Urinals – do they need to go? (1st pun)
I just don’t understand why urinals are the way they are. The function they serve is obvious and I am pretty sure that the invention of the first urinal was one of those Eureka! moments when necessity and opportunity collide. Like all really good ideas, they are simple and based on addressing a perceived issue or need (i.e. Let’s invent a toilet that take advantage of the fact that men will pee just about anywhere and on anything). As time has gone by, it is the functional parameters that seem to be dictating the direction of urinal design; as a result, they have become more efficient and streamlined (2nd pun).
There are building and plumbing codes that dictate how many urinals you can put into a bathroom. Somewhere, scientists are evaluating statistics, data and trends to develop ever evolving codes based upon use (restaurant, retail office, etc.) and occupancy, in an effort to predict how many people are going to need access to those urinals at any one singular point in time. Building codes limit how close urinals can be placed next to one another while developers limit how far apart they can be placed from one another. It is empirical data that has driven the modern day developments of urinals but along the way, the basic experience of using a urinal has been overlooked, or at the very least, so far moved down the priority list that its consideration is a non-factor.
There is some basic knowledge that everyone should have when entering a conversation about urinals (at your next party or social gathering perhaps?). First item is the guy code of proximity spacing when it comes to using urinals. It’s pretty basic and comes naturally to most men without having to discuss the specifics but I have included a diagram here to illustrate the spacing sequence. It does become more tricky with an even number of urinals but the logic is the same.
Secondly, some urinal layouts provide screening between the urinals and take consideration to place something at eye level. This eye level distraction can be many things but most commonly it is something in a glass fronted display cabinet containing something to look at – like a page from the sports section. This distraction exists primarily to aid the awkward social situation of where to look when using the urinal (do I look down or stare at the wall just a few inches from my face..? It doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t look left or right).
These solutions solve problems (where to stand and where to look) that I consider to be low hanging fruit (3rd pun – it’s almost too easy); those are easy problems to fix. The one singularly important, yet completely unresolved issue that remains, is an issue that could affect every single person in the civilized world. Yes – I am talking about urinal splatter. With all the different shapes and sizes of urinals available, men have to make snap decisions of how to deal with the inevitable splatter that happens when standing immediately in front of a urinal. Aim high or low? Into a corner or just to the side? Go left and shade right or go right and shade left? Don’t forget to consider the proximity of possible additional patrons. If it’s been awhile, what about force and velocity? You now have NASA level calculations that need to be solved in the time between entering the bathroom and covering the distance to the urinal. The number of variables is staggering: force, mass, acceleration, compound angles, trajectory, distance, etc. Striking a balance to all these variables will hopefully result in dry pants and shoes (or feet in the case of sandals – ugg).
Every situation is different – as is every possible solution. Is this why older men take so much longer? Are they searching for new variants in the geometry? Is the math harder? (consider flow rate versus additional arch in the back…)
All you have to do is look down at the area around a urinal to see the long term effects of splatter (looks slippery down there doesn’t it?). That stuff is getting onto your pants and shoes! How long have there been urinals and this issue is still unresolved? The only time splatter isn’t an issue is when a trough is used for a urinal (like at the ballpark or at the football stadium) or the urinal factor has been eliminated altogether, i.e. exterior landscaping. Those solutions evolved based on need and both have solved the splatter problem without requiring you to calculate compound angles or determine trajectory. What we have now are urinals that are derived through number crunching and space requirements.
It’s probably a safe assumption to think that men design urinals because there are certain hands-on (4th – so easy) knowledge they possess and containing splatter – which literally translates into cleanliness – isn’t one of the stronger qualities of most men. Sadly, we have a problem here that I don’t see a solution happening for a long time, at least not until women start using urinals.
update: Urinal Fly is a company that makes stickers to place on the inside of a urinal which is supposed to reduce splatter by up to 85% by giving men something to aim for. They even have a blog dedicated to their stickers. This may not be the long term solution urinals the world over need but at least it is some clever thinking by some people who recognize that splatter, as a problem, isn’t going anywhere other than your pants, shoes and the floor.