« Back

Articles and reference materials from our business to yours.

Sanitary conditions

Faucet scene

The Moen M-Power electronic faucet can help improve hygiene in healthcare installations and other settings by reducing users’ direct contact with fixtures. Learn more at pro.moen.com.

In healthcare settings, plumbing does more than just transport water and waste from one part of the building to another. It can help keep patients healthy—or make them sicker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 20 patients will acquire a healthcare-associated infection while hospitalized. Plumbing equipment and fixtures play a critical role in optimizing hygiene and reducing the risk of infection in these settings.

When engineering plumbing for a hospital or healthcare building, the primary goal is to eliminate sources of bacteria from the system, says James Dipping, PE, CPD, LEED AP, a plumbing engineer for the healthcare sector with Environmental Systems Design, Inc., in Chicago. Dipping says his aim for each project is to be able to say, “We’re doing everything we can to avoid Legionella in our facility.”

The defense against Legionella and other bacteria starts at the hot water heater. Heating water to 140 degrees Fahrenheit is one way to guarantee sanitation. However, to prevent scalding injuries, most hospitals and healthcare facilities distribute hot water at a temperature of 110 degrees F—“the optimal temperature for bacteria growth,” Dipping points out.

Dipping solves this problem in his projects by installing a secondary disinfection system, typically utilizing copper silver ionization, at the hot water tank inlet. Other options are thermal eradication, chlorine dioxide application or straight chlorine disinfectants.

Points of water delivery, such as faucets and flush valves, often provide opportunistic bacteria places to thrive and grow. “Hands-free is a big push in the industry right now,” Dipping says. “It helps eliminate the transfer of bacteria from one person to another.” Products such as the Moen M-Power electronic faucet with motion sensor stop-and-start water flow can help healthcare settings improve hygiene by reducing direct contact with fixtures.

Position of the faucet also affects sanitation, explains Jim Paul of Troy, Mich.–based Peter Basso Associates, Inc., a mechanical, electrical and plumbing consulting engineering firm. Paul says, “Make sure that the spout of the faucet is offset from the drain to prevent splashing, which can aerosolize bacteria from the drain and cause them to become airborne.” Dipping cites standing countertop water, another result of splashing,as a common source of staph infections in hospitals.

The final piece of the plumbing puzzle in healthcare applications is durability. “Fixtures are going to get beat on,” Dipping says. “Doctors, staff, patients and visitors use them multiple times a day.” With shrinking budgets and facility staff already tasked with a variety of challenging duties, continually having to replace broken fixtures becomes an unnecessary drain on resources.

Dipping describes one eye-opening conversation with a hospital administrator in the Chicago area: “He told me that, with something as simple as a faucet breaking down in an ICU, [the hospital lost] as much as $20,000 a day” due to the ICU being unavailable for operations. Seemingly minor engineering decisions can have a dramatic impact on an organization’s bottom line and even create vulnerability to lawsuits.

“Hospitals are in it for the long haul,” Dipping adds. “They want to operate as efficiently as possible for a long time.” The health of the patients, visitors and staff—and the healthcare facility itself—depends on smart plumbing decisions.