How to make your bathhouse a better place to go

Is your bathhouse a pleasant place to be?  Are you able to keep it clean?  Does your bathhouse have adequate capacity for your venue?  Does it provide sufficient accessibility for the disabled?  Do you have space dedicated for families to use?

While it is hard for any manager to say yes to all of these questions, there’s a saying in the pool industry that a nice bathhouse may not bring people in, but a bad one will keep them away.  I would argue that this saying is a half-truth.  A nice bathhouse won’t keep a serious swimmer away, but given a choice, it will attract leisure swimmers.  Moms tend to make those decisions, and moms like clean safe places.  Here are some tips for making yours a better place to go.

It really goes without saying that cleaning is the most important thing you can do.  It is the day-to-day rigor that is difficult but necessary to maintain.  Do you have a documented cleaning regimen?  Do you encourage patrons to notify you of issues?  Do you quickly resolve those issues?  If you outsource maintenance, is it clear what the contractor is to perform and what your staff performs?  Do you have the necessary tools and materials handy for staff to resolve daily issues?  Hold folks accountable for their responsibilities.  If you don’t already, consider requiring staff to use the public facilities.  This helps to spot issues quickly and eliminates the “ours/theirs” mentality.  Reward staff that is doing the best work in this area.

Make all of this as easy on yourself as possible with finishes that are durable and easy to maintain.  Tile finishes (glazed for walls and non-slip for floors) with dark grouts are about the best you can do when it comes to maintenance.  Bare concrete floors are common, but concrete is a sponge.  If not sealed regularly, it will not only stain, it will smell like its stains.  If you have dirty concrete you can’t clean, power wash it thoroughly, acid etch it and apply a penetrating sealer.  Test in small areas until you find one you are happy with, as some can be slippery.  Regularly re-seal at least as frequently as the manufacturer recommends.  If you wait until you see staining, it’s too late.  Epoxy floors are also common, but have limited lifespan.  Traffic patterns wear quickly.  Expect to re-apply regularly.  High-build non-slip epoxies such as those used in commercial kitchens will last much longer, but for the price, you can still consider tile. 

When it comes to ventilation, it is impossible to have too much.  The most important sensory perception in a bathhouse is not the eyes, but the nose.  Patrons can tolerate seeing a little grime, but if it smells bad, they may choose to use the pool next time instead of coming back to the toilet.  Yes, the cleanliness of your facilities can affect your water!  Remember that code dictates the minimum amount of ventilation required in a given room.  Bathhouse toilet rooms should have the air volume turned over much more aggressively.  Natural ventilation is great, but do not rely on it, as the breeze is not always blowing.  Stagnant air is the enemy.

Now comes the eyes – with lighting.  Bright rooms are easier to clean and simply feel better to be in.  Light-colored finishes will help tremendously in the same way.  Be careful when re-lamping light fixtures.  Don’t just by the cheapest bulbs, warm-colored lamps are much preferable to cool ones – use no lower than 3500K color temperature, and a CRI (color-rendering index) of 75 or better.  Warm light is closer to the sun’s rays and makes the view in the mirror much more attractive.  Natural daylight can tremendously brighten and warm a space.  In existing buildings, small skylights such as “Solotubes” are affordable and easy to install in most any roof.  In new projects, consider skylights and clerestory windows.

Building new?  Here are some tips that can be difficult or impossible to change later.  

  1. Build with masonry.  Masonry walls will be there for the life of the building, and will never rust, mold or rot like cavity stud walls.
  2. Provide family changing rooms.  Ten to fifteen years ago, these were novel, now they are expected.  So much so that one is rarely enough for demand at many facilities.
  3. Consider wall-hung toilet fixtures.  Being able to power wash and mop under toilets will do wonders for your ability to clean.  The argument against this is usually the risk of vandalism (jumping and breaking toilets off the wall).  Know your clientele as you make this decision.  If vandals are a realistic concern, consider stainless steel fixtures.
  4. Touch-free fixtures are much more sanitary than manual ones.  They also cut down on odors by flushing every time.
  5. Ensure that your floors properly slope to drains.  Adding another drain or two is cheap up front, but is invaluable when it comes to cleaning.
  6. If you are using partition stalls, solid plastic or phenolic partitions will last the longest.  Stay away from steel, even stainless.
  7. Plan a space for a large waste bin.  This is rarely given proper thought.  Usually, small waste receptacles are built into the wall.  This is never enough, so a big plastic bin winds up somewhere in the room, and usually in the way.
  8. You cannot have too much storage space.  While this is true for most any building type, it is often forgotten in a bathhouse.  The janitor closet always gets squeezed to barely room for a sink and a shelf.  If you don’t make it easy for yourself to clean, you won’t.
  9. Put a spigot under the sink in each room.  The plumbing is already there, so adding a spigot is nearly free today, and convenient forever. 

Hopefully there is a nugget or two in these tips that are useful to you.  If you are interested in an “extreme makeover”, consult with an architect or interior designer that has a track record with aquatic facilities. 

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