Neighborhood Watch: Hide That Restroom!

A Texas residential construction company gets out in front of new portable restroom screening law.
Neighborhood Watch: Hide That Restroom!
Third place went to Benton Banowsky for this wood-framed screen.

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Seeing a portable restroom at the curb on a residential construction site means different things to different people. To portable restroom operators, that brightly colored polyethylene box represents revenue to keep a small business going. To crews in the building trade, the unit means convenient, dignified relief at any work location.

But to residents in an upscale Dallas suburb, portable restrooms are an unsightly addition to construction sites and they don’t want to see workers going in and out of them. So a few months ago the City of Highland Park passed an ordinance requiring all restrooms to be screened from the view of passers-by.

Rather than another bureaucratic hurdle to jump over, remodeling contractor Stephan Sardone, of Sardone Construction, saw the first ordinance of its kind in greater Dallas as an opportunity for his company. Sardone teamed with architect Larry Paschall, of HPD Architecture, to organize the 2015 Sitting Pretty Porta Potty Screen Contest to find a creative solution to the new requirement.

Entries came in from across the country, and a prototype of the winner was constructed and is being tested on work sites. Sardone believes the screening requirement could serve to bolster the reputation of builders who concentrate on better aesthetics, and he thinks there are marketing benefits to derive by making the work sites look as good as possible.

“I see everything as having potential marketing value for the builder,” Sardone says. “You could make (the screening) to match the design of the house you’re building, have fun with it.” Neighborhood residents may associate a creative restroom screen with his construction company and call him the next time they need a builder or remodeler, he says.

MODERN DESIGN WINS

Contest organizers received 17 entries. A team of eight judges awarded three winners and a “most creative” award. First place went to Brian Paletz, who received $100 for his modern and modular cedar strip and aluminum frame panel design. Second place went to Matthew Jacobson, who utilized recycled wooden pallets and greenery in his screen design. The most creative design went to Eddie Hale, who drew panels that jigsaw together to mimic the look of a live oak tree.

Sardone says the slats used in the winning design allow air to pass through the screen and keep the units smelling fresher. Three hinged panels can screen one restroom, while additional panels can be added to screen two or more units. Sardone says the design is easy to build, inexpensive and gives a simple, modern look he thinks people will like.

Paletz drew the screen for use with two gender-specific restrooms. Sardone says this might reflect a new standard for construction sites of the 21st century.

“I really like the winning dual-screen design,” he says. “There is one screen for women and the other for men, which is novel for a job site. It truly represents progression in our industry as more women are entering the building and construction profession.”

In Highland Park, the responsibility for screening is placed on the construction company taking out building permits, not the restroom company dropping the units on site. Sardone is fine with that, saying a creative solution will help his company stand out and he may be able to add marketing messages for his company or helpful information to the screens he builds. He says he hasn’t talked to his portable sanitation provider about providing screening for him.

NOW TRENDING?

Is the Highland Park ordinance indicative of a broader move by municipalities to require screening on residential construction sites? Quite possibly.

I did a Web search for similar rules and found a smattering of recent restrictions put in place in U.S. towns and cities. Larger cities – Denver, for instance – have enacted detailed design standards for enclosures used for long-term portable restroom placements in parks and public places. But these are not related to temporary construction site use.

Here’s a sampling of construction restroom screening (and placement) regulations passed recently:

Lake Township, Michigan

“Units must be set no closer than 10 feet of any property line. Units must be screened from public view, if placed for more than three days. Units must be kept, as much as possible, out of neighboring structures’ direct line of sight. Units are limited to 15-day placements before needing to be removed. Longer usage times will require the approval of the Township Board.”

Town of Lancaster, Massachusetts

“Where a portable toilet is to be located on a property for more than four consecutive days, the portable toilet shall be screened on three sides by a wooden enclosure fence, consistent with neighborhood architectural standards and sufficient to block the view of the facility from neighboring residential properties.”

San Marino, California

“Portable toilets shall be placed in the rear of the property with a minimum 10-foot setback from side yard and rear yard property lines. If existing conditions prohibit access for the drop-off or the servicing of the portable toilet, the unit can be placed in the front yard provided the unit is placed no farther than 5 feet from the front of the house and 10 feet from any side property lines. The door opening shall not face either the street or an adjacent property and shall remain closed at all times. Portable toilets shall be screened from public view at all times. No more than one toilet shall be used per property.”

A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY?

Anecdotal evidence from a handful of small communities does not establish a trend, but it stands to reason that if Highland Park and others demand restroom screening, more municipalities will follow suit. It’s something worth watching for in your service territory.

And if screening rules come to pass in your hometown, would you be prepared to offer the necessary products as an additional service? Just like more and more customers have demanded hand sanitizers and hand-wash stations over the years, they might appreciate you making screening available. In fact, maybe you already offer this service or should consider offering it for construction customers who want to be proactive.

Count Sardone among construction company owners who understand what Highland Park is doing and want to comply.

“I don’t have an issue with it,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a problem and certainly, if my house is being remodeled, I would like it to be as presentable as possible during construction.”



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