Down the Drain

By now I am guessing that at least everyone has seen one, well definitely the males have, and perhaps the females have snuck a peek out of curiosity. What I am talking about is the no water urinal. No water whatsoever, no handle to pull, no button to push, and the only pipe coming out of the commode is the drain. However Falcon Water Free Technologies based in Grand Rapids (well actually Grand Rapids is Falcon’s US and Canadian headquarters, whereas its international headquarters is located in California ), has been producing the water free urinal for a number of years. I remember my first exposure to the urinal was back in 2005 at the Rock Financial Showplace (convention center) in Novi, MI. All the urinals there were water free, it was quite an amusement for my colleagues and I when we got back to our booth and ended up chatting about it (yes I know bad booth etiquette, but this was pre and post show conversations only of course)

So for those of you not familiar with urinals here is what a traditional one looks like. Here is what a water free one looks like. The traditional urinal is mounted on a wall and usually has a small amount of standing water at the bottom. When one is done the urinal is flushed and a flow of water comes from the top and flushes away the waste. These urinals do waste a large amount of water, needlessly I may add. I would think that you would be able to use a fraction of the amount of water to effectively flush liquid down the drain. Falcon agreed and took it one step further by developing the water-free urinal, which is just a ceramic urinal commode mounted to the wall with a filter at the bottom, which is connected to the drain. The filter has a sealant liquid, which always stays on top of whatever liquid passes through the filter. The sealant liquid per Falcon is a ”pleasant smelling sealant liquid provides an airtight barrier between urine and the restroom to prevent odors from escaping the drain, but allows urine to pass through because it is lighter than water” (Link) .

Falcon claims that their bathrooms are odor-free per this statement.  When urine and water mix there is a reaction that creates the urine odor – ammonia oxide, and since there is no water in the Falcon units this reaction does not take place. Plus urine is essentially odorless. Well I am not so sure about that, in my experience especially at the Convention Center, the bathroom did smell like urine. So although people could have missed and that was causing the smell, it still seemed like the urinals were the cause. In fact . I had actually talked to a biologist friend about the whole urine smell issue, and when it reacts with water how it creates the ammonia oxide. She had expressed some doubt on the urine being virtually odorless, and was not so sure about the claims in that statement that the water when mixed with urine produces additional odors. In fact the YMCA in Grand Rapids had a odor problem and replaced some of their water free urinals.  But in my opinion the potential for smell with the water free urinals is a small price to pay for eliminating the water used by a typical urine, because after all it is a bathroom, and it is going to stink no matter what you do. If we can use less water than we have to, than that is a good thing. No longer will we have to worry about letting yellow be mellow, because with these filters, it’s all mellow.

One of the beautiful things about this business model, is the replacement filters. Selling the urinal is not just a one-time sale, you have repeat sales because the filters need to be replaced and this is where you can get the greatest markup. For the most part, a customer who just installed the water free urinals you are a captive customer, you will be spending money on replacement filters for a certain period of time instead of purchasing a different urinal commode. It’s like Gillette and the razors, whenever Gillette comes out with a new razor, be it the Mach 3, and now the Fusion, they have a huge marketing and promotions push to receive a free or heavily discounted razor unit, with one set of blades. They get you hooked on using the razor and then you have to purchase replacement blades that will fit that razor. So they lose money on the initial sale, but gain it back quickly as soon as you start purchasing replacement blades.

Where else have you see these at:
City Flats Hotel – Holland, MI
Forest Hills Fine Art Center – Grand Rapids
David D. Hunting YMCA – Grand Rapids, MI, (well in some of them)
Side Note – Looks like Falcon has some additional competitors in this arena now with Sloan


2 responses to “Down the Drain

  1. Hello,
    I would agree that Falcon and Sloan have very lucrative business models. In some cases, they have even offered their no-water urinals at no charge to facilities because they know they will make their profits on the back end selling the client traps, which you referred to as “replacement filters.”

    I do have one problem with your comments, but I should first disclose that our firm represents Waterless™ No-Flush Urinals, another manufacturer of no-water urinal systems.

    My problem with your statement is that the replacement traps for the Falcon/Sloan systems (mentioned in your article) are quite pricy (about $40) compared to other systems and actually have a shorter lifespan (only about two months) than many other systems as well.

    For instance, Waterless’s traps cost less than $7 and when used with BlueSeal trap seal liquid lasts longer than those used by the Falcon/Sloan system.

    So yes, this is a lucrative business model for this company–but is it good business for building or business owners? An astute manager will quickly realize that there are less costly options available that will accomplish the same results: saving thousands of gallons of water per urinal each year.

    • I appreciate an insiders perspective on the whole waterless urinal market, and thanks for disclosing your association as well. I agree with your assessment that anyone making a decision to go waterless would need to conduct their due diligence to find the solution that best fits their needs. Furthermore, I was focusing on Falcon because they are local company, and I was not looking at the market as a whole. I am sure that there are many players in the industry and all have their niche be it either low cost, high end, initial cost of ownership, low term costs of ownerships, etc. Lastly, it seems that your company is positioned nicely with the unique selling features of the lower cost and longer lasting replacement filters for your units.

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