Hands-Free Faucets: The Right Choice for Your Building?
The use of the hands-free faucet in plumbing system design and construction continues to increase. These faucets provide an appealing range of benefits that make them a frequent choice in health care facilities, restaurants and public restrooms. While hands-free faucets are becoming increasingly common, recent research suggests they may not be as hygienic as hoped, so care should be taken when considering these types of fixtures for your plumbing project.
Basics of hands-free faucets
Hands-free faucets deliver water much like a standard faucet, but the flow is more precisely controlled. The most striking characteristic of the hands-free faucet is the lack of handles for turning water flow off and on. Instead, these devices use battery-powered motion sensors or infrared lights to detect when someone has placed his or her hands under the faucet. Water flows until the person takes his or her hands away, after which the water automatically stops. Water temperature stays consistent, but can be adjusted with a control valve. Low-flow aerators deliver controlled amounts of water.
Benefits of a hands-free faucet
The hands-free option provides several practical benefits that can make it a good choice from the perspective of users, facility owners and plumbing and construction professionals.
- Improved hygiene: Faucets and plumbing fixtures, especially in public facilities, are known to carry large numbers of bacteria and other contaminants on their surfaces. With a hands-free faucet, users don’t have to touch the faucet or handles to start or stop a flow of water. The faucet itself doesn’t get contaminated by dirt or other substances from the users’ hands.
- Reduced water consumption: Water use can be reduced by as much as 50 percent by using a hands-free faucet. The faucets use low-flow components to restrict water flow but can be programmed to deliver water at different rates, allowing a greater range of control over water usage. They cannot be accidentally or deliberately left on.
- Convenient and easy to use: Hands-free faucets have no handles, so they require only that a person put their hands under the faucet to use them. The water flow shuts off automatically. There’s no need to change the water temperature by adjusting handles.
- Wide applicability: Hands-free faucets can be put to use in a variety of settings, including medical and dental offices, restaurant kitchens and food-service facilities, public restrooms and assisted living facilities serving those with physical impairments.
- Reduced chance of hot water injuries: With the ability to pre-set water temperatures, hands-free models cut down on the chance of accidental scalding or hot water injuries. This can be an extremely important consideration in settings serving those with underdeveloped or limited physical abilities.
Major disadvantage of hands-free plumbing
Recent research at Johns Hopkins Hospital suggests that hands-free faucets are less sanitary than hoped. The interior components of hands-free models appear to provide an inviting environment for the growth of Legionella bacteria, which is commonly found in public water supplies. The microorganisms cause Legionnaire’s disease, a severe and potentially fatal respiratory condition.
A research study referenced on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website noted that Legionella was found in 50 percent of the water samples taken from 20 hands-free faucets. In contrast, only 15 percent of the 20 samples taken from traditional manual faucets contained the bacteria. Experts suggest that the reason that hands-free faucets have more bacteria is that the more complicated valves and internal components provide more surfaces where bacteria can grow and thrive.
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