UP CLOSE: HAND DRYERS
Throwing In The (Paper) TowelBy Nick Bragg, Deputy Editor
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The situation is an all too familiar one that plays out in public restrooms across the country: a patron washes his hands, walks over to the hand dryer, pushes the button and stands there holding his hands underneath the unit and waits…and waits some more. More often than not, the patron eventually gets frustrated after 20 seconds and ends up wiping his damp hands on his pants before exiting the restroom.
Realizing that this is a common occurrence, electric hand dryer manufacturers have devoted their efforts to improving their drying technology and have recently introduced hand dryers that tout drying times anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds faster than their traditional counterparts — and actually do what they’re meant to do — dry restroom patrons’ hands.
Considerable progress in technology over the years has resulted in smaller, quieter, more powerful, and more cost-effective hand dryers. Newer models have been designed to lower the noise factor from around 70 decibels to 50, making them more appealing in settings such as corporate office buildings and libraries.
Hand dryer manufacturers have also responded to the rash of communicable diseases in recent years by introducing units that utilize touch-free technology. Not only do these hand dryers eliminate the need to touch the units and possibly transfer germs, but they also look modern and sleek, which improves the overall appearance of a restroom.
Hand dryers have come a long way from the antiquated push-button models, but they are not done innovating. Distributors say newer, high-speed jet air hand dryers are the new popular choice in restrooms.
These high-speed hand dryers have the capability to blow water off of a restroom user’s hands with a high-velocity air stream exiting through a nozzle or a unit that patron’s place their hands into. The high-velocity air breaks up the layer of water vapor between the air and the skin and causes the thin water film to evaporate more quickly than it would if using a conventional dryer. Thus, these high-speed devices are capable of drying hands anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds — two to three times faster than standard hand dryers.
Because of these recent advancements, end users are beginning to recognize that today’s hand dryers are no longer just blowing hot air, but are capable of providing measurable operational savings in restrooms while also promoting a healthy green environment.
While some end users may object to the upfront cost of implementation of a hand dryer, distributors say if they can convince customers of the long-term savings plus show the health benefits, decreased waste and lower maintenance requirements, the advantages of hand dryers should put any price concerns to rest, especially during a time when facilities are slashing cleaning budgets.
One way distributors are convincing customers to buy into hand dryers is by providing customers with a cost analysis that details how much money they would save by switching from paper products to electric hand dryers in their restrooms.
“We do a cost analysis for their facility based on what they are currently using and how many dryers they can use,” says Carmela Bass-Belsito, president of C&L Supply Co., Los Angeles. “That tells them how long it would take for them to recoup their money. When they see the annual savings, it’s pretty substantial. Restrooms don’t make you money, they cost you money. So if you can bring that cost down, that’s always beneficial.”
In fact, over the life cycle of a hand dryer, Bass-Belsito says the cost savings vs. using paper towels is significant — at least 95 percent for high-speed units. Not only does the end user eliminate purchasing paper each month, but the labor associated with storing, replenishing, collecting and disposing of the bacteria-laden paper towel is nonexistent with the installation of a hand dryer, says Lance LaFave, vice president and co-owner of Newton Distributing Co., Inc., Newton, Mass.
“Your restrooms are more hygienic and maintenance free,” he says. “You’re not running out of paper, there’s no paper on the floor and there’s no cross-contamination.”
In addition to the time-consuming task of picking up paper towels off of the restroom floor, distributors say cleaning personnel often find paper towels in peculiar places such as toilets, sinks and urinals, which can create unnecessary maintenance expenses — especially if it results in clogging or flooding.
“That is very significant because you can pay for one hand dryer with one service call,” says LaFave.
Besides getting customers to recognize the potential savings over paper towel usage, distributors are also focused on convincing customers to swap out their high-cost, conventional hand dryers with high-speed units.
Out With The Old
Historically, end users balked at installing hand dryers in their restrooms because of their price tag, the cost of installation, their noise, their long drying times — in most cases hand drying takes anywhere from 30 to 45 seconds — as well as the fear of spreading bacteria.
But by installing a high-speed hand dryer, the biggest benefit that customers notice over over a traditional hand dryer — other than their significantly faster dry times — is that they use 80 percent less energy, says LaFave. That’s because while conventional units needed special circuitry in the restroom to use, today’s high-speed hand dryers use standard voltages and use minimal electricity — making installation easy for older buildings. Thus, the energy savings, LaFave notes, translates into roughly a $60 to $80 savings on average a year for facilities.
In fact, a study conducted by a hand dryer manufacturer found that for 1,000 hand dries, a high-speed unit only uses about 50 cents worth of electricity vs. $20 worth of paper.
“That’s a lot of hand dries for that amount of money compared to the price of paper towel usage,” says Bass-Belsito.
Because recent studies suggest that hand dryers can be unhygienic since they are sucking in and blowing out “polluted” restroom air onto hands, high-speed dryer manufacturers have also introduced units that use HEPA filters to clean the air before the air blows onto restroom patrons’ hands. This anti-microbial addition removes 99.9 percent of bacteria from the air used to dry hands.
Besides the health benefits these units promote, distributors are also able to sell customers on the green concept behind today’s high-speed hand dryers.
Facilities that are focused on green initiatives can reduce their overall environmental footprint with the installation of high-speed hand dryers, says Bass-Belsito. In fact, sports stadiums, museums, amusement parks and large hotels are leading the charge to go green by installing these in their facilities. Distributors say these high-traffic facilities choose these products because it provides an environmentally-friendly, cost-effective and hygienic means of drying hands, while also improving restroom efficiency for the large number of patrons.
In addition to the savings recognized from using less energy and purchasing paper towels, distributors also point customers towards the environmental impact of paper manufacturing that is avoided when installing hand dryers. Although paper towels can be made from recycled materials, they are not yet recyclable, so the waste accumulated from them end up in landfills. Distributors who have eco-conscious customers point to the facts that to make one ton of paper consumes 17 trees, pollutes 20,000 gallons of water, and consumes three cubic yards of landfill, says LaFave.
By installing hand dryers in their facility, customers can easily go green. In fact, some high-speed dryers on the market today, because of their energy and resource savings, qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
“It’s a quick win,” says LaFave. “It’s probably one of the easiest and most measurable things you can do. There’s a very rapid financial return and you’re immediately cutting paper use and paper waste. It’s very tangible and it’s very simple.”
Distributors who sell high-speed dryers say that once they can get customers to look past the upfront cost of the product, the payback, including the cost of installation, will typically be recouped within the first year.
“The payback is incredibly rapid. In most cases where the usage is really high, the ROI is nine months,” says LaFave.
In the end, showing that a hand-drying unit helps the environment, protects occupant health and lowers operational costs can go a long way in making a sale.