PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Pearl District landmark, the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, installed four water-saving urinals donated by Falcon Waterfree Technologies last month.
The non-profit conservation organization Ecotrust’s 2001 restoration of the former warehouse was the first time in the nation that a historic building was awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Waterfree urinals are its latest green feature. “There’s a new ethic for water,” said Mike O’Brian, Green Building Specialist at the City of Portland Office of Sustainable Development (OSD). “It’s not just a commodity that comes in one pipe and out the other.”
Ecotrust, in partnership with OSD and Cascadia Region Green Building Council, envisioned the waterfree urinals as part of the building’s original design, though the $3,500 installation was delayed by an initial lack of funding and approval from the Oregon State Plumbers Board.
“We wanted to figure out a way to conserve water in the building, and provide leadership and an example on water conservation issues,” said Natural Capital Center Programs Manager Sydney Mead, who works at Ecotrust. “Urinals are one of the biggest water users inside the building.” She plans to track the savings from the waterless urinals over the course of next year.
Each waterfree urinal will save the Natural Capital Center, on average, 40,000 gallons of water per year, totaling around 160,000 gallons annually. The old Kohler-brand flush urinals used 1.0 gallons per flush. The waterfree urinals have eliminated this waste.
The no touch, no flush urinals are part of the Natural Capital Center’s overall water conservation strategy. Other water-saving features include dual-function flush toilets (up for liquid, down for solid) in women’s and men’s restrooms, restrictive-flow bathroom and shower fixtures, and xerigation – low-flow dripline irrigation. These water-saving measures have together contributed to at least a 33 percent overall reduction in water consumption since the building opened in 2001.
An ecoroof and bioswales filter and absorb rainwater, capturing an estimated 98 percent of the stormwater that falls on the site and protecting the Willamette River from runoff. The City of Portland’s Clean River Rewards program issues Ecotrust a monthly water-utility discount for managing its stormwater. Ecotrust used the credit to fund the installation of the new urinals.
Oregon plumbing code limits waterfree technology to public buildings, but the Oregon State Plumbers Board granted a variance to the Natural Capital Center to allow the installation in November 2005. Elsewhere in Portland, two waterless urinals have been installed at Tryon Creek State Park, and two on the twelfth floor of the City of Portland office building.
Resistance to the new technology stems from sanitation and hygiene concerns. The urinals use a liquid sealant made from palm-oil that must be frequently replaced to maintain a sanitary condition.
For Natural Capital Center manager Sydney Mead, hygiene is a matter of perspective. “Waterless urinals are, in fact, more sanitary than flush urinals, because there’s no handle to touch. They’re widely used in Australia, and Arizona requires them in all state buildings. What can’t we do here what they have been able to do there?” she asked.
Benefits from cost-savings are another advantage, especially into the future.
“Picture a five-gallon bucket full of water fresh from the Bull Run River,” said Mike O’Brian. “It costs 1.2 cents. The price of water doesn’t reflect the value of water. But these urinals will make more economic sense as water and electricity costs increase beyond levels we can even anticipate.”
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