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To reclaim or not to reclaim…that is the question. At least that is the question often posed by carwash owners as they contemplate building a new wash or upgrading an existing location. At SoBrite, we specialize in everything associated with the water in a carwash, so this is a question we address with virtually every customer.
In this era of concern for the world’s water resources, the answer might seem obvious—and even more so when you understand that the strongest case for water reclamation involves dollars and cents. But, as I’ll explain in this article, there are widespread perceptions of reclaim water quality that may need to be overcome when proposing a reclaim system.
Let me start with the positive. Certainly, being a good steward of our water resources is important and will likely become more so in the future. As we all know, however, a carwash is designed to be a money-making enterprise. As it turns out, the financial case for water reclamation is even stronger than the environmental argument.
Even if water reclamation isn’t mandated by your municipality, ever-rising water and sewer rates make reclamation a very solid financial decision. While reducing fresh-water usage is a plus, sewer rates are typically 2-3 times greater than water costs—even higher in some areas. Minimizing sewer discharge is where water reclamation really shines.
I‘ve seen situations where a reclaim system was shut down for a period of time for one reason or another. In one of those situations, the normal monthly water bill was $7-8,000. The bill for the month without reclaim was double that amount.
With water reclamation delivering that level of monetary return, you might think that the decision to install a quality reclaim system in a new wash or as part of an upgrade would be automatic. That is not always the case, and in my experience, there are two primary reasons behind the decision not in reclaim.
Most prevalent is the common opinion that reclaim water is dark, murky and smelly. I can say with certainty that if those problems are occurring with a reclaim system, then you have the wrong system or an issue needs to be addressed in the system you have.
With a quality system, your reclaim water should only have the color of the primary dye you use in your system, should have no odor and should not be oily or contain solids. With a SoBrite ERS system, for example, we use hydrocyclones to spin out dirt particles that can plug your nozzles and cloud the water. We make the proper use of your underground storage to separate oil from your water, and we treat reclaim water with ozone to remove odors.
One thing is true of any system, however. If you have an issue and don’t tell your supplier, they can’t help you. With a new carwash, your reclaim system may be just fine, but the problem could be a plumbing issue that was overlooked under the time pressure of completing the construction and installation process on time. As your supplier, we’re here to help resolve any issues—if we know that you have a problem.
There is a second common reason not to install a reclaim system. During construction, it is not uncommon for costs to exceed projections. The reclaim system is an easy line item to cut in an attempt to bring costs back in line. This is why it’s essential to know what your projected water and sewer costs will be at the front end of construction. The cost of the reclaim system will be a relatively small portion of your monthly loan payment. Compare that to the several thousand dollars difference a reclaim system will make in your monthly water and sewer rates. And that figure will only increase as your business volume grows. It just makes financial sense to put in that system on the front end.
Now that you’re convinced of the value of a water reclamation system, how do you select your equipment supplier? Once you have a couple of options in mind, check the customer references they’ve provided. Better yet, if you know others in the carwash business, ask them. When checking references, go with those who operate in the same climate as you do. Dirt loads vary greatly, from sand in Florida to pollution in the larger cities to mud in the rural areas.
Talk to your suppliers not only about their equipment and their installation process, but also about their support after the sale. Every reclaim situation is different, from the quality of the city water you receive to the best ways to use your reclaimed water. You want an expert who can fine tune your system and process to give you the best results and the cleanest, shiniest cars.
Ultimately, a decision on water reclamation is a decision on who you give your money to. Will you give more of it to your municipality, or will bring more of that money to your bottom line? Wouldn’t it be better to put that money in your pocket?
Bryant Ruder is the general manager of SoBrite Technologies. A leader in water treatment solutions since 1975, SoBrite uses the latest technology to design and manufacture water reclaim systems, spot-free water units, water softeners, mobile wash units, and proven car wash reclaim odor control systems.