Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Reclaim your way to savings

June 1, 2011

Saving water is a good thing. Saving money is a great thing. Combine the two and it seems as if a water reclamation system is a win-win. But there are misconceptions about systems, from their price to their maintenance, with some operators claiming they’re too expensive, others thinking they are too much trouble and some worried about the water’s quality.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing® spoke with a multitude of industry experts to get to the bottom of these misconceptions to help operators in learning how to maximize their water reclaim systems.

The common misconceptions
Jim Keller, president of Con-Serv Water Recovery Systems, said that in the 35 years he’s worked in the water recovery equipment industry, the most common misconception is in regard to the cost.

“In most cases to dispute the myth about cost and to implement a system, calculate current water and sewer rates in your area,” he said. “Don’t forget to inquire about any increases that might be in the forecast for your municipality’s future. I’ve been in the industry for quite a few years and I have never seen a rate decrease.”

Joel Wollin, the director of Sales and Marketing at Autowash Systems, Inc., said the biggest misconception he has heard has to do with water quality and “that you cannot use one without degrading the quality of the wash and/or experiencing a sewer odor that is traditionally associated with inadequate reclaim systems,.”

If a reclaim system is installed correctly, Wollin said it can be one of the greatest assets to a carwash. To truly maximize effectiveness the operator must have plenty of underground settling capacity, use a strong disinfectant (such as ozone), and properly maintain the system on a regular schedule.

Charles Borchard, the vice president of operations for New Wave Industries, said there is still a lot of resistance among operators despite rising water and sewer costs. As these expenses increase, Borchard expects more operators will look to reclaim systems to realize a payback that can occur in less than two years with a 60 percent recovery rate.

Out with the old
Some manufacturers believe the negative reputation for reclaim systems is owed to earlier models, which didn’t work as well. Dean Taylor, who serves as the system application specialist for CATEC Water Recovery and Ozone Systems, said reclaim systems have improved greatly over the years and deserve a second look.

“Early systems were unsophisticated and produced water that looked and smelled awful. Such systems are still being sold today, and they continue to be very detrimental to a carwash facility by turning away customers and causing premature equipment failures and/or maintenance nightmares,” he said.

According to Taylor, the substandard systems continue to give reclaim a bad name. Over the last 10 years, Taylor said, a hand full of reclaim system manufacturers have made leaps and bounds with reclaim technology.

Today, there are systems that will produce clean, odor-free water and with very little maintenance. These systems can deliver water clean enough that their customers can’t even tell reclaim water is being used on their car.

“The recent trend to “go green” with carwashing shows no sign of ending anytime soon,” Wollin said. But once upon a time, he had an operator decline to give a letter of recommendation because he didn’t want anybody to know he reused his water.

“I now have new operators proudly advertising that they do so. As water and sewer costs continue to increase, I see the future of water reclamation as very strong … and not just in the carwash industry … we are starting to look at water reclamation for the ethanol industry as well as the health club industry,” Wollin explained.

Picking the right system
Picking the correct system comes down to your carwash’s size and the amount of water that will be reclaimed.

By pre-determining what equipment you will use reclaim with and how much water that equipment will need, Keller said you can properly anticipate the size of your system. “If you are planning on recovering only 50 percent of your carwash water, tank size, pipe size, pump and motor size will be significantly smaller and so will the cost of the recovery system you will need to purchase,” he said.

Wollin recommends choosing a system that comes with a drain. He also said operators should look for a system with a filter purge “so that filter changes can be performed safely and with no mess.”

“Systems that are designed to depressurize automatically when you turn them off can be unreliable and dangerous,” Wollin cautioned. “Never assume that a system is depressurized before opening the filter vessel … it could take your arm, or worse, your head off. If your system has a manual drain valve on it, you know that when you open that drain, it is depressurized.”

As for its size, Wollin said an operator needs to be prepared. “Keep in mind,” he said, “that we recommend 9,000 gallons of underground settling capacity to make a reclaim system really, truly function well, and this means that an operator has to make a significant investment not just in dollars, but in space, to put one in.”

Maintaining while reclaiming
As with all equipment, good maintenance is important and must be done regularly and correctly.

Wollin said that filter, strainer and nozzle maintenance is a must, and reclaim water will typically leave a muddy residue in and on the equipment it is used on. “While the filters are designed to remove most of this, dirt particles that are smaller than the micron rating of the filters will still get through,” he said.

Wollin stated these particles eventually accumulate and will plug strainers and nozzles, which naturally leads to other, more serious maintenance problems. The same goes for the filters themselves. “Failure to maintain these items leads to premature equipment failure … usually an expensive pump,” he said.

Gideon Brunn, an Applicantion Engineer with Automatic Filters, inc. said, “leftover particles will cause maintenance nightmares when they get into a system.” He said unscheduled shut downs for cleaning and maintenance will then occur. Particles will also cause spotting and coloration on cars and will eventually plug the spraying nozzles, Brunn added.

According to Taylor, proper maintenance is key to keeping the water clean. He said to be loyal to your preventive maintenance program. “Just as with a swimming pool, some things must be maintained to keep the water nice,” he said. “Many reclaim systems of today require much less maintenance than those of the past. Five to 10 minutes of simple maintenance once a week will help keep your system operating at its peak performance.”

Taylor also said that really understanding the system is a good way to keep it working, and some manufacturers offer an onsite visit for set-up and training when you purchase your reclaim equipment. “Take full advantage of this visit. Take time to learn your system, how it operates and what is required to maintain it. It will save you time, money and headaches in the long run,” Taylor said.

Borchard agreed and said operators should plan to hold onto their owner’s manual. “After you have read the manual, do what it says, check or clean filter elements, media. Verify operations. If there is periodic maintenance, do it,” he warned. “Almost all systems will have a strainer basket in front of the pump and all systems will benefit from keeping it clean; once a week in most cases.”

Parts to consider
Knowing that oil can get into the reclaim water, David F. Roberts, the president of Freytech Inc., recommends the use of an enhanced coalescing oil water separator. “Even trace amounts of oil in the recycled water can diminish the quality of the wash,” he said. “An ‘oil trap’ is not enough since it is simply a tank with baffled walls which does trap some of the oil floating on the surface of the water, but it will not trap all of the oil present below the surface.”

In addition, using such an antiquated method does not offer adequate protection against potential fines for discharging oil beyond the legal limits, according to Roberts. As for self serve carwashes, he said an oil water separator is strongly recommended since it is not uncommon to come across patrons changing their oil and dumping it into the carwash drain. He said that retrofitting existing tanks and installing a turnkey separator kit is a simple, affordable option that not only improves the wash quality and protects the environment but also offers peace of mind to the operator.

Good filters and the replacing of those filters is also a key step. Wollin said that most of his sites are changing filters every 1,000-1,500 cars. Some newer models can handle 5,000 cars on a set of filters. He also recommends good felt filter bags, which nowadays go for about $4 a piece.

“If your reclaim system has three bags, and you change your filters every 1,000 cars, the cost of this maintenance is slightly more than a penny per car,” he said. “I have seen sites wash and reuse their filters,” which, in his opinion, quickly degrades the ability of the filters to remove particles they are rated to catch.

“Considering the negligible expense of the filters,” Wollin said,” it is not worth the time or the hassle to do this, and in fact, the cost of washing these filters probably exceeds the value of doing so.”