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Environmental Issues

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October 11, 2010
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The environment and the economy are enduring the same “save me” plea for help. Both are hurting, both have gotten a lot of attention as of late, and both need to be considered during the day-to-day operations at your carwash, especially now since both matter to customers as well.

When considering ways to save money and the environment, the experts Professional Carwashing & Detailing spoke with suggested these three updates for your tunnel carwash:

  • A water reclaim system;
  • Tunnel lights; and
  • VFDs (variable frequency drives).

The pay-off
Adding VFDs or updating your tunnel lights might require some extra cash upfront, but they’ll pay off in the long run, both economically and environmentally. Or as Dean Taylor, the system application specialist for CATEC Water Recovery and Ozone Systems, said, “If they aren’t interested in saving money and/or water, they are taking a very shortsighted view of their operation.”

Bob Koo, president of AquaChem, who is also a carwash operator, said that from an operator’s point of view, people need to look at their whole operation and realize that any kind of eco-based equipment upgrade is advantageous to any wash.

“Look at your business, look at it internally,” Koo suggested. “Where are your expenses? You’re spending a lot on water and electricity. And you have to pay for it based on consumption. Evaluate your washing process. The smarter you are and the more you look at the details, the more you’ll be able to save.”

Koo added that a tunnel carwash is the easiest facility to make such adjustments. “Think about it,” he said, “you’re in a controlled environment.”

Water is not everywhere
Water shortages are not only a sign of the times, but they’re also a sign of the future, due to possible low rain falls, depleting reservoirs and rising consumption volumes.

Even though they don’t come cheap, many carwash owners have installed water reclaim systems over the years to save money and help the environment, Taylor stated. He said a good system will reduce water and sewer use by about 70 percent.

“The savings alone can offer a very short return on investment as well as being the environmentally friendly thing to do,” he said. “Because of the ‘Go Green’ and International Carwash Association’s (ICA) ‘Water Savers Program’ push, it is also becoming popular to advertise recycled water. The public is much more aware and accepting today.”

Nowadays, reclaim systems are designed right into the building plan and are typically installed by the general contractor or plumber, Taylor said. And, in existing facilities “they require processing tanks that will typically be placed underground. Digging up parking and driving areas is common. The equipment will also require space in the equipment room.”

A good reclaim system for a tunnel wash will typically cost $40,000 to $45,000 with tanks and installation. “The 70 percent savings alone can save thousands of dollars a month in water and sewer costs. Typical return on investment is one to two years. After that, the savings goes directly towards increasing the bottom line.”

He added that implementing a reclaim system can drastically reduce sewer impact fees on new construction. “I recently helped reduce an impact fee of $220,000 to $77,000, which is a savings of $143.000.”

Get a VFD A.S.A.P
VFDs are something that should be familiar to any owner or operator. Among the 2009 topics for the Wash Week Seminar series was, ‘Saving Money by Going Green,’ wherein a panel of experts stated that VFD technologies are becoming increasingly popular, and while expensive to install, are decreasing power bills significantly.

According to Koo, VFDs basically allow an operator to control a tunnel and adjust how much an engine is working. “That’s how VFDs work,” said Koo, “they control how fast and hard your motors are working.”

Richard Castellow, Western Regional sales manager for MacNeil Wash Systems, said that VFDs have also become a key component in carwashes as they allow motors to ramp up slowly, thus eliminating the initial inrush of current as seen in standard starters.

“VFDs also idle down key components between vehicles to decrease unnecessary energy consumption, and provide quicker response and a softer startup for the next vehicle,” he said.

Bright lights, big tunnel
It’s no secret that lights take up energy, but they’re needed in a tunnel to not only light the way, but to make it less than scary for customers. In order to create a safe and comforting environment for your customers — but one that won’t break the bank — Koo encouraged operators to consider alternate light sources.

For instance, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are more expensive than traditional lights, but use significantly less energy. They cost less to operate because they don’t use a heating element or filament like regular lighting fixtures, meaning less energy is needed and lost. They also don’t burn out. As Koo explained it, “they don’t burn off light, they basically glow. They’re lights, but not lightbulbs, and while they are expensive, they last forever.”

Solar lighting is another big capital investment that costs a lot up front, but will pay off down the road, according to Koo. However, he noted that you have to look at the climate of your area before making any purchases. “Be sure you’re not in an area that only gets 40 sunny days a year, or you’ll be stuck with expensive equipment, and no (return on investment).”

Also, look to see if there are any tax credits and federal and state rebates available, which can net up to tens of thousands of dollars in funding.

In the end, updating your tunnel to be more economical and environmentally-friendly has a big pay-off, our experts said. Spend a little cash now to reap big rewards later. You won’t regret it!

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