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Thrifty trends in self-serve vacuuming

October 11, 2010
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From stainless steel canopied islands with combination vacuum/shampoo/spot remover units, to high volume vacuum lanes powered by central vacuums — carwash owners are tailoring their vacuum equipment to meet their exact needs and applications.

Many self-serve washes are converting several or all their wash bays to in-bay automatics. After the conversion, the washes enjoy frequent periods at maximum capacity, but find their existing vacuums inadequate.

Power savers
If space permits, some operators install additional vacuum/detail islands. Others choose to maximize their vacuum/detail space by installing a central vacuum system in the equipment room and piping suction to the vacuum islands.

With a central system, the same existing vacuum area can serve twice as many users while reducing energy consumption.

By running a central vacuum system with a variable frequency drive (VFD) or computer-controlled electric motor regulator, energy consumption is reduced tremendously.

For example, operators currently running six high-speed vacuums (standalones) can expect to save more than 55 percent off their new central vacuum electric bill with a VFD.

These central vacuum units are virtually maintenance-free and have a life expectancy of more than 11 years.

Plus, many power companies offer rebates at the time of purchase to operators who install these central vacuums with VFDs.

Considering the rebates offered by the power company, along with the reduced monthly electric costs, the ROI on the central system can be as short as 12 months.

Frugal centrifugal units
The efficiency and reliability of centrifugal units (found in central vacuums) out-performs other vacuums in the industry.

There are fewer moving parts in centrifugal units and they are never pushed to their maximum capacity.

For these reasons, the centrifugal vacuums have a very lengthy life expectancy.

Central vacuums can be powered by single or dual centrifugal turbines. Extremely busy washes with extended operating hours may opt for dual turbines to prevent any interruption in service during maintenance.

But in most applications, a single central vacuum is sufficient and operators still experience less down time. And less down time equals higher profit margins and reduced maintenance costs.

Several central advantages
Self-serve carwashes that already use central vacuums should definitely be using a VFD or similar computer-controlled electric motor regulator to drastically reduce power consumption.

Here is an example of the savings a computer-controlled system can yield: traditional central systems run at 3600 RPM, whether one or six drops are in use.

Even when no one is using the system, the electrical usage is still at 3600 RPM, drawing 12 kilowatts per hour.

With the newer computer-controlled machine at idle when no one is using the system, the motor runs at about 2200 RPM and draws only 2 kilowatts per hour.

That’s about a 90 percent savings just at idle. There are reports available for your area that provide a precise estimate of the true electric savings with a computer-controlled unit based on your typical vacuum usage (your vacuum supplier should be able to help you access these reports).

Central vacuum systems also allow operators to be flexible and creative to stay competitive. For example, an operator in a highly competitive market can offer free or discounted vacuuming with the purchase of an in-bay automatic wash.

Customers pay only once and receive a code to activate the vacuums. “Free” vacuums can even be programmed to turn on and off when triggered by in-ground sensors.

Vacuum-regulated drops can also be programmed to automatically cut off if the customer forgets to hang up the hose after use.

The suction to that drop is terminated automatically, causing the vacuum motor to slow down to idle (reducing electrical costs even further).

In-bay vacuuming
Even with the growing popularity of in-bay automatics, there is still a huge market for traditional self-serve washes.

This is especially true in areas with a high density of recreational vehicles, oversized pick-up trucks, boats and big rigs.

Carwash operators in these areas are taking advantage of industry trends and modernizing their bays.

Self-serve carwash owners are moving all their amenities, including vacuuming, into the wash bay. This allows the customer to seamlessly switch from washing to vacuuming to shampooing, without ever leaving the bay.

These in-bay vacuuming and detailing services are especially popular in areas with extreme seasons. During the winter months, customers would otherwise skip the vacuum island outside because it’s just too cold.

Severe summer temperatures also drive customers away from vacuum islands.

Convenience and comfort
Self-serve washes with in-bay vacuuming and detailing provide a much more comfortable environment for the customers, so they are likely to spend more time and money working on their vehicles.

Along with increased comfort, combining all amenities makes it more convenient for the customer. It eliminates the need to relocate cars to a separate vacuum island and reduces the number of transactions needed.

Plus, by eliminating the stand-alone vacuum islands, valuable real estate is freed up and can be converted to additional bays.

As with the self-serve central vacuums discussed above, these in-bay vacuum hoses are powered by a central vacuum in the equipment room which is regulated by a variable frequency drive (VFD).

Again, with the use of a VFD unit, the vacuum operates at just the right RPM to match the number of hoses in use, so energy costs are minimized and savings are maximized.

Vacuum size varies, depending on the number of simultaneous users on the system. Maintenance costs are also minimized with one industrial vacuum.

Whether your carwash offers traditional self-serve bays, in-bay automatics or something in between, finding the right vacuum system can boost your bottom line.

With so many equipment and technology options available, you should be able to find a system that suits your clientele and your budget.

Steve Tucker Jr. is president of G2 Equipment LLC, manufacturer of industrial vacuums, parts and accessories headquartered in San Diego, CA. Tucker has more than 15 years’ experience in the carwash industry and can be reached at

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