Vacuum Plumbing: A Better Choice for Healthy Buildings

Many facilities are choosing vacuum plumbing over gravity drainage because vacuum waste systems promote a safer and healthier environment, offer greater water efficiency, and provide unique renovation benefits. Gravity waste systems incorporate an open, vented piping network to transport waste to the sewer and contribute to contamination and the spread of germs within buildings. Avac vacuum systems on the other hand, use a closed piping network that is maintained under continuous vacuum pressure to transport waste. This key difference provides important benefits to the building, its occupants, and the community in general.

Infection Prevention

In today’s COVID-19-sensitive environment, one of the biggest concerns for any type of facility is infection prevention. In healthcare settings, this is even more important where people who are ill or injured must be in a safe, clean environment, protected from exposure to any harmful bacteria or virus.

Unfortunately, gravity drainage systems can contribute to the spread of infection through concealed waste contamination—e.g., leaking waste piping and the bio-aerosol plume that is created when a toilet is flushed.

Recent studies have validated that the gravity flush plume contaminates not only the toilet seat but the air within the toilet cubicle and any surrounding surfaces with bacteria and virus from within the toilet bowl—increasing the risk of infectious disease transmission. Closing a toilet seat lid before flush doesn’t eliminate seat contamination and coats the underside of the lid with bacteria and virus particles.

A virus-filled flush plume can represent a critical hazard for healthcare facilities, as well as any other public buildings.

Benefits of Vacuum for Infection Prevention

In contrast to gravity plumbing systems, vacuum plumbing systems can aid in infection prevention.

Vacuum toilets eliminate the plume that occurs with toilet flush by drawing air through the bowl to evacuate the water and waste. As air is drawn through the toilet, water and waste are evacuated into the closed vacuum waste piping network. Any viruses or bacteria within the waste are pulled into the piping system rather than being dispersed in an aerosolized plume within the cubicle or bathroom. This video demonstrates the dramatic difference in flush plume between a non-vacuum toilet and an Avac vacuum flush toilet:

By eliminating the flush plume, Avac vacuum toilets help to provide a cleaner, safer environment and assist with preventing the spread of disease or infection. In addition, vacuum waste systems also eliminate leaks from waste piping. With gravity drainage, compromised seals, fittings, and connections can lead to leaking and contamination within walls and ceilings. This is a particularly troubling problem as the leak may not be visible or known of for some time, leaving those occupying the building exposed to the contamination until the problem is detected and resolved—potentially only after the problem has grown quite large.

Avac plumbing systems, on the other hand, eliminate waste leaks. The vacuum pressures within the piping will draw air in, preventing waste from leaking out.

Vacuum flush toilets also achieve superior water conservation compared to a non-vacuum toilet – as little as 0.7L per flush. Avac’s 6 Star vacuum toilets represent a 68% savings in water over traditional gravity systems.

Maintenance and Renovation

In addition to safety and water efficiency concerns, retailers, building owners, and healthcare providers often face cost, coordination, and timeline challenges in drainage maintenance and renovation. Designing for renovation of sanitary waste piping is challenging due to a requirement to route waste lines with continuous slope toward their point of connection with the sanitary sewer. This requires a commitment to provide an unobstructed pathway for drainage within a building and a tolerance for disruption or interruption in normal operations.

Because drainage piping must be below the level of the fixture it’s serving, renovations often involve floor cutting, core drilling, and X-raying to avoid damaging the integrity of the floor or slab. In some instances such as post-tensioned slabs, it simply may not be possible to find an area in which to open the floor or slab for waste line connection. Drainage piping installation also often requires excavation and trenching so that waste piping can run with continuous slope to the sewer. When renovations are above the ground floor, the level below the renovation is impacted, as well.

Installing waste piping in the ceiling below the renovation can be particularly challenging for tenants or require significant alteration in the activity or operation on floors below. Renovations above critical areas such as radiology departments and surgical suites often can’t be undertaken without completely shutting down use of the space. Site conditions, such as a high water table, expansive soil, “hot” soil and bedrock, or the presence of asbestos can add tremendous time, difficulty, and cost to the already expensive and time-consuming renovation process.

Benefits of Vacuum for Maintenance and Renovation

Avac vacuum waste systems don’t require drainage piping to be routed with continuous slope to a point of connection with the sewer, making vacuum drainage more flexible, adaptable, and resulting in far fewer challenges for renovation and installation. Because vacuum drainage is not reliant on gravity alone, waste piping from fixtures is typically routed vertically to a vacuum piping network concealed in the ceiling above and on the same level of the building as the fixture.

With vacuum waste systems, there’s no need to cut, core, or trench the floor or dig into soil below a slab to achieve drainage. This speeds up both design and construction, and provides greater freedom in drainage layout. It also assists in minimizing installation conflicts and challenges with other mechanical systems or structures in an existing facility.

Because vacuum waste systems eliminate the need to cut, core, trench, and excavate, and waste connections are made in the ceiling above the fixture, plumbing fixture placement is no longer dictated by proximity to waste mains. Space planners and designers have the freedom to place any fixture requiring drainage as if they are furniture.

Reduced Maintenance

Over time, the effects of age on waste piping will begin to show in fittings that flex, seals that dry up, and piping that sags. In a non-vacuum waste system, this results in leaking from fittings that, as mentioned above, may go unnoticed when concealed behind walls and in ceilings. These concealed sewage leaks not only contribute to unsanitary conditions, but also contribute to deterioration of the building. Sagging or failed piping can also result in sewage line blockages, backups, and flooding.

Even as fittings flex, an Avac system doesn’t allow waste to leak. In this system, air is drawn into the piping and prevents waste from leaking out, eliminating the potential for contamination concealed within walls and any associated damage to the building. Incoming air also helps to push and move waste along through the vacuum waste piping, significantly minimizing waste line blockage. As air is drawn in, vacuum pumps automatically operate to restore vacuum pressure in the waste piping. Frequent or unusual pump operation will trigger an alert in the system, making maintenance personnel aware of a possible issue—offering the same kind of visibility available with HVAC systems for the building’s waste drainage system.

Code Compliance

Thousands of facilities with vacuum drainage systems are in operation throughout the world and are accepted by most code authorities. Avac vacuum systems are identified as an engineered system by the UPC and IPC codes.

Vacuum plumbing offers significant advantages over gravity plumbing, particularly in today’s environment where infection prevention is a prime concern and renovation can be difficult.
Avac vacuum plumbing offers a flexible, adaptable solution that often provides significant cost savings over non-vacuum waste systems, especially when considering utility and maintenance over time.