Chicago, IL

Museum of Science & Industry

Sloan Monitored Systems, which automates restroom monitoring, and water-efficient Sloan fixtures combine for a truly innovative plumbing system at Chicago’s world-class educational museum.
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry has a reputation for being a world-class museum with a focus on educating the public about inventions, scientific discoveries and other notable historic developments through the ages. It should be no surprise, then, that the museum, which features exhibits highlighting mankind’s grandest ideas, would be open to exploring new ideas of its own to meet facility operational requirements.

When the museum renovated its largest public restroom and added two restrooms, the facilities management team chose to install water-efficient fixtures. Moreover, the restroom projects offered a prime opportunity to test Sloan Monitored Systems (SMS), a networked, software-based water control system from Sloan Valve Company, in those three restrooms. SMS has worked so well for the museum that J. Jeffery Johnson, director of facilities, is keen on bringing SMS to other restrooms in the future.

Water savings began when the museum installed low-consumption fixtures in place of older fixtures using more water. The facility replaced manual 3.5 gpf (13.2 Lpf) water closets with sensor-activated 1.6 gpf Sloan water closets, manual 1.5 gpf (5.7 Lpf) urinals with Sloan Waterfree Urinals, and manual metering faucets operating at 0.25 gallon-per-use with Sloan sensor-activated 0.5 gpm faucets.

The water closet and faucet updates alone have reduced water usage by approximately 800,000 gallons of water each year. Installing the Waterfree Urinals, as well as a greywater system that supplies water to flush some of the water closets, saves the museum another 250,000 gallons of water annually. Altogether, the water-efficiency systems save almost 1.1 million gallons annually.

Greywater is the only source of water for about half of the 50 toilets in restrooms with the SMS. Although Johnson says he would prefer to have all toilets pulling water from the greywater system, not enough water is generated by lavatory use to flush all of them. Even so, the museum is ahead of most of its peers when it comes to water efficiency: The museum is the only cultural institution in Illinois with a standalone greywater system for restrooms, as well as the first institution in the state to roll out dozens of Waterfree Urinals. Installing the greywater system and the Waterfree Urinals required special approval from the city and state.

Occupancy sensors at the door to each restroom count how many people enter. Counters placed at each water closet and Waterfree Urinal aid in restroom monitoring. This is particularly helpful for ensuring that housekeeping replaces the urinals’ Waterfree Urinal cartridges before they are depleted; the system issues a warning when a urinal comes within about 100 uses of expiration. SMS sensors are also hooked to the electronic faucets and soap dispensers, but they do not count activations. Rather, their purpose is to alert if a faucet is running non-stop or a dispenser is low on soap.

An air sensor that monitors air quality in each of the restrooms is also connected to SMS. Air quality issues could range from a higher than acceptable level of sewer gas to a visitor smoking in the restroom.

"The system works flawlessly," says Johnson. SMS alerts feed into a computer in the central dispatch office, which is monitored 24/7, and tie into the museum’s work order system, which may either send an e-mail to the housekeeping staff office or automatically generate work tickets. SMS typically sends alerts on more everyday matters, such as soap dispensers needing to be refilled, rather than emergencies. In the case of a more serious issue, such as a lavatory blockage, a plumber gets dispatched directly to the issue.

Johnson maintains that restroom service has actually improved due to SMS: Consumable outages are no longer a problem, and housekeeping managers have gained workforce flexibility. "It’s been a great assistance to us," he says. "If we get a call that a dispenser is out or there's a clog, we can selectively pull people from other spaces to take care of that on an ad hoc basis versus dedicating personnel to restrooms 100% of the time."

Another added benefit: Requests for restroom supplies have gone down. Johnson surmises that using resources more efficiently has resulted in less waste. Museum guests who are accustomed to stepping into the museum’s grand halls to view the innovative, interactive exhibits may not realize that the Museum of Science and Industry is pushing the technological edge in its restrooms, too.

The system works flawlessly.

J. Jeffery Johnson

Director of Facilities