By Joel Jorgensen | Apr 15, 2009
There are numerous solutions to heightened energy-efficiency and the conservation of natural resources at self-service laundries. Making energy-efficient equipment choices and performing routine maintenance will improve a laundry’s profitability and drive down gas, water and electrical costs. However, the key to improved profitability lies in making cost-effective “green” changes that improve energy-efficiency and customer convenience, while simultaneously offering a solid return on investment and positioning your store as an environmentally conscious partner of the community.
Efficiency Improvements Can Start Today
Going green for more profit at your coin laundry doesn’t necessarily mandate an equipment overhaul. First, gain energy-efficiency and reduced utility consumption from the little things, like scheduled preventative maintenance, equipment installation improvements and lighting.
Consistent maintenance according to a regimented schedule is the key to the safe and efficient operation of every piece of equipment at a self-service laundry – from water heaters, washers and air conditioning/heating systems, to dryers. Ensure that you follow manufacturer’s recommendations found in the back of almost every installation manual for regular preventative maintenance. Regularly maintain or replace filters, and thoroughly clean tumbler lint screens, blower fan blades, air intake louvers/screens and burner manifolds. Check belt tensioning, inspect water valve and drain devices for slow leaks, and pay attention to vent system clean-outs and main manifold trunks.
Often, the reason regular equipment maintenance is not performed is because equipment isn’t installed to allow easy access or visibility to many of these items. If equipment is hard to access for maintenance, that maintenance is often ignored. When it is ignored or delayed, a laundry will waste gas, water and electricity – and in the end – pay considerably more for utilities that could have been saved as profit!
Simple changes, including removable bulkhead covers and lighting behind dryers, make the task easier and more conducive to frequent visits. Also, ensure dryers get adequate combustion air from the outside, not from the inside of your store. If there isn’t enough intake air available based on dryer combustion air requirements, increase it. If intake inlets are clogged with lint from years of neglect, start a regular cleaning routine. When there isn’t adequate combustion intake air, dryers will suck in the (heated or cooled) air from the inside of your store. In this case, the dryers use the air reserved for your customer’s comfort – air you’ve already paid to condition to either be cooler or warmer, depending on the time of year. That wastes loads of energy.
Similarly, air conditioning units should have air intakes well away from dryer vent outlets; and don’t forget to consider prevailing wind. Be sure all intakes are free of lint. If screens are clogged, equipment doesn’t operate as efficiently and you lose money. While you are reviewing the inlet and outlet mechanics of your store, also ensure your dryers’ vent outlets have no screens or caps that may restrict airflow. A simple “gooseneck” with the proper clearance from the roof wall or ground will allow a free flow of outlet air. If this isn’t the case, consider reconfiguring your venting system. If venting cannot be adjusted, look for ways to shield air intakes from blowing lint and increase your cleaning frequency. You will notice the improvement with your bills and your customers will notice that the dryers work better.
Lighting systems are responsible for 35 percent of the electricity costs in typical commercial buildings, according to Alliant Energy of Wisconsin. Thus, we can assume lighting consumes a lot of electricity in a coin laundry, where a bright, clean and safe environment is critical. Energy-efficient T-8 fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts are the norm for new fixtures and can easily replace older T-12 lighting with a simple-to-install conversion kit. The kits cost around $20 per lamp, and energy savings from the conversion offer a return on investment of around five to seven years, according to Alliant Energy.
Replacement & New Equipment
While preventative maintenance, new lighting and proper mechanical installation of equipment are important to drive down utility costs, and thus, raise profits, nothing impacts a laundry’s utility bill more than its equipment – heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, water heaters, washer-extractors and drying tumblers. So, if you are replacing old equipment, ensure you install new, properly sized, energy-efficient replacements. If you are just entering the self-service laundry market, be careful to understand how laundry equipment differs, where equipment saves water, electricity and gas, and how equipment can boost profitability, before you purchase.
Choose High-Speed Washers
By choosing high-speed, freestanding washers, which reach far greater extract speeds (up to 350 G-force) than traditional hard-mount washers (70-90 G-force), laundries will cut gas consumption significantly (up to 50 percent per load) and simultaneously simplify installation. There is no greater place for a coin laundry to curb utilities than with its washer-extractors. So, determine if the washer-extractors you are considering are energy-efficient high-speeds, or hard-mounts. They are not all created equal.
Remember, high-speed washers will cut gas consumption and boost profits. Energy-efficiency starts with G-Force extract. When compared with traditional hard-mount washers that don’t achieve high extract speeds, high-speed washers remove more moisture from a load, cutting resulting gas consumption to dry by up to 50 percent. This boosts profitability in multiple ways:
• First, since your laundry uses less dryer time, the facility eliminates dryer bottlenecks and cuts gas and electricity usage, which improves profits.
• Second, because customers complete laundry in less time – which is what they crave – customer turnover and retention improve, boosting store revenue.
Many people believe dryers can save coin laundries money in curbed utilities. However, laundries will save more in utilities by investing in energy-efficient high-speed washers, which remove more water from the load before it ever sees the dryer. The washer-extractor is much more critical, and in the end, saves more in utilities and time, than the fastest, most energy-efficient dryer. A secondary option to high-speed, freestanding washers are high-speed hard-mount washers, which reach medium extract speeds of 100-150 G-force – offering more extract than most hard-mounts (70-90 G-force) and less than freestanding high-speeds (up to 354 G-force).
Ensure Washers are Highly Programmable
Additionally, when you choose your washers, ensure they are highly programmable for additional savings in water and electricity. Here’s what I mean: The store owner must have control over the laundry process…
It is best to choose washers with a control that allows the owner to customize extract speed, mechanical action, multi-level pricing, time-of-day pricing, wash temperature by degree, water levels, number of baths, and wash and rinse time by minute. That way, laundry owners can add or eliminate baths, extend or shorten rinses or washes, and decide what the exact water temperature should be based on vend price and energy/water costs. By selecting exact temperatures, laundries can save a considerable amount in water heating costs and hot water volume demand, helping their heating systems keep up during peak periods.
Get the Estimated Savings in Black and White
Manufacturers of washer-extractors should be able to show you – in black and white – how much you will save annually with energy-efficient replacement equipment. This analysis should outline gas, electricity and water consumption estimates, costs and the resulting return on investment.
For example, you can expect that a 3,500-square-foot laundry with 18 double-load hard-mounts, 16 triple-load hard-mounts, 14 40-pound-capacity hard-mounts, four 75-pound-capacity hard-mounts, 24 30-pound-capacity stack dryers and four 80-pound-capacity dryers would cost around $25,000 to $30,000 per year more to operate (water, heated water, electricity and gas) than a store that replaced the double-, triple- and 40-pound-capacity hard-mount washers with high-speed, high-efficiency washer-extractors. Keep in mind that these savings are not necessarily reflective of all models of high-speed washers, however.
Art Jaeger previously owned multiple stores equipped with hard-mount washers. He now owns a card-operated laundry (Santa Clarita Laundry) in southern California with primarily high-speed washer-extractors. Jaeger has crunched and analyzed the comparative numbers many times, and maintains, with nearly all variables equalized, the high-speed laundry saves big dollars in utility expenditures.
In a year’s time, the high-speed Santa Clarita Laundry used 22.5 percent less electricity (kilowatts); 25 percent less gas (therms); and 8 percent less water (hundred cubic feet, or CCF); when compared with Jaeger’s similarly sized hard-mount store.
That’s impressive, especially since Jaeger designed the hard-mount store to maximize efficient operation. Another benefit? Customers of the high-speed store can complete laundry in less than 60 minutes, a realized value to the customers, and major factor in how Jaeger differentiates his service in a highly competitive market.
Replace Toploaders with Frontloading High-Speed Washers
I can’t emphasize this point enough. Topload washers guzzle water and energy and limit capacity, income and the gross profit potential of your store per square foot. By replacing a store’s toploaders with high-speed, frontload washer-extractors (and, yes, there are excellent commercial-grade options on the market today) stores will save 18-20 gallons of water per load. So, if a laundry replaces 10 toploaders that turn three times per day each, it can save up to 600 gallons of water per day. By replacing toploads with high-speed washers stores may save as much as:
• 18-20 gallons of water per load/load.
• Sewer costs (they charge you based on water volume in).
• Water heating costs.
• Gas usage (high-speed extract will curb dry time and gas usage per load by up to 40 percent).
• Drying tumbler wear and tear (because run time is reduced).
There is a learning curve for customers who regularly use toploaders. It is up to the store owner to train them on the benefits of using a frontloading, high-speed washer with a greater capacity. Often, to bridge this gap, owners will retain just a few (five or six) toploaders to keep customers happy until those customers can be converted into using the frontloaders.
Select Energy-Efficient Dryers
Look at the data provided by the dryer manufacturer before you buy. You want to purchase an energy-efficient dryer that removes the most moisture per therm of heat energy possible within a specific time. Remember, your key to improved energy-efficiency comes from the G-force extract of the washer; a dryer does not have the same impact on utilities.
A dryer works by internally reaching a programmed temperature. Once that temperature is attained, the dryer burner cycles off until the dryer cylinder internal temperature falls to a set parameter. Then the burner kicks back on and cycles again – working much like a home thermostat. It is the moisture in the load that determines how long it takes the dryer to attain programmed temperature to stop the burner. The moisture in the load also determines how quickly the dryer loses temperature and must cycle on, burning more gas again. When there is less moisture in the load, as is the case when laundry comes out of a high-speed washer, the dryer reaches temperature faster, cycles on less often and dries more quickly using less energy.
Of course, some dryers are more efficient than others, so be sure to select carefully.
Water Heater, HVAC Selection & Sizing
Correctly sized and installed water heating systems and heating and air conditioning equipment will reduce operating expenses and maintenance problems. Manufacturers of these systems help store owners properly size the systems to meet store demand of the washers. Often, they can even tell you how much energy/money you will save by replacing a less efficient water heater or HVAC system with a new, energy-efficient model.
On-demand water heaters produce hot water only as it is needed. On-demand water heaters cost more than water heaters requiring storage, but are less expensive to operate and take up considerably less space. So, determine your return on investment by comparing both options before you buy.
More traditional water heaters often require more storage tank capacity. The tanks are full of hot water that is always heated to temperature. One reason they are less efficient than on-demand models is because of the constant loss of heat energy from the storage tank. If you have a traditional heating system with storage tanks, please ensure your tank is well insulated.
Similarly, heating and cooling systems must be properly sized, installed and maintained to glean energy-efficient results. Always insulate your store from the outside, clean vents and filters, and ensure HVAC systems are properly maintained.
Take a practical approach toward making your self-service laundry greener, by carefully considering the little things you can do to improve energy-efficiency. And, when replacing equipment, or when developing a new coin laundry, invest in high-speed washers first. They will deliver more in terms of utility savings, customer satisfaction and profits than any other piece of equipment in your store. In the end, your work and investment to “go green” will pay off with a reduction in utility costs and an increase in your store’s value thanks to improved profitability.