Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Fighting the Frigid Winter

January 1, 2012

Don't look now, but he's on your door step. Wheezing, wet and unwelcome, old man winter has once again barged in and made himself right at home. Unfortunately for carwash owners, he always brings months of cold weather with him. Tanking temperatures, whipping winds and stifling snow signal the time of year when many customers may choose to crank up the heat and stay indoors.

These winter weather conditions can be especially challenging for carwashes. The majority of washes depend on water to clean cars, and many find below-freezing temperatures can stop a successful business in its tracks. Two of the most important factors during cold-weather operation are doors and dryers. Doors defend tunnels and bays from arctic cold while dryers remove the majority of rinse water to prevent the icing of cars and parking lots.

Door benefits
A set of entrance and exit doors can offer a number of advantages to carwash owners, according to Josh Hart with Airlift Doors Inc. Examples of how carwash doors benefit a business include:

  • Heat retention;
  • Controlling traffic flow;
  • Limiting runoff; and
  • Noise reduction.

Heat retention and the limiting of runoff are the two most applicable wintertime advantages. Both types of doors used commonly in carwashes today — polycarbonate and vinyl — can help keep heat and water in tunnels and bays when installed correctly.

Hart said polycarbonate doors will have a very tight seal if they are weather-stripped properly. The bottom section of the door should have a strip of rubber astragal that seals across the bottom, and the sections should have foam tape inserted between the panels so that there are no gaps when the door is closed.

Vinyl or combination aluminum and vinyl doors are generally one piece, and they typically mount around the outside of the door jamb. This installation allows the doors to seal tight against the end and top of the door panel. Another key thing to consider is a vinyl door's reset feature. Hart recommended a door that resets on the way up instead of at the top; this allows for a much tighter seal around the door.

Insulation and speed
All types of doors are great for retaining heat because they close off the tunnel or bay and trap the needed heat inside. But, what advantages do polycarbonate doors offer over vinyl doors, and vice versa? Hart explained that poly doors offer a better insulation value when the doors are closed while vinyl roll-up doors have the advantage of opening and closing faster to retain more heat.

R-value is a measurement of how well a material insulates, and a typical polycarbonate door will measure between a 4 and 5 r-value, depending on if the material is a three-walled or five-walled. A standard roll-up door with vinyl and flexible PVC clear vision sections offers approximately a 1.5 r-value. Thus, the higher r-value is the main advantage of a polycarbonate door over a roll up door.

The main cold weather advantage of vinyl doors is that they typically operate at higher speeds than overhead doors. This allows the door to open and close quicker, and it reduces the amount of heat that escapes between cars.

Preventing ice buildup
Hart noted that if a wash does not have floor heat, ground icing can easily occur during freezing temperatures. The main way that doors can help reduce this problem is by controlling the amount of water overspray. If doors are closed during the wash process, the water will spray against the door and run back into the bay. If a wash does not have doors, the water will spray outside of the bay and can cause severe ice buildup outside of the building.

Doors can fall victim to icing as well. Today, most owners choose corrosion resistant hardware for a door package. The most popular hardware has been stainless steel, but many door components are now made of plastic. Plastic has become more popular in cold weather climates because it is corrosion resistant, and it also reduces the amount of ice buildup since plastic will not conduct cold like steel does, Hart said.

With overhead vinyl door packages, owners can now get hinges, rollers and even door tracks made from plastic. When purchasing vinyl roll-up doors, Hart suggested a door that offers a fiber reinforced, pultruded track and windbars rather than aluminum or other materials. This selection will help reduce the amount of ice buildup that can occur on the hardware.

De-icing drivers
The most significant improvement in door openers that can help combat icing is the direct drive opener, according to Hart. Direct drive openers for the carwash are constructed of all hard-coat aluminum, and they are guaranteed not to jump door cables.

Direct drive openers on polycarbonate overhead doors connect directly to the door itself rather than turning the shaft. If there is ice buildup on the floor of the carwash that would stop the door short of its fully closed position, a direct drive operator will stop with the door, and the cables will stay tight on the drums.

If a door has an old jackshaft opener in the same scenario, the door will stop, but the operator will continue to turn the shaft to its full limit. This will allow slack in the cables and can cause them to unspool from the drums. "This is one of the most common problems in the overhead door industry that can easily be avoided with a direct drive opener," Hart said.

If there is ice buildup on the tracks, direct drive openers are also more powerful than typical electric or air jackshaft openers. Hart stated that these openers have the ability to push the door through ice buildup in the tracks or pull the door free from ice buildup on the floor.

Maintaining dryers
Once doors are squared away, it may be a good idea to think about the dryers. Jerry Truelove, chief operating officer of the Jim Coleman Company – Hanna said properly drying a car is always more important in winter, especially in cold weather climates. Properly removing water can eliminate the possibility of a car's doors or windows freezing shut.

Maintenance and upkeep are both important to keep dryers functioning at a high level. Truelove said typical maintenance involves keeping the dryer's inlet and impellers clean. For a standard blower, just keeping these inlet and impellers clean and the air flow unrestricted will keep performance at original specifications. "If the blower has air gates or diverter valves, then these additional, mechanical controls need to be properly maintained," Truelove recommended.

Monitoring electrical amp draw levels can alert an operator to possible mechanical issues. Additionally, variable frequency drives (VFD) can offer an owner considerable savings on electrical usage where power providers charge based on initial/peak power draw at start up. The VFD smoothes out power usage to avoid peak demand, and thus it lowers kilowatt charges.

Time for an upgrade?
If properly maintained, blowers will last many years. Truelove said there are examples of dryers that have lasted 20 to 25 years in the field. Most times the impeller and housing will last many, many years, but an owner may need to change the electric motor and bearings during the lifetime.

Even so, as manufacturers continue to develop better and more efficient producers, owners may want to upgrade to offer customers a dryer car. Competition from other washes with better dryers may sometimes drive an upgrade as well. Truelove said dryer upgrades usually include adding additional blowers or changing to a different dryer type or configuration.

Today, dryer housings can be made from aluminum, stainless steel and different types of poly. The most commonly used now is the poly molded housing, according to Truelove. Poly housing has the lowest cost, and another benefit is the noise reduction that poly offers. Both aluminum and stainless resonate noise much different than poly, and blower and dryer noise has become a major issue in some areas.

New dryers generally have a warranty that, most times, includes one year of coverage on the electrical and mechanical components. Bearings are sometimes excluded, Truelove said. Manufactured items such as impellers often carry a lifetime warranty for failure due to manufacturing defects.