Washroom Partitions – The Definitive Construction Guide

I know what you’re thinking, washroom partitions – what a riveting subject. Washroom partitions may not be the most exciting of subjects but they are something that is installed in every building no matter the construction type. So what exactly are washroom partitions, what do they do and what are some of the various types?

Through my experience in the construction industry, a washroom partition is any divider that is installed within a washroom that divides up the space into separate stalls. Washroom partitions act as a both a visual and physical barrier between people using the lavatory.

A Brief History on Washroom Partitions

During the 16th century public toilets were invented and started to become a common sight around Europe and other civilized societies. During this time toilets were typically isolated in single rooms.

As time progressed throughout the Victorian Era and into the 19th century toilets began to be grouped together where multiple were installed in public spaces. During these early days toilets were still either group together or installed in independent rooms.

One of the major challenges with a washroom of this nature is cleaning, keeping the nooks and crannies of a washoom clean were challenging. It wasn’t until around 1904 that Frank Lloyd Wright introduced the concept of a hung or floor installed wall and hanging toilet to allow cleaning activities to be simplified.

Within the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, Wright developed wall hung toilets, and overhead hung partitions that sat off the ground. This allowed for mops and brooms to pass underneath and the modern day washroom partition was developed.

Types of Washroom Partitions

Since the time of Wright washroom partitions have obviously come a long way. In my career I’ve seen all sorts of crazy designs from architects. Some of the most common types of washroom partitions include:

  • Ceiling Hung Washroom Partitions
  • Floor Mounted Washroom Partitions
  • Urinal Screens

Ceiling Hung Washroom Partitions – are typically hung from the ceiling of a washroom and sit clear of the floor (creating a clear gap between the partition and the floor). These are designed for providing the most access for cleaners and maintenance staff.

Floor Mounted Washroom Partitions – are typically installed by pilasters which are floor supported. There may be a connection to the ceiling as well or to an intermediate bar which is tied into the adjacent walls.

Urinal Screens – are a small partition that is either floor, full height or wall mounted that serves to separate men’s urinals.

What Are The Different Materials for Separators

The above types of washroom partitions typically come in various materials. As I mentioned above, architects can create washroom partitions out of different custom materials. That being said there are some fairly large vendors that have developed some fairly standard product lines over the years. These product lines help to maintain quality standards across the industry.

There are four primary materials that you’ll often hear about washroom partitions:

Metal or Stainless Steel – are the most durable of the group and (in my opinion) offer some of the best looking. Basically partitions are hollow with the outer layer being made of a painted (powder coated) metal or stainless steel.

Plastic Laminate – plastic laminate partitions are common in schools and other institutional facilities. Plastic Laminate (or P-Lam) for short are a core board core with an outer layer of hard laminate that can have any pattern you want.

Solid Plastic – solid plastic are the easiest to clean and replace of the group but can be damaged easier than others. Solid plastic is often found in areas where a bit more give is required and budget is a concern. Solid plastic are exactly what the name says – a solid plastic core with painted outer layer.

Phenolic – phenolic are a hybrid between plastic laminate and solid plastic. The benefit to the phenolic is that you end up with a core that’s more waterproof than a plam core and have the out layer as customizable (ie you can include wood grains). These are a great option if you don’t want to splurge and go with the metal or stainless options.

Each of the above materials has it’s pros and cons, each is better suited to different applications. As an example – stainless steel, holds up well and is easy to clean, you may use these in a truck stop. Plastic laminate or solid plastic can be used in schools.

Design Considerations To Consider

There are many things that you need to consider when designing and selecting washroom partitions. One of the biggest things you need to consider when designing them is the layout of the bathroom. Each stall requires a specific dimension according to the local building code.

Spacing and sizing is more than just a code requirement, the minimums can feel cramped. Is your building a luxury building? Consider making stalls wider to allow for more arm room. Do your patrons need a place to change? If so make them deeper and consider extending to the floor. Consider your end user and pick partitions that suit them.

Other more technical things to consider are related to the other items you’ll find in a bathroom. What type of washroom accessories will you have? Are they large or small and do they need to mount to your partitions? Where are your sinks and which way do the door handles need to swing?

Lastly handicap stalls may be a code requirement in your building. If so you may need to increase the size of one of the washroom stalls to allow for a wheelchair radius. The space between your toilet and your washroom partition must exceed 1500mm.

Tips for Contractors Installing Washroom Partitions

I’ve learned a number of very important lessons about installing and ordering washroom partitions over the years. Some of the most important tips for contractors when installing washroom partitions include:

  • Take Site Measurements
  • Don’t Forget the Blocking and Support
  • Install at the end
  • Don’t Over Complicate

Take Site Measurements

Site measurements are important when ordering your partitions. The dimensions that are listed on the architectural documents may not be the same as what you have on site. For this reason it’s important to verify the location of all your drywall partitions and ceilings before ordering. When completing a project that is a renovation this becomes even more important as existing walls can change from location to location.

Don’t Forget Blocking and Support

Washroom partitions require inwall blocking to mount them. This can be done with sheet metal or plywood. The screws which support the brackets and side panels will screw into this material. If you have overhead partitions you need to remember to install engineered steel above the ceiling.

Install At The End

Washroom partitions should be one of the last products that gets installed on your project as they are susceptible to damage. Install them after the tile and drywall has been completed in each of your bathrooms and have trades avoid using them. Scratches and dings can be touched up though they need to be completed by a specialty contractor.

Don’t Over Complicate

I’ve seen all sorts of fancy designs from architects looking to reinvent the washroom partition. The challenge with these designs is that they complicate a product that’s already been refined. Stick with pre-manufactured products wherever necessary and if you can’t keep materials simple: glass, corian or wood.

Additional Resources on Washroom Partitions

There are plenty of really great resources out there on washroom partitions. Industry corporations and books help to make them simpler. Here are some of my favourite resources on the subject:

  • Amazon – Toilet partitions are listed on amazon and alot of times you can get them cheaper than ordering them from the supplier if you’re willing to do some self assembly.
  • World Outlook (Industry Forecast) – if you’re in the business of selling toilet partitions this book is perfect for you, it forecasts where businesses will need them and the types.

Wrapping Up on Toilet Partitions

In my career I have not built a single building that did not have toilet partitions in them. They are a standard part of our industry and because of that it’s important that you know as much as possible about them. While their dollar value on a project may not be large, they do pose a risk if done incorrectly.

Does your project have toilet partitions in it? What are some tips and advice that you have for them? Share below in the comments.

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