Building a car wash is a huge undertaking. Even though there are many experienced professionals in our industry to guide you through this process, things will never be perfect right out of the gate. The car wash is a small factory, and as with any factory, the key is to get all components working together to achieve a single goal.
Let’s face it, we all have our preferences regarding car wash equipment. And 99 percent of the time, brand-new equipment will work as expected if installed per the manufacturer’s suggested installation. Paying attention to these details will go a long way in determining how well things operate at the wash.
The problem is that things like plumbing, pump size, and electrical service must accommodate numerous functions and different pieces of equipment. This can be a tricky task. Often, the equipment is blamed when these underlying factors are the culprit.
This article explores the things that are done before the grand opening that can have a big influence on how well the reclaim unit, RO unit, and water distribution systems operate.
We will start with plumbing. Most manufacturers provide diagrams for setting up tanks for the reclaim system and the correct piping sizes for the reclaim to work as advertised. These are not suggestions for installation; these are the requirements to ensure the equipment will have the best chance to operate at peak performance.
For instance, a 100-gallon-per-minute reclaim system needs a 3” inlet suction line to work as advertised. It should be direct and no longer than 40’ or 50’ from the reservoir to the pump stand.
Deviating from this suggestion can make the system very hard to operate or, in some cases, inoperable. Direct plumbing means no increase or decrease other than the standard rise to the equipment room. Plumbing that goes up 3’ and then back down 3’ in the suction line will not allow the pump to draw water to the system. The system will not be able to provide water as expected. It will cause excessive wear and tear on the pumps, and the operator will think the reclaim is broken or defective when a plumbing shortcut was taken that caused the issue. Once this is covered in concrete, it cannot be easily changed and will be quite expensive to fix.
Most reclaim units have drain lines that are a specific size and have instructions on how they should be plumbed. Generally, they should be as straight as possible with no rises in the lines. The same logic applies to the suction line. If your equipment cannot drain properly, it will not operate properly. This can cause check valves to break, pressure sensors to fail, and your equipment to not filter properly.
The reclaim water out line to your equipment should not be a different size than the one recommended by the manufacturer. If you have a 125 GPM reclaim system that requires a 2” water delivery line to the equipment, that does not mean a .5” line and two .75” lines will be the same. It is like stuffing 50 pounds of sausage into a 10-pound casing. If the unit operates on a pressure switch, the faulty plumbing will cause the unit to cycle on and off instead of providing an even flow of water to the wash.
For centrifugal pumps, generally, the tanks should be within 40’ of the pump stand for the pump to be able to draw the water to the system. If this is not adhered to during construction, the system may be unable to draw water up the line and stay primed during operating hours.
The result is high vacuum on the pump and equipment. Over time, a high vacuum will degrade the pump’s power and cause welds to crack, check valves to break, and generally hamper the operation of the wash. You will not get the amount of water advertised if a high vacuum is present during operation.
If you are lucky enough to prime the unit successfully once, it may not be so easy the next time. Unfortunately, this is an issue we see quite often and could easily have been avoided by reading the directions. There are remedies for this, but like anything, they cost money. This mistake has caused headaches for car wash owners and reclaim providers alike. Owners think they were sold faulty equipment when directions were not followed during construction.
To recap, follow the plumbing guidelines, take no shortcuts, use the correct size pipe, and give your equipment a chance to save money and work as intended.
It is very important for your system to be sized according to the needs of the wash, not substantially more. More is not always better. If you require 65 gallons per minute of water to satisfy the wash, 165 gallons per minute will not improve things; it will cause the same plumbing issues discussed earlier. It will cause motors to fail prematurely and pressure switch failure.
Reverse osmosis systems should be treated the same way. We will not rehash the downside of not following plumbing directions. Instead, we will explore a couple of common issues in our industry.
Some operators forget about including the water usage of their reverse osmosis system when planning their water requirements for the wash. Check with your supplier to make sure to account for this water in addition to the other water requirements of your equipment. Failure to account for this will cause the reverse osmosis system to fault out during peak washing times due to lack of water.
Oversizing the RO can also cause headaches. Remember, the larger the reverse osmosis unit, the more water and pressure are needed to run it correctly. If a six-gallon per minute reverse osmosis system will keep you in rinse water, there is no need to install a 12-gallon per minute system because bigger is not always better.
Water requirements for large reverse osmosis units must be seriously considered before deciding which unit to purchase. You must ensure you have the water and pressure available before installing. People forget that more equipment being run simultaneously will generally lower the water pressure and cause the RO to shut down.
Spiking or sagging voltage can damage your equipment, especially the smaller-sized pumps and motors on reclaim and reverse osmosis units. If you have an electrical service problem with one unit, you have it with all of them. Not only are you damaging these smaller systems, but your bigger, much more expensive ones are slowly being damaged.
Call a certified electrician and your installers when you notice something like this, and get it fixed immediately. This bill will be much less than what you will face if you let it go. Pumps are designed to run on specific voltages and phases. Once again, this is not a suggestion, and all care must be taken to provide consistent power for your equipment.
Here is a quick example. Equipment is designed to operate on 230-volt single-phase power; many operators will say they have 208-volt single-phase power. Generally, these pumps operate at a plus or minus 10 percent of the voltage on the motor plate. So, the lower voltage must be ok for the unit to run on, right?
Not so fast, my friend. If this voltage happens to sag during the day, you will be outside of the pump’s operating parameters and cause damage to the pump. If you have any doubts about this, consult a certified electrician for advice.
Many people will buy a box of fuses and spare contactors or replace the pump and forge ahead. Not addressing these types of electrical issues will cost you more money in the long run than nipping it in the bud at first notice.
Electricity is fickle, and even though your electrician and installers have done their best to get you started, things may need to be adjusted. The size of wires, length of runs, and noise that may affect electronic equipment must all be considered. With so many different components in the wash, you won’t know what you are up against until you start running everything together.
Once again, don’t blame the equipment. If you see an anomaly, work with your electrician and installer because chances are this is just a sign that everything is feeling the effect in some form or another. Remember that three-phase motors can run backward if the service is accidentally hooked up backward. This is not a big deal and can easily happen with the electrical service wire being pulled to many different components. It is an easy fix, but if not fixed, it can eventually destroy a pump and damage the components that the pump is feeding. Always have your installers check the rotation of your three-phase pumps. If a brand-new pump has water and is not putting out pressure or tripping motor protection devices, this could be the issue.
In summary, give your ancillary equipment a chance to operate correctly by making sure you lay the groundwork for success. Doing these few things at the beginning of your journey can save time, frustration, and money in the long run.
Dwight Royal is CEO/co-owner of Lakeland, FL-based Con-Serv Manufacturing. You can visit the company on the web at www.con-servwater.com.