University chooses to save money over water

Karla Karcioglu, Roving Editor Ω

The International Building’s 12 environmentally-friendly dual-flush toilets were replaced with standard single-flush toilets this past March after maintenance costs increased when students kept trying to flush paper towels.

Dual-flush toilet instructions proved inadequate in TRU's International Building. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

Dual-flush toilet instructions proved inadequate in TRU’s International Building. Karla Karcioglu/The Omega

High-efficiency dual-flush toilets were found to use an average of 26 per cent less water than standard single-flush toilets in tests conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Though the changes were made to alleviate environmental impact, maintenance costs became a concern. A plumber was being called to the International Building (IB) one to three times per week according to TRU’s plumbing supervisor Tom O’Byrne.

The cost to call in a plumber to fix the clogged pipes was approximately $150 each time, O’Byrne said, adding that there was concern over the inconvenience created for staff and students when bathrooms were out of commission for repair.

From April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013, the plumbing costs for IB’s 30 dual-flush toilets amounted to $3,931.61, compared with $1,043.77 for 22 standard single-flush toilets in the Arts and Education building.

The replacement single-flush toilets each cost $400, with the total cost of the replacement amounting to $5790.70 including parts, labour and taxes, according to Lincoln Chua, associate director of infrastructure at TRU.

Illustration by Sean Brady

Graphic by Sean Brady

The facilities department’s initial solution to the problem was to remove paper towels from bathrooms, but O’Byrne said students were unhappy with the change. Another attempt was made to disable the lower flush option on the toilets, but the problem continued.

In the seven months since the replacements were installed, the new set of single-flush toilets has only required one call to the plumber.

“It’s one thing to save water,” O’Byrne said. “The dual-flush toilets were the wrong application for that building.”

TRU’s interim director of environment and sustainability James Gudjonson called the situation “challenging.” He acknowledged that although students caused the plumbing issues with the dual-flush toilets, the school itself should accept some responsibility for failing to educate them on the possible damage that could ensue from misuse.

An awareness campaign is now being developed by Gudjonson’s department to alert students when new technology is installed to alleviate environmental impact.