Jamie Oliver is sorting out the nation’s school kitchens, but what about the toilets? Peter Mayer of Building Performance Group sums up the issues on choice of material and long-term durability
Total capital investment in schools is expected to reach £5.1bn in 2005-2006 as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme, offering an important opportunity to improve school environments and pupil performance. Parliamentary Early Day Motion 476 calls for Ofsted inspections to ensure toilets meet standards for condition, suitability and accessibility. However, there is no specific standard for toilet cubicles.
Cubicle panels and doors
Specifying cubicle panels to relevant material standards gives certainty about long-term performance. But it is just as important that the toilet cubicle can withstand impacts and wear in use. Unfortunately, standards relating to non-load-bearing internal partitions do not cover toilet partitions. Nevertheless, these standards, which include BS 5234 and European Technical Approval Guideline (ETAG) 003, do include tests that would confirm the performance of toilet cubicles in practice. These tests include resistance to crowd pressure, soft and hard impacts, eccentric vertical loads, horizontal loads, slamming of doors, anchorage pull–out as well as resistance to physical, chemical and biological agents.
Solid high-pressure laminate
Solid high-pressure laminate (HPL) toilet cubicles are the preferred option for higher resistance to impact, wear, scratching, stains and moisture.
BS EN 438 is the standard for high pressure laminates. Grade HGS (horizontal general standard) has higher wear and scratch resistance than grade VGS (vertical general standard).
Particleboard, or chipboard, is defined in BS EN 312. Use grade P5, load-bearing, moisture resistant particleboard for toilet cubicles in education buildings. Particleboards for toilet cubicles are faced with melamine or high-pressure laminate. The latter offers higher wear resistance. Edging may be laminate or 1-3 mm thick PVC lipping.
Medium-density fibreboard (mdf)
Medium-density fibreboard, specification type MDF.HLS (BS EN 622-5) is suitable for toilet cubicles as it is load bearing and suitable for humid conditions. Face and edge finishes are similar to that for particleboard.
What to specify
Weighing up the expected material performance in the context of likely use or abuse allows a trade-off between capital costs and future maintenance, repair and replacement costs. Lower capital costs are associated with less robust cubicles, but these can provide long service if use is moderate and there is little abuse, such as nursery or infant schools.
For secondary or high schools, with large student populations and increased risk of vandalism, even specifying the most robust toilet cubicle may not be enough to avoid premature replacements and repairs.
Establishing the likely usage, past performance, typical causes of failure and risk of abuse in consultation with the caretaker or maintenance department will provide information for a realistic lifetime cost appraisal.
Key failure issues
Melamine-faced boards are prone to minor cracking and chipping at the edges. Moisture-resistant boards are not waterproof, only resistant to moisture. Swelling of particleboard and mdf can be expected where the decorative surface has been damaged and conditions are humid. During installation, ensure that cut edges are sealed before fixing. Particleboard or mdf may not be an option where maintenance includes jet washing.
Usage over time tends to loosen fittings and make the assembly more prone to damage from impacts and rough usage. Accidental damage or vandalism are issues in schools. Common failures include scratches, graffiti and distortion or breaking of doors, cubicle ironmongery and partitions.
Whole-life performance and cost issues
The whole life performance of toilet cubicles may be enhanced by specification aimed at minimising the risk and effects of vandalism.
- Pilasters Usually the same material and thickness as the main panels, but they bear the burden of slamming doors or excesive loads, for example where doors are used for swinging from. Specify thicker or aluminium pilasters for greater strength. Specify floor-fixed sanitaryware so loads are transferred directly to the floor, rather than pedestal fittings.
- Fixings Tamper-proof. Use through fixings rather than screw-in ones.
- Fittings Avoid fittings, such as coats hooks, that can be snapped or bent. Specify rounded twist-action indicator bolts rather than barrel bolts.
- Hinges Must not trap fingers. Specify hinges with durability test data. In cyclical open–shut testing, some hinges are tested to 250,000 cycles.
- Design for rigidity Incorporate metal head-rails. Specify ceiling height partitions so that there is no partition top to hang from.
- Spare parts Ensure there is a ready supply of spare parts and design for easy and quick repair.
- Alternative approaches to vandalism that have been successful include installation of CCTV, employing a concierge or unisex toilets.