Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Getting creative with water

October 11, 2010

It’s not easy managing a small business today. Between rising utility and labor expenses and the struggle to maintain a steady customer base, operators are caught in the middle of an intense fight over every dollar they earn.

One way that operators stay afloat is by carefully evaluating and managing their expenses. Some rely on new automated technologies that can reduce the need for a large staff; others have installed systems and processes that can decrease their power usage.

Another way in which operators can save money, now and in the future, is by using water saving technologies. Professional Carwashing & Detailing scoured the industry for success stories and ideas for creatively and effectively reducing your water bill. Join us as we investigate the newest methods and products for saving water.

Get audited!
An easy way to get started on your water conservation route is to request an audit from your local water utility or water reclaim/RO equipment provider. While you’re at it, be sure to call up your electricity and gas utilities to learn more about their auditing services, too.

“A water audit is the process that identifies the quantities, characteristics, and uses of all water on the site,” according to CoolCalifornia.org. For more information about this service, check out the National Resources Defense Council, www.nrdc.org. The NRDC describes the water audit process and provides a link to free water audit software at http://www.nrdc.org/enterprise/greeningadvisor/wu-audits.asp/.

You can also try analyzing your water use and your conservation plan on your own. The following questions are posed by CoolCalifornia.org, a website created to “provide all Californians with the tools they need to take action to protect the climate and keep California cool.”

The purpose of these questions is to help operators gauge their own water use and conservation plan. Try to answer as many questions from the list as possible and then using your answers to improve or generate new water use methods at your carwash.

• How much water is your business using now and for what purpose?

• How much does your business pay for water?

• Do you know how to read your water meter?

• Are all employees aware of the goal to conserve water?

• Is there a contact person for water use questions?

• How will employees know when they have been successful in conserving water?

Out with the old, in with the new
After considering your current methods and systems, you might be interested in new technology which can help save money, but still maintain water quality. As an example, let’s visit Reddington Car Wash in Broomfield, CO, a booming self-service carwash.

On an average day, owner Randy Reddington sees about 150 cars coming through his bays and uses approximately one-half million gallons of water per year.

Even though Reddington’s 18-year-old water treatment equipment was still producing “great water,” according to Reddington, there were other hurdles. The membranes on his reverse osmosis (RO) unit were clogging, and sometimes the system couldn’t meet the demands of the day. Also, his softener was leaking.

Culligan, a water treatment company, had been servicing the softener and RO system at the carwash for seven years, and Reddington turned to them for his modernization project. He installed a new RO system and softener with electronic controller.

By upgrading to newer technology, Reddington was able to save on operating costs (both water and energy use) and also saved on salt consumption. His new softener is able to regenerate only when needed, whereas the older system relied on a mechanical timer that Randy needed to set to the number of times per day he wanted to system to regenerate. In this manner, Reddington was using more salt than was actually needed — about $80 to $100 more per month!

In addition to the improvements with his softener, Reddington’s RO system now has a larger capacity and can provide enough treated water for his large volume. Not only that, but Reddington improved the quality of his RO water, which his business was known for and relied upon to fight competition.

Making the upgrade
Kelley Williamson Oil in Rockford, IL, is a successful chain of gas stations, convenience stores and carwashes. The company is the largest Mobile dealer in the country, with 70 stations.

According to Bob Sanders, field operations manager for the company, Kelley Williamson Oil builds two to three new sites per year and is constantly looking for better solutions to manage their growing business. One such area they wanted to improve was their water quality in the carwash and coffee service, as well as cost management for those services.

About 10 years ago, Kelley Williamson Oil agreed to test Culligan equipment in four of its stores, installing a reverse osmosis with pretreatment in the carwash and reverse osmosis with carbon and softeners for pretreatment inside the store. The company also offered salt service, preventive maintenance and filter changing to the company.

The company realized energy savings and soap/detergent savings enough to justify using the equipment at all of their locations. They also now offer a “best coffee in town” claim, thanks to the RO technology in use. In addition to saving water, this carwash operator is also interested in quality, which is important to many owners who consider reclaim or RO technology.

Head to the laundry room
In a carwash business, water is most obviously being used to wash cars. As we’ve discussed, there are several ways to reduce and monitor this expenditure, and many operators concentrate their efforts on the tunnel or bay. But this approach ignores some of the other large areas of water use and therefore reduces the effectiveness of any water conservation program.

Operators who are serious about decreasing their water use must also investigate those other areas, such as the employee break room or bathroom. Another major factor in water use is your laundry process.

According to Steve Hietpas, national sales manager for Maytag® Commercial Laundry, operators who select water-efficient laundry equipment can conserve water and energy, reduce utility expenses, save labor, raise productivity and increase customer satisfaction.

For starters, find a front-loading machine. “Front-loading machines only require one-third the water, as the drum is horizontally set — when the drum turns, it uses gravity to drop the fabrics back into the water,” Hietpas explained. Front-loaders also hold more towels, as they have no agitator in the middle of the drum, and therefore can complete the task in less wash cycles.

Some operators might be concerned that a machine that uses less water means will not clean towels or uniforms as well, but Hietpas said this is not the case. “When the horizontally set drum turns, it uses gravity to drop the fabrics back into the water,” he stated. “Continual testing at our lab facility allows us to maintain and even raise the bar for cleaning performance, ensuring that eco-efficiency and excellent “cleanability” do not have to be mutually exclusive.”

Go high-speed
Next, consider a larger multi-load washer-extractor, with high G-force or spin speed. “[This] is one of the most beneficial things carwash owners can do to increase efficiency in their laundry areas,” Hietpas said. “High-speed extraction processes towels faster, as more water is removed during the final spin, keeping the supply of clean towels moving. This benefit is maximized when you choose a soft-mount machine over a bolt-down machine.”

According to Heitpas, soft-mount washer-extractors are able to spin at much higher speeds and therefore extract more water than rigid-mount machines because their internal mechanism is freestanding. All the force of the spinning is channeled into shock-absorbing units, which permits 300 Gs or more of centrifugal force.

Yes, Heitpas acknowledged that high-speed multi-load washer-extractors are more expensive than traditional units, but said the carwash owner will likely recoup the difference in utility and labor savings over time. “These machines help a business run more efficiently, with less time spent laundering towels and more time washing and detailing cars,” he continued. “They also reduce the business’ impact on the environment.”