One of the most critical restroom design decisions that architects and designers face is the choice of the toilet partition material. The material selected for a toilet partition system can impact its durability, compliance, resistance to damage, and even how easily it can be maintained.

Each material has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the application. This article provides a basic overview of critical material selection considerations for partition specifiers.

Know the Code
In the United States, model codes and standards pertaining to fire safety and construction are regulated by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). While not mandatory until adopted by government jurisdictions, adherence to these codes is critical, as many major corporations require compliance regardless of the law.

Most relevant to the toilet partition specification are the International Building Code (IBC), International Fire Code (IFC), NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and NFPA 1 fire codes. The ICC and NFPA model codes clearly regulate toilet room privacy partitions as an “interior finish.” However, recently, some jurisdictions have interpreted fire and building code requirements for the interior finish as being unrelated to restroom privacy partitions. Although these standards are not currently law everywhere, prudent specifiers should adhere to them.

Architects, interior designers, and specifiers should insist on complete American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E84, UL 723, or NFPA 286 room-corner test compliance documents from high-pressure laminate (HPL), compact laminate (CL), and solid color reinforced composite (SCRC) toilet partition manufacturers, as well as unmodified NFPA 286 room-corner test compliance documentation from polypropylene (PP) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) toilet partition manufacturers prior to specification or purchase.

Consider Building Type
The building type can help form a baseline for choosing a partition material.

Restrooms in prestige buildings, such as corporate headquarters, Class-A offices, and major universities, are typically moderate-low traffic—in which case, architectural design and material quality can be prioritized.

Standard-use buildings, such as commercial offices as well as healthcare and hospitality facilities, are typically moderate-heavy traffic and may see some vandalism. These specifications may heavily price-driven. Here, durability, ease of maintenance, and cost are especially important.

In heavy traffic buildings, such as K-12 schools, malls, and amusement parts, restrooms see heavy use and high vandalism rates—thus, material durability and ease of cleaning are critical.

Selecting a Material
Each partition material has unique advantages and disadvantages, depending on the application.

High-pressure laminate (HPL) partitions feature extensive design options. While relatively inexpensive, they can be ideal for high-end and standard applications and obtain Class-B interior wall finish classification from the IBC.

Compact Laminate (CL) partitions are water-resistant and can be “hosed down” for easy cleaning—they’re also dent-, scratch-, and graffiti-resistant. CL partitions are ideal for heavy traffic environments and can achieve ICC Class-A or -B interior wall finish classification.

Solid Color Reinforced Composite (SCRC) has a homogenous color with high resistance to graffiti, scratches, dents, and water damage. SCRC partitions are ideal for high-traffic and vandal-prone environments and can achieve ICC class-B interior wall finish classification.

Painted metal and stainless steel partitions are widely available at low cost, although stainless steel is typically costlier. They can qualify as Class-A interior wall finishes under IBC, but may be more prone to rust, scratches, and odor absorption.

Finally, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) partitions are characterized by their homogenous color, which allows for gouges and scratches to simply be sanded out—however, graffiti tends to “ghost” into these materials. With HDPE partitions, obtaining NFPA 286 test documentation is critical.

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