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Wash out your ears

October 11, 2010
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During the early stages of construction on a new carwash, many owners and developers have to plan the layout of their wash in order to accommodate for extra parking, traffic and equipment functions.

This is also the time when sound should become a priority, before residential opposition to the site arises.

Thinking ahead
Carefully review the location of your carwash and the noise level it may produce. Also be sure to evaluate what direction the sound will emit in proximity to nearby homes or businesses that might complain about the operation of your equipment.

For the most part, dryers forcing pressurized air through the tunnel or the wash bay will cause the highest level of sound — measured in decibels (dB) — but you may also want to think about the location of your vacuum stations.

Most communities have ever-changing noise violation guidelines for businesses, depending on commercial growth in relation to residential space. It may be beneficial to consider how you might cut back on the subtle ways your carwash could reverberate loud noises within your location’s surrounding area.

While most dryer manufacturers design their equipment with noise-reduction in mind, the carwash operator needs to address this issue with their manufacturer of choice before responsibility is theirs alone, in case complications ensue.

High dB levels can cause harm
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulated that workers in close proximity to noise above 90 dB be provided ear protection that they wear at all times in the presence of levels this high.

The extent of damage from high sound frequencies depends on:

  • The length of time exposed;
  • The intensity; and
  • The exact nature of the sounds.

Hazardous levels vary by the length of exposure to these high dB levels, and sound monitoring devices can be found at local retail outlets, such as Radio Shack, for anywhere between $25 to $50.

Sound monitors come in either analog or digital formats, and while digital devices may cost more, they are generally more user-friendly.

Most devices will require you to set the default receiver to 60 dB, the level of normal conversation.

After calibrating the sound device, measure the sounds that your wash makes from distances close to operation and also far from the site in order to get a feel for how much noise your location creates for neighbors.

Doing so may help you state your case against anyone complaining about outside noise, and will give you a good idea of what to tell your employees and an OSHA inspector.

Sound reduction complications
According to Cheryl Dobie, co-owner of Aerodry Systems, LLC, Broomfield, CO, carwashes are unique when you consider how sound is emitted.

Because of the way that the entrance and exit doors operate for day-to-day use, sound cannot be completely contained within the building.

Also, effective sound absorption materials are porous, which are not suitable for wet, harsh carwash environments, said Dobie.

Noise produced during the drying process of the wash is reverberated throughout the tunnel, or projected from the end of the bay.

Some dryers may be installed as stand-alone units, outside of the bays or tunnel and, by doing so, other equipment can be placed to dampen or block the sound in order to control it.

Crowd pleasing
The Buffalo, NY-based Delta Sonic Car Wash Systems, Inc. has opened a number of new washes within the past year, but the car-care chain has also had to face zoning board committees when meeting opposition from residents over noise concerns.

Aside from deterring sound omitted from a blower, sound walls can be used to absorb noise.

According to Kline, wood is one of the best sound absorbers, especially if you can create an air space with two panels.

With the use of a sound monitoring device, a carwash owner can adjust the height and proximity of the sound walls within range of the equipment in order to best absorb, block or dampen sound waves.

Sounding off: Is it subjective?
Defining noise pollution may seem subjective, since the standard definition of noise is “sound or a sound that is loud, unpleasant, unexpected, or undesired,” it seems as though any noise may be a disturbance.

Unfortunately, this grey area opens debate for what some might consider too loud.

But by making early preparations, working with equipment manufacturers and measuring sound for yourself, you may be able to state your case to a town or city ordinance before costly adjustments are required.