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Reclaim: Reduce water use, increase wash profit

October 11, 2010
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Water conservation measures, such as restricted operating hours, shut downs, drastic increases in water and sewer prices and outrageous impact fees or fines have most operators looking for answers on how they can conserve water to avoid these situations.

By reducing your water consumption with a reclaim system, you also reduce your operating cost, which leads to an increase in profits.

Some simple tips

There are several steps operators can take to effectively reduce water consumption and sewer discharge in a carwash including:

  • Installing high pressure, low volume spray tips.
  • Changing spray tips — this can help reduce water consumption by as much as 25 percent depending on what tips were originally being used, and the customer probably won’t even realize the wash is using less water.
  • Identifying alternative ways to re-use water.
It’s just good sense

RO (spot-free) reject water can be re-used as a pre-rinse, or brought back for the wash cycles.

Typically, for every gallon of spot-free water being produced, there are two gallons of reject water going down the drain.

A simple holding tank and re-pressurization system can be utilized to reuse this water, thus reducing the demand for new water.

Recycling water is the most effective means for reducing water consumption, sewer discharge and reducing high sewer impact fees.

A 60 to 90 percent savings in water and sewer bills alone can be the driving force that motivates owners to enroll in a water-recycling program.

In addition, recycling water can be a very easy and effective means for carwash operators to meet and resolve conservation and environmental standards.

These savings are sometimes substantially more than the cost of a recycling system itself, offering a quick return on investment and a substantial increase in profits.

The downside

Due to the learning curve of reclaim technology, water recycling has earned a slightly unpopular reputation with some operators.

Some systems can be expensive or produce water that looks and smells dirty, often driving customers away and/or creating maintenance nightmares.

New technologies have addressed these issues and some companies now provide equipment that resolves most or all of them.

Some carwash owners take on additional risks when recycling water because there is no control of what goes down their drains. Midnight dumpers promote a fear of recycling with many self-service operators because they have been known to:

  • Change their engine oil;
  • Empty RV holding tanks;
  • Dump buckets of paint;
  • Empty carpet cleaning trucks; and
  • Clean their kill in the wash bays after a weekend of hunting.

However, there are several measures that can greatly reduce or eliminate this type of dumping and allow for a very successful water recycling program in most carwash environments including:

  • Posting signs and/or surveillance cameras (even fake ones) are usually very effective methods of deterring and greatly reducing illegal dumping, but still offer no guarantees.
  • Diverting the bay pit drains to the sewer during off hours.

By recycling during day hours and opening a valve to drain to the sewer during off hours, the risk of contaminating the reclaim system can be greatly minimized.

Don’t forget

If the benefits of recycling water are attractive to the carwash operator, there are also a few other guidelines that should be addressed with the reclaim system manufacturer prior to making the investment.

Odor control — Foul water odor often associated with reclaiming is one of the fastest ways to lose customers. Be sure the system addresses complete odor control.

Get an odor control guarantee in writing from the manufacturer.

Particulate filtration — Be sure the system will filter to below 10 microns.

Many carwash equipment manufacturers require this parameter to warranty their pumps and equipment. Larger particles such as sand and dirt can harm pumps and prematurely wear out spray tips.

Maintenance — Be sure the maintenance isn’t going to cost you more time and money than it’s worth. Beware of those promoting a no maintenance reclaim system.

All reclaim systems will require some sort of maintenance whether it’s changing filters periodically or pumping the tanks and starting with new water.

Backwashing — Systems that automatically backwash are usually flushing the dirt directly back into the tank water it was just removed from.

Although backwashing can reduce maintenance, there are tradeoffs that can be very time-consuming and costly to the operator.

Space — Be sure you have space for the reclaim system. Some systems are cumbersome and require more space than an equipment room can offer.

Although some reclaim systems can be placed outside or in-bay, keep in mind that freeze protection may be required.

Tanking — Reclaim systems require water collection tanks which are usually placed in-ground. Be sure there is adequate space to implement these tanks.

Check depth and freeze lines and ensure the reclaim system is capable of pumping from the required depths.

Compatibility — Ensure that the reclaim system is compatible with the soaps, detergents and chemicals that are used at the facility. Many chemical manufacturers are now offering reclaim compatible products.

Ask the reclaim manufacturer if you will need to change the chemical diet of the carwash when recycling with his equipment. Some reclaim systems require special chemical blends, often not discussed until after the system is installed.

The cost

There is much more to a reclaim system than just the equipment itself. Tanking, installation, plumbing, electrical consumption, pumping and disposal of old tank water and maintenance time and costs are all factors that should be taken into consideration.

Some manufacturers do not offer this information upfront as it may reduce their chances for a sale. Be sure to ask these questions and get genuine answers, which are backed by written materials.

Be sure the manufacturer is going to stand behind the equipment. Reclaim equipment failure can be costly and time consuming.

Look for long-term warranties which also include labor for a pre-determined time.

There are several great methods for the owner/operator to realize increased profits by conserving water.

Do your homework and make sure the items you implement to conserve water are justified, cost effective and will not adversely affect you in ways you may not have previously thought of.

Dean Taylor is vice president of CATEC water recovery and ozone systems, Sarasota, FL, a company which designs and manufactures a complete line of ozone generators and water treatment systems. Taylor is also the carwash water reclaim system specialist for the company.

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