cons: No customization, fewer color and material options
  • Materials that can be molded: Solid surface, quartz and vitreous china


  • Pros: Monolithic look, customizable design, increased number of colors and finishes (ex. Corian solid surface, Corian quartz, Silestone, Caesarstone, etc.)
  • Cons: Typically a longer lead time and increased cost per station
  • Materials that can be fabricated: Solid surface, quartz, bio-based materials and stainless steel

After choosing molded or fabricated, the next decision is material type.

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Learning Objectives

interiors+sources’ Continuing Education Series articles allow design practitioners to earn continuing education unit credits through the pages of the magazine. Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this issue’s article. To receive one hour of continuing education credit (0.1 CEU) as approved by IDCEC, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam. To earn 1 learning unit (LU) as approved by AIA, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam.

After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Highlight key considerations for specification of sink systems that are sustainable and accessible.
  • Evaluate sink materials, styles and components, including the faucet, soap dispenser and hand dryer, that can contribute to water efficiency, energy efficiency and improved hygiene.
  • Review ADA criteria to consider when planning commercial restroom sink/lavatory design. 

  • Examine LEED credits and WELL building criteria for commercial restroom design. 

Molded Sinks

Molding a sink involves pouring a liquid material into a pre-built mold and baking it until it becomes solid. The sink is then lightly finished with sandpaper and other tools to smooth the edges and remove excess material.

Molded solid surface sinks are a lower cost option and don’t contain adhesives or sealants. These sinks have non-porous, seamless molded basins, making the surfaces more hygienic and easier to clean. Many designs are engineered to be vandal-resistant and to have simple installation and maintenance. Molded solid surface sinks are less flexible when it comes to customizing the size of the sink and typically have fewer color options, but they often fit the aesthetics and mid-tier budgets for schools, healthcare facilities, Class B and C office buildings, and shopping malls.

Another benefit to a solid surface sink is that it’s repairable. Solid surface is resistant to scratching, staining, burns and chips, but clean breaks or small chips that do occur can easily be repaired to look brand new. This makes these sinks ideal for high-vandalism-risk applications such as schools.

Solid surface is a hygienic, non-toxic and non-allergenic material that’s easily cleaned with soap and water or water and an ammonia-based bathroom cleaner. Unlike natural stone, solid surface is non-porous and doesn’t require a sealant. Stains, salts and corrosion can’t penetrate the non-porous surface, and it will not harbor the growth of mold or mildew.

Molded quartz products contain a percentage of quartzite material in their mixture. Compared to fabricated quartz, the percentage of quartzite is lower to allow for molding. Because of this, the material performs very similar to a standard molded solid surface product.

Vitreous China

Vitreous china sinks come in a variety of style options and historically have been very popular in commercial restroom design. Vitreous china sinks are available for wall-hung or countertop installation. They are perfect for any application – from executive washrooms to schools, entertainment venues, transportation centers or government buildings. Options include a backsplash; wheelchair access; and 4-inch, 8-inch or single-hole centerset punching. You can also add a ceramic shroud under the sink for a sleek, clean appearance. Vitreous china sinks can be paired with a wall- or deck-mounted faucet and matching soap dispenser.

Fabricated Sinks

Fabricated sinks can be made of several different materials, the most common being solid surface and quartz. The fabrication process involves flat sheets of material that are cut and adhered together to form unique designs.

Fabricated solid surface sinks can be manufactured from materials such as Dupont’s Corian or LG’s Hi-Macs solid surface. A fabricated solid surface sink has a comparable level of quality to a molded solid surface sink.

However, compared to molded sinks, fabricated solid surface sinks have numerous customization and color options. Because these solid surface sinks are fabricated, they can be customized to any size and outfitted for any faucet or soap dispenser. Fabricated sinks come in over 100 colors to match virtually any restroom color scheme.

One of the main advantages of an acrylic, polyester-based solid surface is the ability to create a continuous surface that can incorporate washbasins or bowls. The surface will appear to have no distracting seams, creating a smooth, continuous design for a monolithic aesthetic. This is particularly advantageous for larger sinks.

Fabricated sinks typically ship in multiple pieces if they are over 120 inches or 10 feet, but once they are seamed together, the sink will appear as one seamless unit.

For LEED projects, specify fabricated solid surface materials that contain recycled content. We will discuss LEED later.

Fabricated Solid Surface Applications

Fabricated solid surface sinks offer an economic solution with pleasing aesthetics and design flexibility without compromising quality. The vertical markets where solid surface sinks are most often seen include Class A and B office buildings, restaurants, airports and other transportation facilities, education, and hospitality, plus many other commercial projects.

Fabricated Quartz Sinks

Fabricated quartz sinks are cut and adhered together to achieve their final designs. They are known for their sheen, durability and high-end appeal. They are a luxury design solution for project types such as Class A office buildings, high-end restaurants, high-end shopping centers and hospitality. Quartz sinks can be made with varying levels of durability and sheen depending on the material composition. A higher concentration of quartzite in the mixture provides more scratch and stain resistance.

For example, DuPont Corian Quartz is 93% quartz and so is extremely durable. Some popular brands of quartz are Silestone, Caeserstone and Cambria.

Note that while quartz is more resistant to scratches, stains and heat, it’s not repairable if damaged. The product will maintain its beauty for a long time, but is not ideal for applications where restroom vandalism is a concern. If a customer is concerned with vandalism (for example, at a school), they should choose fabricated solid surface because it’s repairable. Also, the seam of a quartz sink will be visible, so designers may want to choose a solid surface material when designing larger sinks.

Fabricated Bio-Based Sink Materials

Eco-friendly and naturally functional, bio-based sink materials are a renewable alternative comprised of soy-based fillers (rather than petroleum-based) and ground-up corn cobs or other bio-based materials. This is the ideal material for projects that want to visually emphasize environmentally conscious commercial construction.

The layout is typically a one-piece surface with counter space between each of the bowls. Sensor-activated faucets and soap dispensers can be integrated into the surface for even more sustainability. Bio-based sinks are available in one- and two-station configurations and four natural colors.

Fabricated Stainless Steel Sinks

Stainless steel sinks are very hygienic because the material resists the growth of bacteria. They are also resistant to heat and dents. Hands-free faucets and soap dispensers can be integrated into stainless steel sinks, which is important for healthcare and food service industries where the highest level of hand-washing hygiene is required. Single-, double- and triple-station configurations accommodate different types of medical/surgical centers or food service applications. A lift-out front access panel enables easy access for maintenance.

Some of these sinks utilize sensors on the faucets and soap dispensers, similar to standard commercial sinks. Others have sensors located on the front of the sinks that act as “body sensors.” These are especially critical in scrub sinks so that surgeons can easily complete a continuous full hand wash without needing to keep their hand in front of the faucet.

Sink Styles

Once you decide on your material, the next decision is on the style. As discussed, one of the biggest differences between fabricated materials and molded materials is how customizable the sink design is.

Molded solid surface sinks are available in:

  • Continuous trough

  • Flat lavatory deck with integrated bowls
  • Open front basin

  • Rounded front

  • Multi-level

  • Pedestal and corner style

Fabricated solid surface and quartz sinks come in many different styles, including:

  • Continuous trough

  • Continuous trough with 3-in-1 technology
  • Individual basin and vessel styles

  • Flat lavatory deck with undermount bowls
  • Open front basin

  • Multi-level

Stainless steel styles are:

  • Handwashing sinks
  • Surgical scrub sinks

Molded Solid Surface Sinks Styles

Continuous Trough

Our first molded design is the continuous trough style sink, which is typically used in contemporary restroom design. This allows for open space between users. The single trough design is easy to clean and is available in one, two, three and four station designs (or 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-inch designs). Because it is molded, the designer can’t customize the sink to fit a specific size, but can customize the location of the sensor-activated faucets and soap dispensers. Continuous trough style sinks can be mounted using a stainless steel enclosure or angle brackets to create a floating look. Molded trough sinks are ideal for project types such as education, office buildings, healthcare facilities, public restrooms and retail stores.

Flat Lavatory Deck with Integrated Bowls

There are a few variations of flat lavatory decks in the molded category. The first is simply round bowls integrated into a flat counter deck. There are also specialty designs that feature a slightly pitched counter space between each of the square basins. This pitch reduces standing water on the countertop, allowing the user to set their things down while they wash their hands. These designs are not customizable, but you can specify where to locate the sensor-activated faucets and soap dispensers.

Similar to the molded trough style, the continuous surface makes cleaning easier. Depending on the design, stainless steel cabinets or angle brackets can support the sink. Angle brackets create a floating look but expose the plumbing under the counter. This sink design is ideal for office environments, healthcare facilities, public restrooms, retail spaces and other cost-conscious markets.

Open Front Basin

Molded open basin style sinks feature a front that is open to the user, which creates a very modern aesthetic. The open front also makes the basin more accessible to those in wheelchairs and children because there is less counter to reach over. Some open basin sinks feature an arrowhead design that comes to a slight point with an open front edge for an even more modern aesthetic. These designs are typically used with angle bracket mounting to highlight the thin design.

Molded sinks with a rounded front come in two main styles, trough with rounded front and trough with wavy front. Both designs are created with limited corners and are the perfect choice for restrooms primarily used by children, such as those in education settings or shopping malls.

Rounded Front

Molded sinks with a rounded front come in two main styles, trough with rounded front and trough with wavy front. Both designs are created with limited corners and are the perfect choice for restrooms primarily used by children, such as those in education settings or shopping malls.

The trough style rounded front is a more modern design that is simple and easy to clean quickly. It is molded, so the only customization available is the option to mount using a stainless steel enclosure or angle brackets. Typically, this design is paired with the enclosure to avoid children interacting with the components under the sink.

The other common design is a single, continuously curved, ergonomic basin that creates a feeling of separation between users. These sinks are available as an electronic lavatory system or an electronic wash station. They may have integrated faucets with hand washing sensors or may utilize deck-mounted fixtures. These designs are typically in one, two and three station configurations.

The electronic wash station with integrated fixtures achieves a vandal-resistant design because there are fewer obstructions protruding from the sink. As an added bonus, all serviceable components are secure but accessible from the top (including a water shut-off valve, electronics, sensors, solenoids and optional soap components). Because everything is housed on top, the electronic wash station provides the simplest installation and easiest maintenance access available (you only need one person to do maintenance instead of two). The infrared sensors are recess-mounted in a stainless-steel plate behind the aerator spray head, keeping them out of sight and virtually eliminating potential damage to the sensor windows. Optional top-filled, gravity-fed manual soap dispensers are also available. This sink style is perfect for high-traffic areas such as stadiums or schools because of its vandal resistance and easy maintenance.

For designs with deck-mounted fixtures, the concealed cabinet frame is constructed of heavy-duty stainless steel accented with brushed stainless steel. The front panels on this sink ensure its unrivaled stability and strength while still providing fast and easy installation and maintenance.


Molded solid surface sinks can be constructed in a waterfall shape with one sink higher and the next sink stepping down to provide lower access for children or those in a wheelchair. Great for mixed adult and child locations, this Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-friendly design provides one or more adult-height stations paired with one child-height station. The child-height station meets TAS requirements. This sink is available with two, three or four stations and can come with coordinating faucets and soap dispensers. Because it is multi-leveled, this design is usually mounted with angle brackets.

Pedestal and Corner Style

Pedestal and corner style sinks are designed with space in mind. The corner unit fits two users into a small space, while the three and four station designs can be located on a flat wall to accommodate more users in a space than traditional countertop or trough style designs. The style of basin makes cleaning and maintenance quick and easy. Integrating all of the components into the sink also makes for a vandal-resistant design.

Square basins have a pedestal made of steel with a satin finish and a galvanized steel mounting plate that supports the lavatory. These designs are ideal for high-traffic areas such as high school football stadiums or manufacturing facilities.

Fabricated Solid Surface and Quartz Sink Styles

Continuous Trough

Similar to the molded continuous trough style, fabricated trough style sinks are easy-to-clean, durable and resistant to staining but can be constructed of quartz or solid surface in many different colors. They are available in one, two, three and four stations as well as custom dimensions and can be mounted using a stainless steel enclosure, laminated cabinet style enclosure or angle brackets to create a floating look.

Continuous Trough with 3-in-1 Technology

This next design is similar to the continuous trough with a few key differences. The main difference is that the continuous trough with three-in-one technology allows for a deck-mounted hand dryer. A deck-mounted hand dryer can be used in this design because it incorporates an air dam that is built into the basin to allow air flow. Because of the air dam, when the dryer is in use, the air is directed to the back of the sink and downward instead of back up at the user. When selecting a basin that includes a deck-mounted hand dryer, making sure there will not be blow back is critical. Similar to the continuous trough, this design is available in one, two, three and four stations (also known as 30-, 60-, 90- and 120-inch designs) and custom dimensions. This design can be mounted using a stainless steel enclosure or laminated cabinet style enclosure. These sinks are ideal for project types such as executive suites, high-end office buildings, transportation locations such as airports and train stations, and high-end restaurants.

Having all components match and sit on the sink basin enhances durability, function and style. All four elements (soap dispenser, faucet, hand dryer and basin) are designed to work together at arm’s-length. And, all three deck units are touch-free to promote hygiene. Moving the soap and hand dryer to the deck saves space and allows for a cleaner aesthetic. For quieter environments where noise control is important, such as restaurants, the hand dryer can be adjusted to reduce noise. An adjustable sound suppression air delivery system is quieter than conventional hand dryers.

This design improves restroom cleanliness by eliminating puddles of water on the countertop and water dripping on the floor.

Individual Basin and Vessel Styles

Many fabricated designs have the option of individual basins. Each basin will appear as if it is a smaller individual trough, although the full sink ships in one piece. Individual basins can also be achieved using a flat counter and traditional vitreous china vessels or undermount bowls. The designs can also utilize solid surface bowls that provide more design flexibility and color options. An individual basin design can take longer to clean, so they are ideal for applications with low to moderate traffic. The vessel design is typically used with wall-mounted faucets because of the height of the vessel, although some faucets offer extensions that can work with vessel designs. Pair individual basin designs with angle brackets, stainless enclosures or laminated cabinet style enclosures.

Flat Lavatory Deck with Undermount Bowls

There are several designs comprised of flat decks with undermount bowls, sometimes called countertop sinks. Options are a standard flat counter with oval bowls or more modern designs that feature a square or rectangular bowl. These designs are available with stainless steel cabinets or angle brackets that create a floating look. This design can still be customized to include trash or paper towel holders. This sink design is ideal for office environments, retail spaces, mid-tier restaurants and other cost-conscious markets.

Open Front Basin

Open front basin sinks feature a front that is open to the user, making them more accessible to those in wheelchairs and children because the faucet is easier to reach due to the lower, open front edge. These open basins are considered a variation of an individual basin design. A common question with these sinks is if the water will run out and back onto the user. If they are a standard design, they are designed with a slope that will not allow the water to run over the edge.


Fabricated multi-level sinks can be designed with a flat edge from one basin to the other or a sloped edge. The sink can go up and then down again or vice versa. Similar to their molded counterpart, these are great for mixed adult and child locations. The ADA-friendly design provides one or more adult-height stations paired with one child-height station. This sink is available with two, three or four stations and can come with coordinating faucets and soap dispensers.


There is a high level of customization available with all of the fabricated models that have been discussed. Some of those custom elements can include LED lighting technology to light the trough in a way that matches the space. At the touch of a remote, you can change the color to match your brand, change with the season or support your local team.

The edges of these designs can be customized with options including straight, beveled and rounded exterior edges. Bag hooks can be added to the front or side of the sinks that can hold up to 50 pounds each. This is a great add-on for shopping malls and airports when the user has something they need to hold while they wash their hands. Other custom additions are trash holes and receptacles, paper towel holders and integrated baby changing stations.

Stainless Steel Hand Washing and Surgical Scrub Sinks

Hands-free stainless steel handwashing and scrub sinks are ideal for healthcare applications, which require the highest level of handwashing hygiene. Stainless steel handwashing sinks come pre-plumbed and pre-assembled with options for integrated sensor faucets. They contain a sound softening panel, which is ideal for environments in which many sinks will be running simultaneously. The angled front corners enhance ease of use and protect users from sharp corners. The outer rim of the sink is raised to reduce splashing and dripping on floors. The front access panels easily lift out for convenient maintenance access.

Similarly, stainless steel surgical scrub sinks are pre-plumbed and pre-assembled with a square type basin and integrated hand washing sensors. This sink style is unique because the faucet sensors are located on the front of the sink, making them the perfect solution for medical professionals who need to do an extended wash (up to their elbows). They can move their hands around in the water to wash according to protocol without worrying about disrupting the water flow by having their hands leave the sensor area. There is also a knee-activated soap dispenser for ease-of-use during the washing process. Built from 14-gauge, type 304 stainless steel, these sinks endure the harshest working environments with minimal maintenance. And, for ultimate hygiene, touch-free faucets and soap dispensers combine with a sink design that is ideal for complete wash-downs.

Stainless sink systems are available in one, two and three station configurations to accommodate every setting.

Introduction to Faucet Options

Now that you are familiar with the sink options available, let’s discuss the components you will want to specify with that sink, starting with faucets. The faucet is the obvious first choice when specifying sink components, with the other accessories following suit.

You will first have to decide whether to specify manual or electronic. Commercial grade electronic faucets have several advantages because they are ADA compliant, efficient, vandal-resistant and more hygienic. Electronic faucets conserve water because they only dispense water when the user needs it. Power harvesting and time-out settings increase energy and water efficiency. Studies indicate significant savings with sensor faucets.

Beyond just focusing on manual and sensor options, you also need to think about the design of your sink basin and what faucet designs will best compliment it. For a consistent on-deck aesthetic and to aid in hygiene, you can select combinations of sensor-activated faucets, soap dispensers and even deck-mounted hand dryers. You can follow manufacturer recommended collections or mix and match to create your own sets.

Importance Of Handwashing

Deciding on whether to specify manual or electronic faucets is important, because they can significantly affect user hygiene. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper handwashing is the single most effective means of preventing the spread of germs that can result in everything from the common cold and diarrhea to more serious and potentially life-threatening diseases.

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) states that, “Handwashing causes a significant reduction in the carriage of potential pathogens on the hands.” Yet, according to APIC’s Guideline for Handwashing and Hand Antisepsis in Health Care Settings, proper handwashing occurs only about half as often as it should and usually for a shorter duration than recommended. For users to gain the most benefits from handwashing, specifiers should pay close attention to faucet details.

In restrooms with manual faucets, handles can be a prime breeding ground for germs. Touching faucet handles after washing simply re-contaminates hands and reverses much of the good that came from washing in the first place. While some experts recommend that restroom visitors use a paper towel to turn faucets off, the reality is that users are either unaware of this advice or do not care to follow it, or restrooms aren’t stocked with paper towels.

Therefore, touchless, sensor-operated faucets and soap dispensers can contribute to a higher level of handwashing hygiene. The advantages of sensor-operated faucets and soap dispensers extend beyond the public restroom to almost any other type of handwashing station, especially in applications requiring the highest levels of cleanliness. For example, proper handwashing is particularly essential with healthcare workers, who can unwittingly accelerate worker-to-patient and patient-to-patient germ transmission. Additionally, anyone involved in food preparation should also take special precautions to prevent food contamination that can be difficult to identify and even more difficult to stop.

Sensing technologies based on electronics are most often used for hands-free activation of plumbing fittings such as faucets and soap dispensers to improve user accessibility in compliance with the ADA and improve overall hygiene and restroom cleanliness. Electronic plumbing fittings offer sanitary, touch-free operation while conserving water and energy, as they only dispense water when the sensor detects a user and can also limit water delivery duration.

High-Efficiency Faucets

Faucets account for more than 1 trillion gallons of water use per year across the U.S. But, electronic faucets with time out settings (cycle time) help to save a great deal of water. The average time an electronic faucet it is “on” per user is around 10 seconds. It typically takes three seconds for the user to wet their hands and then six to seven to rinse their hands.

The LEED v4 Indoor Water Use Reduction credit says that, “For nonresidential buildings, mixed-use buildings and multifamily residential buildings four stories or more: Indoor water usage in new buildings and buildings undergoing major renovations as part of the project must be an average 20% less than in baseline buildings. The baseline usage is based on the requirements of the United States Energy Policy Act of 1992 and subsequent rulings by the Department of Energy, the requirements of the United States Energy Policy Act of 2005, and the fixture performance standards in the 2006 editions of the Uniform Plumbing Code or International Plumbing Code as to fixture performance. Calculations are based on estimated occupant usage and include only the following fixtures and fixture fittings (as applicable to the project scope): water closets (toilets), urinals, lavatory faucets, showers, kitchen sink faucets and pre-rinse spray valves.”

The baseline water usage for commercial restroom faucets is:

  • 0.5 gpm at 60 psi (4 bar) in commercial (public) applications 

  • 2.2 gpm at 60 psi (4 bar) (58 psi), in private applications only (hotel-motel guest rooms, hospital patient rooms) 

Reducing water use by 25% over the baseline of 0.5 gpm earns a project one to two points depending on the rating system (BD&C, ID&C, CI Hospitality, etc.). Reducing water use by 35% earns a project three to six points.2 

Research Backs Electronic Faucets

A study was conducted at Texas A&M University to monitor and measure faucet water consumption in a specific campus building over a six-week period. The research team wanted to compare manual faucets to electronic faucets. There were three phases of the study: 

  • Tune Up Phase (baseline): This was the phase to set a baseline. Existing manual faucets were tested after having been regulated to 1.0 gpm flow rates. Data collection began for two weeks in all restrooms to establish a baseline.
  • Low Consumption Phase (Low Flow Manual): This phase retrofitted the standard 1.0 gpm aerator with a low-consumption 0.5 gpm aerator on manual faucets, and lavatory flows were re-measured. Again, data was collected for two weeks in all restrooms. They measured 50% savings by going from 1.0 to .5 gpm.
  • Automatic Phase (Sensor-OperatedLow Flow):
The automatic phase replaced the manual faucet with an electronic, sensor-operated 0.5 gpm faucet. Lavatory flows were re-measured again. Another set of data was collected for two weeks in all restrooms. With the last phase, the team measured a water savings of 39% with automatic faucets versus manual faucets.

Faucet Finishes

Beyond just the shape of the faucet, designers can also select what finish they want.

Faucet finishes include polished chrome, polished brass, brushed nickel, brushed stainless and graphite. Polished brass creates the aura of high-end appeal with a luxurious yet warm finish. With a touch of gold, the polished brass finish will elevate the design in any environment.

A brushed nickel finish shows less fingerprints and water marks, so the finish remains sharp and clean even after high-traffic use in commercial restrooms.

The brushed stainless finish also hides most fingerprints and water marks, keeping restrooms clean with a finish that won’t tarnish over time. You can match any finish across all products.

When choosing finishes, designers should ensure that they are a Physical Vapor Disposition (PVD) finish. Compared to powder coating or immersion processes, PVD ensures a longer-lasting finish. The PVD process bonds the finish at the molecular level and enhances resistance to the chemicals and abrasion that commercial restroom fixtures face from daily cleaning. PVD finished products can be more environmentally friendly because they do not require the use of caustic chemicals or additives during cleaning that other products sometimes do.

Soap dispensers that match other components such as the faucet come in both manual- and sensor-activated versions.

Soap Dispenser Options

As a designer selects their faucets, they may also want to consider if a matching soap dispenser is available. Soap dispensers, like faucets, come in both manual- and sensor-activated versions. Both versions can be wall- or deck-mounted. Like faucets, sensor-activated soap dispensers are more hygienic, and deck-mounted dispensers create a higher end feel. Deck-mounted soap dispensers are also great for accessibility due to their positioning on the sink.

There is also a trend in the restroom industry to move from liquid soap to foam soap. This is because foam soap not only creates a higher-end feel, but it also provides certain benefits over hand washing, because foam soap requires less time rubbing the hands together to create a lather.

Electronic soap dispensers automatically dispense a pre-measured amount of liquid soap or foam soap with every push to reduce waste while delivering the convenience of touch-free operation. Similar to their faucet counterparts, soap dispensers can be specified in finishes such as graphite, polished brass, brushed nickel, brushed stainless and polished chrome.

Another crucial point to consider with soap dispensers is if they are a closed system or an open system. A closed system is the best choice because it eliminates the possibility of soap contamination. The same cannot be said for open systems. In fact, one out of every four refillable bulk dispensers are contaminated with unsafe levels of bacteria, leaving hands with up to 25 times more germs after washing than before.3 Because of this, CDC, Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all recognized the bacterial contamination risk of “topping up” refillable bulk soap dispensers and have issued guidelines against it.4 5 6

Hand Drying Options

Hand drying options can range from simple paper towels to high-efficiency hand dryers. To create a highly sustainable restroom, high-speed hand dryers are the best way to save resources and reduce restroom costs.

Historically, hand dryers have not been the ideal solution because of the length of time they take to dry hands completely. It takes about 10 seconds to dry hands with paper towels and used to take 35 to 45 seconds with traditional hand dryers. Because of this, hand dryers historically were only installed in about 10% of restrooms. Newer, high-speed and super-energy-efficient hand dryers are changing people’s perception. These hand dryers can dry hands in eight to 15 seconds, saving 80% more energy than traditional hand dryers and saving 90 to 95% in paper towels costs.

Hand Dryers Save Money and Trees

These three case studies show how much money can be saved by using high-efficiency hand dryers over paper towels. The savings range from $73,000/year at a major league ball park to $125,000/year at a manufacturing plant.

90–95% savings versus paper towel cost


  • Using 5,000 cases of paper towels at $17.49/case plus freight, tax and labor costs.
  • Paper Towel Cost - $131, 175/year
  • Hand Dryer Operating Cost - $6,000/year
  • Annual Savings - $125,175/year


  • Using 4,950 cases of paper towels at $17.25/case plus freight, tax and labor costs.
  • Paper Towel Cost - $128,081/year
  • Hand Dryer Operating Cost - $5,197/year
  • Annual Savings - $122,883/year


  • Using 1,525 cases of paper towels at $32.93/case plus freight, tax and labor costs.
  • Paper Towel Cost - $75,327/year
  • Hand Dryer Operating Cost - $1,830/year
  • Annual Savings - $73,497/year

Wall-Mounted vs. Deck-Mounted Dryers

High-efficiency hand dryers come in both deck-mounted and wall-mounted styles. Wall-mounted hand dryers come with multiple options including HEPA filters, heat options, speed/sound options and finishes. The finishes offered will match other restroom products, as well as the commercial project as a whole, for a complete restroom solution.

Deck-mounted systems allow you to complete the full hand-washing process without moving. All three components (faucet, soap and hand dryer) are next to each other, so the user doesn’t have to worry about dripping water the floor or getting their personal items wet as they move across the restroom.

Some dryers even have (Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) that describe their environmental impact.

Wall-Mounted Hand Dryer

Wall-mounted dryers come in many different styles.

The first type of wall-mounted hand dryer we will discuss is a surface-mounted, high-speed, energy-efficient hand dryer that dries hands in 14 seconds using 950 watts or less, with a slim profile to meet ADA compliance standards. Finishes include brushed nickel and polished white.

The next type of wall-mounted hand dryer provides an eight-second dry time, uses 1490 watts with the heat on, and filters 99.97% of potentially present bacteria at 0.3 microns from the air if the optional HEPA filtration system is included.

A high-speed, no-heat wall dryer dries hand in 10 seconds while only using 500 watts of energy, making it the most energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly wall-mounted hand dryer available. A HEPA filter can also be used to eliminate bacteria. High-efficiency hand dryer finishes may include brushed nickel, graphite, matte white, polished chrome and polished white.

Suggested mounting heights for ideal performance (from floor to bottom of dryer) are as follows:

  • Men: 45 inches
  • Women: 43 inches
  • Teenagers: 41 inches
  • Children: 35 inches
  • ADA: 37 inches

Note: When mounting for any user, ensure that it is mounted below the 48-inch ADA maximum.

Quantity recommendations: One dryer for every two sink stations is sufficient for most applications. For high-traffic applications, one dryer per sink station is suggested.

Optional add-ons for hand dryers include a recess kit for ADA compliance, a noise reduction nozzle to reduce the decibel level by 9db (but increases dry time by about three seconds) and wall guards to protect walls from splashes.

Deck-Mounted Hand Dryers

In 2015, a new high-speed, deck-mounted hand dryer was released. The hand dryer is coupled with the three-in-one fabricated sink discussed earlier that has an air dam designed to “capture” the high volume of air, preventing water or soap in the sink from exiting and eliminating the messy “water trail” from sink to wall, where towels or a wall-mounted hand dryer are typically located. This makes for a cleaner and safer restroom environment. With the inclusion of the HEPA air filter, the air that comes out of this hand dryer is cleaner than the air going into it. The on-deck location also adds accessibility benefits.

History Of ADA

Over the past 60 years, there has been a continued and increased focus on making commercial facilities, and especially the restroom, accessible to all people. In 1961, ANSI published accessibility codes and standards, and in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) guaranteed certain rights to people with disabilities. Congress passed the American with Disabilities Act in 1990, and in 2010, ANSI revised its standards to include ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Today, all plans for renovations, remodeling projects, alterations and new construction must fully comply with the 2010 ADA standards, as well as with applicable building code requirements.

ADA Lavatory Requirements

Most of the ADA requirements for a commercial restroom focus on the ability to move about and within the space. An important product feature of any lavatory specified for a wheelchair-accessible application is that it must be less than seven inches thick, so the top of the lip can be mounted at 34 inches and the bottom will not interfere with the knee clearance needed at 27 inches. The 2010 ADA Standard (section 606.3 Height) states the sink rim and counter surface should be mounted so as not to exceed a 34-inch maximum from the finished floor.

The lavatory requires the minimum clear floor space (section 606.2 Clear Floor Space) of 30-by-48-inches, identical to the clear floor space required by any accessory in the toilet room or lavatory accessory. The clear floor space needed by the sink can go all the way to the wall as long as there is no obstruction. This is especially critical for larger sinks. There needs to be at least one station that has 30 inches of clear space from left to right. It’s important to also keep local plumbing codes in mind, as many require 30 inches between every station of the sink.

Exposed Pipes and Surfaces

According to Section 606.5 Exposed Pipes and Surfaces, water supply and drain pipes under lavatories and sinks should be insulated or otherwise configured to protect against contact. There should be no sharp or abrasive surfaces under lavatories and sinks.

There are two main ways to meet this regulation. If angle brackets are used for mounting, the design must include a cover or element of insulation around the P trap and water stops. More commonly most designers will meet this requirement by including an enclosure (stainless steel or cabinet style).

Operable Force

When it comes to the elements on top of the sink, all restroom accessories, including faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers and flushometers/ toilet handles, must meet 2010 ADA Standards for controls (606.4 Faucets) and be operable with one hand, without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. They must also be operable using five pounds of force (lbf) (22.2N) or less.

Faucets may be automatic or hand-operated. Hand-operated (and self-closing) metering faucets are acceptable if they remain open for 10 seconds minimum, delivering a maximum 0.20 gpc.

ADA Restroom Accessory Requirements

Beyond just how the fixtures operate, the location of them is also critical. Mounting heights for restroom accessories should be no more than 48 inches above the floor. This includes faucets, paper towel dispensers, soap dispensers, hand dryers, mirrors and waste receptacles.

Where accessories are mounted over obstructions such as counters, depending on the nature and depth of the obstruction, it is required that they be located between 44 inches and 48 inches maximum above the finish floor.

The operable portions of any accessory should be mounted no lower than 15 inches above the floor.

ADA Reach Ranges

Obstructed Side Reach: For wall- or counter-mounted fixtures that the user must utilize with a side reach, the chart below can determine how high those can be placed. How far away the user is from the fixture determines how high up that fixture can be located.

Enhanced reach range: For longer sinks with six stations or more, ADA requires that one station meet the “enhanced reach range requirement.” This requirement says it must be 11 inches from the edge of the sink to where the fixtures are operable. Custom sinks can meet this requirement in a few different ways:

  1. A smaller basin at one station 

  2. Faucet and soap dispenser on the sides of the basin 

  3. A side entrance to the sink if it is not wall to wall 

Texas Accessibility Requirements for Children

ADA is used across the entire U.S., but for any installations in Texas, there’s an additional requirement that is specific to children. This standard may become a countrywide standard in the future. It dictates the minimum and maximum reach ranges for lavatories that will primarily be used by children (for example, in schools).

Lavatory/Sink ADA Checklist

This chart can be referenced as a summary of the ADA requirements we have discussed.

Top front edge - 34 inches maximum

Depth - 17-25 inches

Clearance from bottom of apron to finished floor - 29 inches minimum

Clear floor  space - W 30–48 inches

Clear floor space under sink - 17–19 inches

Knee clearance height - 27 inches minimum

Toe clearance height - 9 inches minimum provided for full depth of sink

Plumbing - Insulated or otherwise configured to protect against contact/no  sharp edges or rough surfaces

Introduction to Sustainability And Wellness

Sustainability isn’t just about the health and well-being of the planet; it’s about the health and well-being of people. From the air we breathe to the food and water we consume, the environment impacts human health. We spend most of our time indoors, so the buildings where we live, work, learn and relax have an impact on our health and well-being.

Certified healthy buildings address occupant health, comfort and wellness. After all, the building’s primary function is to serve its occupants’ needs. Fortunately, there are multiple rating systems and certifications for occupant well-being, such as WELL, LEED, Fitwel, Living Building Challenge, etc.

Today’s plumbing products should be engineered with intelligent design, health and wellness science, and technology advancements that come together to serve as key components for buildings that are more water-efficient, environmentally friendly, and promote health and wellness.

Specify plumbing products from manufacturers with third-party-verified EPDs and Health Product Declarations (HPDs), which can be used to earn LEED Material & Resource credits, WELL Building Certification and the Living Product Challenge for Net Positive Material Health Imperative.

Faucets and LEED

Innovative plumbing solutions can be used to help achieve water efficiency goals, gain USGBC LEED v4 points, and comply with CAL Green and other building codes.

Select plumbing products can now offer a wider variety of potential LEED credits for project designs. These credits include both Water Efficiency and Material & Resource credits. The Water Efficiency section consists of two main components related to restrooms:

  • Indoor water (used by fixtures, appliances and processes)
  • Total building water metering

Within this section are three prerequisites that specifically require indoor and outdoor water reductions in addition to documenting the building’s water use.

Prerequisite—Indoor Water Use Reduction

The intent of this credit is to reduce indoor water consumption. The requirement is to reduce the aggregate water consumption 20% from the baseline.

A v4 update to the Water Efficiency section mandates that all newly installed fittings and fixtures must have a WaterSense label (or a local equivalent for projects outside the U.S.). The WaterSense label helps to ensure that the fixtures utilized in a LEED building meet both water efficient and high-performance testing standards.

Prerequisite—Building Level Water Metering

The intent of this credit is to support water management and identify opportunities for additional water savings by tracking water consumption. The requirement is to install permanent water meters that measure the total potable water use for the building and associated grounds and commit to sharing the data with USGBC for a period of five years.

Credit—Indoor Water Use Reduction (1 to 6 points possible)

The intent of this credit is to reduce indoor water consumption by greater than 20% above the baseline. The requirement is to reduce fixture and fitting water use by at least 25% and up to potentially 50%. Points are awarded based on percent reduction achieved and the specific LEED rating system EBOM: one to five points, ID+C: two to 12 points and BD+C: one to six points.

Credit— Water Metering (1 point)

The intent of this credit is to support water management and identify opportunities for additional water savings by tracking water consumption. The requirement is to install permanent water meters for two or more of the following water subsystems: irrigation, indoor plumbing fixtures and fittings, domestic hot water, boilers, reclaimed water and other process water.

Materials and Resources—Building Product Disclosure and Optimization—Environmental Product Declarations

The intent of this credit is to encourage the use of products and materials for which life-cycle information is available and that have environmentally-, economically- and socially- preferable life-cycle impacts and to reward project teams for selecting products from manufacturers who have verified improved environmental life-cycle impacts. Projects must select 20 different products from five different manufacturers (ID+C: 10 different products from three different manufacturers) with an EPD in the project. LEED 4.1 allows 1.5 product valuation for all Type III EPDs with an external verification and critical review.

Materials and Resources—Building Product Disclosure and Optimization—Material Ingredients

The intent of this credit is to encourage the use of products and materials for which lifecycle information is available and that have environmentally-, economically- and socially-preferable lifecycle impacts. It is further intended to reward project teams for selecting products for which the chemical ingredients in the product are inventoried using an accepted methodology and for selecting products verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances.

Additionally, it rewards raw material manufacturers who produce products verified to have improved lifecycle impacts. Projects must select 20 different products from five different manufacturers (ID+C: 10 different products from three different manufacturers) with an HPD in the project. LEED 4.1 allows 1.5 product valuation for all HPDs with an external verification and critical review.

Solid Surface and LEED

Solid surface can also provide a LEED credit (MRc4: Recycled Content). The Recycled Content LEED credit requires the project to “use materials, including furniture and furnishings, with recycled content such that the sum of postconsumer recycled content plus half of the pre-consumer content constitutes at least 10 or 20%, based on cost, of the total value of the materials in the project.”

Some solid surface materials utilized in sinks and surfaces contain at a minimum 13% pre-consumer material. However, pre-consumer content is worth 50% of its cost value, according to LEED. The value contributing to the credit equals the percentage of recycled content times the value of the material (cost of material x 6.5).

Fabricated solid surface sinks use adhesives and sealants during fabrication, but a LEED credit is available for Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQc4.1: Low-Emitting Materials—Adhesives and Sealants) if the adhesives used are certified for low chemical emissions.

WELL Building Standard

The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system that focuses on the health and wellness impacts that buildings have on occupants. The standard is arranged into seven areas of concentration, called Concepts, which are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

WELL is managed and administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit corporation whose mission is to improve human health and wellbeing through the built environment.

WELL can be applied to a variety of building types, including commercial tenant spaces, existing commercial buildings, hospitality, sports facilities, restaurants and residential buildings. It is certified through the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), and it works in conjunction with LEED, Living Building Challenge and other green building certifications.

Legionella is a species of bacteria naturally present in many bodies of water that, if inhaled, can lead to legionellosis (commonly called Legionnaires' Disease), a type of pneumonia. It can cause coughs and shortness of breath, and also muscle aches and headaches. If untreated, it can lead to lung failure and death, especially for those at higher risk, such as individuals who smoke, are over 50 or have a weakened immune system.

  • Legionella Control Credit—Feature W03 (precondition)
  • This WELL feature requires projects
to analyze their facilities for risk of Legionella and set up teams and response processes to manage concerns.

Washing hands with soap is an effective way of removing dirt and bacteria and can greatly reduce transmission and incidence of gastrointestinal disease, including diarrhea, and respiratory disease. However, the hands will only become as clean as the surrounding environment. Sinks, which often have standing water and relatively infrequent cleaning, can house pathogenic bacteria that can migrate onto hands if touched. Once an individual's hands are cleaned, they can more easily become re-infected when wet compared to when dry.

  • Handwashing Credit—Feature W08 (optimization)
  • This WELL feature requires sufficiently large sinks, disposable soap containers, and hand drying towels or hand dryers equipped with a HEPA filter.

The global supply chain for material production is multi-tiered and complex. The level of technical and chemical knowledge throughout the supply chain can also vary greatly. Due to a lack of robust data and transparency, the adoption of safer chemicals is not well understood or practiced in the industry. Building and construction materials are not required to have complete ingredient lists, which makes it difficult to make fully informed choices when selecting safer products.

  • Material Transparency—Feature X14
  • This WELL feature requires the compilation and availability of product descriptions, with ingredients evaluated and disclosed down to 1,000 ppm, through Health Product Declarations.


We hope you now have a better understanding of restroom design trends for commercial buildings, including sink/lavatory system technology and the sustainability and accessibility trends surrounding them. You should now be aware of the expanding role architects and designers play in accessible designs, as well as how sink and lavatory components can enhance the sustainably of hand washing functions while still providing style within a space.

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