Washroom Design: Practicalities vs Expectations
In this article, we’ll address some of the most important issues that designers and building managers have to consider when planning a washroom; that is to say, it’s size and layout, and how it is equipped.
A good design can make a critical difference to the cost of managing a washroom and to the user experience. However, the definition of ‘good design’ is never truly fixed. As society changes, ideas of best practice need to evolve. Keep reading to find out how practical considerations and user expectations are developing, and how they can best be addressed.
In a workplace setting, there are specific rules governing the provision of facilities. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require that “suitable and sufficient sanitary conveniences shall be provided at readily accessible places.” The accompanying Approved Code Of Practice then sets out certain minimum numbers, which vary according to the size of the workforce. It also covers accessibility requirements for people with disabilities.
The Health & Safety Executive offers a helpful free guide on the subject of Welfare At Work so, rather than examining the detail of it here, it’s enough to note that adequate provision is a legal requirement backed up by specified numbers of facilities: WCs, basins and the like. For employers, this is perhaps the most fundamental of all requirements.
Another important concern is cost minimisation. There are numerous factors at work here but, in short, those that can have the most direct bearing on costs include:
- The initial investment
- Ongoing maintenance and repairs
- Staff or contractor time – inspections, cleaning, waste management and replenishment of consumables
Cheaper fittings will help to reduce initial investment costs but those early savings will quickly be eroded if the fittings themselves are more susceptible to damage and breakdowns. Robust products will typically cost more but they will tend to deliver larger maintenance and repair savings in the long term.
A similar principle applies to products that require comparatively little effort to clean, refill and maintain. Human intervention always costs money, so the less attention and effort your chosen systems demand, the more the savings will add up.
The particular question of waste management is notable here. There’s an ongoing debate as to which is better – paper towels or electric hand dryers – but the electric option has one undoubted benefit, which is that it does away with the need for large waste bins. That, in turn, means there’s no need for periodic checks on the state of the bins, no need to take full refuse bags away, no need to fit replacement bags and – increasingly important these days – less risk of exposing maintenance staff to infection via surface contact. Read more about our comparison of paper towels or electric hand dryers within a commercial washroom here.
Designing for Safety and Hygiene
Infection risks are an especially important practical consideration for designers. The Covid-19 pandemic has focused attention on the need for effective and regular handwashing, and washrooms clearly have a crucial role to play in facilitating that. However, this same heightened awareness has also seen a notable upsurge in washroom foot traffic. If people are now using washrooms more often, and for longer periods, then the rooms themselves can become problematic, especially if they grow crowded or if queues develop around pinch-points such as hand dryers, bins and doorways.
Self-contained wash stations can be an effective solution here, particularly automated stations like our Modulo range. By providing users with water, soap and drying facilities, all at the same basin, designers can largely eliminate the risk of bottlenecks. Moreover, they can also eliminate the need to walk with wet hands between basin and dryer. That translates into fewer drips, which means dryer, safer floors and fewer consequent demands upon cleaning staff. Find out more about our Modulo Behind the Mirror Wash Station range. Our excellent toilet paper dispensers also emphasise hygiene by reducing contact time, allowing for easy to use access.
Privacy Without Doors
Since infections can be spread via surface contact, door handles and push-plates at the washroom entrance can become hotspots for microorganisms. If a door handle must be used to exit the room, the infection risk can potentially return even if the user has just washed his or her hands. As a result, many washroom designers have begun to remove the need for doors altogether.
This is perhaps most often seen in large, highly trafficked public washrooms – such as in motorway service stations or shopping malls. Here, the careful placement of dividing walls and offset doorways will obstruct sightlines into washrooms without the need for a physical barrier.
This same technique can also contribute to greater accessibility for people living with some form of physical disability or sensory impairment.
Preventing Anti-Social Behaviour
This same trend – ‘designing out’ the entrance door – can have a further benefit in certain settings. A more open layout helps to deter antisocial behaviour because there is less sense of being able to ‘hide away’ in the main washroom area; less likelihood of aggressive or destructive behaviour going unheard.
This has important implications for building managers whose washrooms may be subject to vandalism, or for schools’ facilities managers who want to deter bullying in bathrooms.
School washrooms are areas where bullying is reportedly more common than in many other areas. This can include harassing pupils when they are in a cubicle. For this reason, fitting full, floor-to-ceiling partitions is regarded as good practice. This prevents other users from looking over or under the dividing walls – either in person or with a phone camera – and prevents things from being thrown or passed between cubicles.
Privacy and Gender
Full-height partition walls also help to main a proper sense of privacy more generally. This may be particularly beneficial for people who identify as non-binary, or where washrooms are intended to be unisex.
Comfort and Aesthetics
Providing a bright, attractive washroom is not a practical requirement as such, but it is nevertheless important.
Hybrid working – spending time working from home as well as in the office – has become much more common since the advent of Covid. As a result, many employees are used to visiting their own domestic bathrooms during the working day. That could potentially give rise to a starkly apparent contrast in conditions between facilities at home and at work; if workplace bathrooms are cold or unwelcoming, staff may grow increasingly aware of it.
This matters because, as we noted earlier, washrooms are used more often now – sometimes purely for handwashing in an effort to maintain good hygiene. Substandard conditions will therefore be noticed, and can reflect badly on an organisation’s brand; they may be regarded as an indicator of how concerned an employer really is about staff welfare. Poorer washroom conditions may therefore act as an incentive to work from home more often or, in more extreme cases, they may contribute to a growing sense of disaffection. Neither outcome is likely to support good workplace morale or improved productivity.
Fortunately, a more welcoming washroom environment can be created relatively easily. Some simple steps include:
- Confirming that the lighting is sufficient in all parts of the washroom
- Using light colours on walls and ceilings to make the most of the available light
- Using mirrors to create a sense of space and to further reflect available light
- Choosing robust washroom fittings to minimise the risk of breakdowns and unsightly damage
- Mounting fittings above basins to keep other floor and wall areas as clear as possible
A particularly effective solution is to use behind-the-mirror dispensers, which enable each basin to operate as a standalone wash-station, and which help to create a sleek, uncluttered appearance. The equipment itself is kept safe and out of sight behind the mirror, which bounces light back into the room. Browse our entire Modulo range here, from paper towel dispensers to soap dispensers and storage cabinets for refillable supplies.
These are common considerations but they are by no means the only ones that must be kept in mind when creating designs for new or remodelled washrooms. Individual designs will vary according to user numbers, available space, structural constraints and the purpose of the building as a whole.
To help designers and building owners, we have produced The Dudley Industries Washroom Guide, which provides layout and product specification advice for different washroom environments. In addition, our technical support team will be pleased to answer specific customer enquiries.
Start a Conversation with Dudley Industries
Dudley Industries manufactures a range of a robust, space-saving products for commercial and public washrooms. To find out more about how our range of commercial washroom solutions can suit your washroom requirements, contact a member of the team today or alternatively, please see our Washroom Solutions brochure here.