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Making the Case for Residential Urinals

BlueSolar | Posted in General Questions on

Hi all – Have any of you installed urinals in your home? Have you looked at doing it?

So far that’s my plan. It seems like a no brainer. Urinals use massively less water than even Watersense toilets, and keep toilets a lot cleaner. It seems like it should be the default on home construction – it’s not clear why we would have such a basic appliance everywhere but in our homes.

The most efficient I’ve seen use a pint of water per flush. Even if we conservatively assume that these super minimal models aren’t using enough water to be effective, a quart per flush model would still be a massive savings over a toilet.

I’ve looked at waterless too, but they seem suboptimal because they require nontrivial maintenance and replacement of their chemicals or cartridges. Waterless urinals look like an example of what I call arbitrary variable optimization, which is common in green circles, like people who say that solar water heaters are “more efficient” than PV, which is a physics claim and doesn’t matter. Home is the only place waterless even makes any sense, since public waterless urinals are gross and unsanitary – you’ll get other people’s urine splashed on you. At home that’s not an issue, but the $99 gallon of blue chemical you need was a turn-off. And the plumbers’ unions have been trying to block their use by lobbying against code approval (what a racket), so I imagine getting plumbers to install them might be a hassle depending on where you live, or expensive (they need special lines). It’s a bummer how lazy and conservative the construction trades are – there’s much less progress than in any other sector I know of.

Regular urinals are cheap. So far the biggest challenge seems to be the interior design of the bathrooms. Default layouts don’t accommodate them. It looks the bathrooms need to either be wider, or lumpier, with a punched out foot or two. Have any of you solved the layout?

The cleanliness is a huge draw. You could do a dissertation on what happens when men use toilets to urinate, all the unexpected ways they get dirty, maybe with slow motion cameras…

And it’s such a waste of water. The savings estimates posted on GBA in a 2010 article on home urinals were way off because they assumed only 3 times a day per male. It will be much higher than that, especially for people who work from home, which is common now. The actual savings will be two or three times the estimate, even compared to low flush toilets. I’m also looking at graywater systems and rainwater catchment to keep net municipal water use low. It would be especially neat to be able to take real showers, like they do in other countries, while keeping net use low. So urinals can be a partial offset for other water use. (Quality of life is a critical factor for me, or else I’d get rid of windows…)

So any implementers? All I’ve seen in real life were basement “man cave” scenarios, not actual bathrooms.

Thanks.

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Replies

  1. Expert Member
    Zephyr7 | | #1

    One of the issues you have with urinals and also commercial toilets is that the sloan valve they use for flushing needs a rather lot of water pressure AND VOLUME to operate correctly. Many residential water services can't run one, or can JUST BARELY do it. I actually do know a mechanical contractor who installed a urinal in his house, but he had to plumb a water line directly off of his meter to get enough water flow for it to flush right.

    If you're doing a new build, it wouldn't be too difficult to allow for sufficiently large piping to get the flow needed for a urinal. In a remodel, this might be a problem.

    Note that one of the reasons urinals aren't popular in homes is because it's usually not just a guy living there. There was a "love it or list it" episode where the guy wanted a urinal in their new home, and his wife was always rolling her eyes at him about it. That's an important design parameter! :-)

    Bill

  2. Aaron Beckworth | | #2

    From what I’ve read splash-back is a problem with urinals and conventional toilets. The discussion, especially for a social scientist like yourself, should be ‘sit vs. stand’. What is it that keeps men from sitting in their own homes?

    This issue has been studied by researchers at BYU.
    https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24820279

    1. BlueSolar | | #7

      Yeah, I read about those Utah researchers a while back. Kohler makes some good antisplash urinals.

    2. BlueSolar | | #8

      I forgot about your sitting idea. It would be unmanly. Feminizing men is a terrible idea.

      1. Mark B | | #23

        Well you certainly wouldn’t want to feminize little boys growing up, would you? Don’t forget to leave room for a second kid sized urinal. Or better yet, just teach him to pee outside to mark your property line.

        1. BlueSolar | | #25

          Mark, we'd just use the universal urinals, the ones that start at the floor, or at a low point just a few inches from the floor.

  3. Walter Ahlgrim | | #3

    I do not see how the economics of a home urinals work in dollars and cents.

    I have yet to see a city water bill where the next gallon cost was more than a few cents and often less than a penny.

    This for a device that will be used by less than half the residence and eats up 6 square feet of bathroom costing $400 a sqf =$2400.00

    If there is a water shortage in your city then move away from the desert and don’t force the 80% do not to subsidize your water projects and use crippled plumbing fixtures.

    Walt

    1. BlueSolar | | #9

      The dollar savings in water bills is irrelevant to me. Not wasting so much water is what matters to me in this context. Toilets are absurdly wasteful compared to urinals, so it's a no brainer.

      It doesn't matter if "only" half of people use urinals. Half is an enormous figure. I saw irrational answers like that on Quora. What matters is that water is being wasted when such an easy fix is available, and that it would keep toilets a lot cleaner. What percentage of people use urinals / are men doesn't change anything. Lots of features of homes are only used by a subset of residents.

      Cost per square foot doesn't manifest in that way, as an automatic, discrete marginal cost added to the price of any house that would have urinals. It's not clear that there would be any net increase in area, since redesigns could absorb the extra square footage in various ways. Urinals should just be standard in all homes – it's very strange that we evolved this basic appliance in all other settings but not in homes, and there don't seem to be any good arguments or reasons for not having them.

      1. Walter Ahlgrim | | #26

        The fact is we live in a capitalist world. Money is how we allocate and ration everything in most of the world. Name the country that does not use some type of currency to keep score.

        Wasting water is all but impossible short of transporting it into outer space. You can dirty it up that is temporary sooner or later it will evaporate and fall back to earth clean as ever. Even if you break it down into elements it tends to recombine if given a chance. Yes you can waste energy treating and transporting clean water.

        Like everything we put a low price on people will use more and pay little attention to conserving it. If you want people to respect water raise the price in locations where it is in short supply problem solved. Lots of people would decide it was a bad idea to live in a desert I do not see that as a problem.

        Builders understand every square foot cost money to build and bathrooms are the most expensive square feet in most homes. If you add a fixture it takes up space that space cost money no and if or buts. No way is the wife accepting a smaller closet to make room for a urinal.

        Walta

        1. Bryan Coplin | | #29

          "Wasting water is all but impossible short of transporting it into outer space."

          That's only true up to a point. It's very possible to waste water on a human time scale. Aquifers can take thousands of years to recharge from rain, once depleted.

        2. BlueSolar | | #34

          You're on the right track with water pricing. But the solution isn't to have some authority arbitrarily set water prices. That's the status quo.

          The solution is a free market mechanism. A free market's price mechanism would do everything you're talking about. The cost of water extraction and distribution would be straightforwardly passed on to users. Water scarce? Up goes the price. Nothing is better at managing scarcity than market pricing.

          Right now water is often subsidized, and the actual cost is obscured to users. This leads to a lot of overconsumption and waste. There's no fee market to communicate scarcity to end users in the form of price. Economics 101, but Americans tend not to know Economics 101.

          It's a little trickier because it looks like the running water supply infrastructure has to be some sort of natural monopoly. At this stage in history, the only way we know how to achieve cheap potable water is through municipal water systems with huge underground piping networks, reservoirs, etc. The physical nature of such systems precludes the emergence of a top to bottom free market where a bunch of different businesses and co-ops could build competing water systems that people could choose from. We can't have seven different water mains going into each home, with their own networks and supply. So the application of a free market has to be limited to other control layers.

          We can still do a lot to establish market pricing mechanisms, and I'd probably privatize the ongoing maintenance and management of the infrastructure by bidding it out every few years to prevent the kind of lazy, wasteful incumbency we see with water utilities and their political maneuvering. Texas lets people choose their electric utility, which is awesome. They don't have a bunch of parallel physical electric utilities, obviously, for the same reasons we don't have them for water, but they've established a free market at a different control layer, and people can choose based on things like price, percent renewable, pricing plan structure, etc: http://www.powertochoose.org

      2. DCContrarian | | #27

        The least green thing you can do is build things that have short useful lives. Often things have short useful lives not because they are short-lived, but because they are not useful.

        1. BlueSolar | | #28

          About half of humanity is male, so urinals are one of the most useful devices we'd be able to put in a home.

  4. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #4

    BlueSolar,

    A client put one in his main bathroom about 30 years ago. I did an addition and renovation for them decades later during which they removed it. The main complaints were it smelled and was unpleasant to clean. The cost of the urinal and installation were surprisingly high.

  5. DCContrarian | | #5

    I have a friend who is the son of a plumber and one of five boys. His father installed a urinal to increase throughput in the bathroom. If you look at commercial settings that seems to be how they're used, to get more utilization in the same space.

  6. Andrew C | | #6

    I find it hard to believe that this is serious question if one has ever cleaned a bathroom or observed the floors and walls/spray dividers in a public restroom. Yuck.

    1. BlueSolar | | #10

      What are referring to? Urinals? Toilets? Are you arguing for or against urinals?

      1. Expert Member
        Deleted | | #11

        Deleted

      2. James Someone | | #18

        O

    2. Darren Adams | | #13

      +1, x10. If you live in shorts in the South, you'll likely be familiar with splash back from smelly standard public urinals on your legs. And when you clean your own bathrooms, ... well, double yuck. Save the space, use the toilet, and sit every time instead of every other. It's not being feminized, it's being intelligent and considerate.

      1. BlueSolar | | #15

        The state of some public bathrooms has no connection to this, since we're talking about private bathrooms. So it's not a valid argument to equate a high traffic commons with a home.

        Men are never going to sit, at least not most men. That's ridiculous. Men should be men.

        1. James Someone | | #17

          skip the urinal and find a tree in the yard to relieve yourself against.

          I think we have covered the topic of urinals.

          Good luck

    3. BlueSolar | | #36

      I should've mentioned that I used to be a janitor in my youth, for over a year at Alllied-Signal in Tucson (now Honeywell). It taught me that toilets are fundamentally unsuitable for distal, non-contact, aimed deliveries.

      For reasons I don't recall, Cambodian immigrants were overrepresented among the assembly workers (this was avionics, APUs). They wouldn't use the toilets as designed – they wouldn't sit on them or touch them. Rather, they would use the stall's side walls to prop themselves up above the toilet, and then make their deposits from this perch. This strategy often left messes for the janitors to deal with.

      Toilets are designed for seated use only. Aiming deliveries from a distance is suboptimal and results in needless mess. Even just urinating is surprisingly messy even with the best of intentions, due to poor line of sight angles (especially for men with bellies), unpredictable starting angles, secondary streams with a much steeper trajectory, and so on and so forth. Exploring all the causes could occupy several dissertations in kinesiology, applied physics, fluid dynamics, embodied cognition, propioception, mindfulness, etc.

  7. Johngfc | | #12

    We visited friends that built a net-zero house in SW Colorado (CZ 5 or 6), where their water supply is collection from building, supplemented by a water truck every 6 or 8 months. They have a waterless urinal, which they've used for 7 years and are very happy with it. If I recall correctly, the design is one with a cartridge that needs replacing once or twice a year. It is not messy, it was not smelly, it was convenient, and it was economical. I could ring them and get details if you need specific recommendations.

    1. Drew Baden | | #20

      I'm interested in the model, info, etc.

      1. Johngfc | | #41

        Drew,

        I spoke with my friend, and he's still very happy with his waterless urinal. Lots of detail, so I'll summarize some key points here. Happy to share more if you want.
        - it's a Sloan WaterFree, apparently the one that is very common in airports, commercial buildings, etc.
        - these use two kinds of cartridges: the (original) blue oil-based one, and a newer water based. He's switched to the water, which doesn't last as long but is less expensive. There are trade-offs (you can clean oil, but it requires nasty acid, etc.). It's easier to just swap out the cartridges. The water-based are less expensive, arrive dry, and you charge with water. The cartridges apparently last on the order of 18-24 months, depending on usage.
        - like any toilet, it does need cleaning, and there appear to be consistent differences in opinion between wives and husbands where that cleaning threshold lies.
        - cleaning with the water-based cartridge (but not oil) is not onerous and you can use a wide variety of cleaners. Mostly you can flush with water.
        - cartridges are supposed to be good for 4,000 'charges'. Maybe airports get this, but probably not in a residence.
        - you can get the toilets and cartridges from Amazon. No problem with getting supplies.

        Bottom line - go for it! I'm amazed there's not more support for something that's so environmentally friendly. Why are we pissing in drinking water, which sustains our life?

        1. Geoff Pritchard | | #48

          Pissing in drinking water! Amen.

          Think about that. We spend lots of energy and effort to make water potable so that we can crap and pee in it making it nonpotable so we can start the whole process over again.

          Most men will tell you one advantage of living "out of town" is getting to pee off the deck.

  8. Bryan Coplin | | #14

    If you're concerned with water conservation, flush only solids. Why install an extraneous fixture?

    1. BlueSolar | | #16

      That would be gross. People tend to not want their homes to be gross.

      What's extraneous about a urinal?

      1. Bryan Coplin | | #21

        "Gross" is imprecise and entirely subjective. A number of people described urinals in similar language; perhaps that's why so few of them are installed in private homes.

        Urinals are extraneous in that they are wholly unnecessary for bathrooms to function. If you want to install one to save water, go ahead. It is not, however, the only way to save water from flushing, and certainly not the most common.

        1. BlueSolar | | #22

          Sure, no argument from me that urinals aren't the only way to save water, or that they're not common. This whole thread is premised on my awareness that they're not common.

          On the gross aspect, two things. Lots of people will think it's gross to leave urine stewing in their homes. It doesn't matter if we call this perception "subjective" – it doesn't change the fact that that is their perception, nor does it change the number of people with that perception.

          Second, if this idea that urinals are themselves gross or dirty is based on the condition of public restrooms, then it's an invalid extrapolation to private restrooms, and can be dismissed. Perceptions there can be debunked since we can show how they don't apply to homes, whereas perceptions of the grossness of stewing urine in bowls can't be similarly debunked. The latter is a flatter, almost axiomatic perception. Whether we can change people's minds in either case is a separate issue.

          1. James Someone | | #24

            I believe you are capable and free to decide whether you install a urinal in your home. I just can't see the point of trying to convince you otherwise. It might be worth your time to do same. Stand up, sit down, moot.

            Good luck

  9. Drew Baden | | #19

    I have a urinal in my supplies that I plan to install into my barn

  10. Keith Gustafson | | #30

    While a urinal saves water, unless you are actually short of water, IE living in the high desert, are you actually being 'green' in buying a complex manufactured product to save a relatively small amount of water.
    Space better utilized, excess cleaning products over time, additional maintenance................

  11. Jamie B | | #31

    This is a funny thread

    I'm not opposed to urinals in general. But all this talk about water savings and no one has gotten into any numbers yet.

    I'm not a plumber, nor do I have any urinal design experience. So hopefully someone who does can tell me how wrong I am.

    To my understanding, standard urinals use 1.0 gpf. Some American standard ones are operating at 0.5 gpf, Looking at Kohler, they have some efficient ones that can operate as low as 0.125 gfp, all depends on where you dial your flush valve to (a sidebar question to ask is how effective is it at 0.125 gpf). Personally I would expect to be somewhere near 0.5 gpf, I assume less than that and you're getting excessive urine smells (you'll still need urinal pucks regardless, yes I've cleaned 1gpf oldschool urinals and without urinal pucks the odour gets quite bad, albeit it's high use)

    A lot of low flow dual flush toilets are in that ballpark as well. For instance the Aussie caroma wall hung toilets I put in are a dual flush 0.8/1.2 gpf (you can do even less by adjusting the water fill level in the cistern, but I can't measure it) So considering using only the low flush with urine events, it's not all that much worse.

    And as some people have mentioned on this thread already, we must consider the extra costs:
    Cost of Purchasing the extra units (urinal & flush valve)
    Upgrade to the incoming water line from the city,
    Upgrade to whole house side plumbing,
    Extra maintenance & cleaning products,
    Theoretical sqftage cost of an extra unit vs one toilet

    But now that we know a toilet vs urinal is wasting a probable 0.3 gpf, it makes this consideration water saving vs cost and resource spending a little easier. Of course, the decision of what is ultimately more green or better overall performance is entirely up to you.

    Next the other thing to consider, if we want to get to crazytown about saving water but still having all the things, consider a rainwater collection system for toilet flushing. I know things like earthips do this. I can't imagine its not overly difficult to design/build that kind of system that is augmented by city water when the rain collection tank is empty. You'll blow your water savings well... out of the water with something like that.

    For what it's Worth,

    Jamie

    1. DCContrarian | | #32

      Well put. A dual flush toilet makes a lot more sense in a residential setting. Another idea, in the "if you want to get crazytown" vein, is a graywater capture system for the toilets. Flush all you want without using any more water.

    2. BlueSolar | | #33

      I would never install a urinal that uses 0.5 gallons per flush. That's way too high, so my water savings are much higher than your estimates. One pint is the floor, and one quart is the ceiling. The only reason I even assume one quart is hedging my bets on whether the one pint models are too good to be true/effective. I can't imagine why we'd need more then a quart, so that's my ceiling.

      The real floor is actually waterless. Someone posted above about a good waterless model, and I'm still open to waterless if it can be ultralow maintenance.

      I mentioned gray water and rainwater above. They're interesting ways to offset taking real showers. Beyond my own build I'm working on an overseas community project that opens up all sorts of possibilities to start from a clean slate, unburdened by American norms and codes. One interesting issue is shower flow rate. Apparently other countries have much stronger showers than we do (e.g. Brazil's and Chile's are supposed to be sublime torrents).

      If being able to take strong showers turns out to be a consequential quality of life boost, it would be awesome to be able to offset the water usage with measures like: extreme leak elimination (leaks are supposed to be a huge source of water consumption), urinals, gray water, rainwater.

      1. James Someone | | #35

        Whatever tickles ya. Have at it.

      2. Jamie B | | #37

        Very good.

        So to answer your original question: has anyone installed urinals in our homes? It looks like the answer is no.

        And it looks like you're going to install one in yours.

        So please if you can, report back on here in a year after you start operating it. I'm very curious to how it turns out.

        Jamie

        1. Johngfc | | #46

          The answer is yes. See above. I'd also appreciate feedback after the install and some experience with it.

          Clean water is a huge issue, for all sorts of reasons, including the energy and infrastructure to store, treat, and deliver it. And water has a very strong nexus with climate and carbon. If the existing urinals aren't good enough, we should working to improve them, not reject a solution that has a place, albeit not in every home.

  12. Irene3 | | #38

    Or you could just pee in the tub and run a small quantity of water after. (No, I'm not entirely serious -- but I don't actually see why a urinal is any less gross than peeing in the tub.)

    1. James Someone | | #39

      Perfect logic!

    2. DCContrarian | | #40

      It would probably be more water-efficient to pee in the sink.

  13. Patrick OSullivan | | #42

    Please, for the love of everything, make this thread stop.

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #44

      Thanks Patrick. That cheered me up.

  14. John Clark | | #43

    No. There's zero reason to install one in a residence. Splash back is a problem unless you get a large one. Even then guys are aware of it so they stand back farther and make a mess on the floor. in front of it.

    No NO NO NO NO.

    1. BlueSolar | | #45

      Not much of an argument. Urinals are a no brainer, an obvious move. They save water and keep toilets cleaner. Splashback is a solved problem based on recent research. Kohler has splash-free already. Dirty public restroom urinals are irrelevant to this discussion.

  15. Mark Harrison | | #47

    What a long thread! But nobody mentioned the simple solution that I have used for years.

    I have a leftover hospital pee bottle on top of the toilet. I pee in the bottle, then pour it into the toilet. Once per week, I rinse the bottle with a dollop of Clorox. No splashback, no overspray, no odor. Trying to keep it simple!

  16. Jamie B | | #49

    Just collect used water bottles out of garbage cans, pee in them, and store them in your shed ongoingly. You're recycling and no saving water!

    Problem solved...

    1. Jamie B | | #50

      My apologies, I'm just taking the piss of this thread...

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