You are about to close the deal on the purchase of an old, rundown car wash. Your construction loan has been approved. You have hired a general contractor, architect, and structural and civil engineers. New car wash equipment has been ordered. All renovation plans are now complete. It is time to execute your renovations plan. Here are seven ideas to help you execute your plan and keep you on budget.

Before you and your contractor swing the first hammer, I recommend you complete the following steps:


Make sure the surrounding neighbors are aware the renovation project is about to begin. Your neighbors have the potential to make your renovation project much more difficult than it needs to be.

An angry neighbor can call the building inspector, which can lead to costly delays or even fines. Even if your contractor is running a tight ship, they do not want a building inspector walking around the project looking for things that only exist in your neighbor’s head.

Keeping your neighbors happy through the renovation process will help keep your project on time and on budget. It also creates an ongoing relationship for the many years you plan to own and operate the car wash.

Prior Notice

Give plenty of notice to your neighbors when different events are going to happen. It helps to give them a schedule of events that may impact their business. Example: On July 15 the access road to the rear of our properties will be closed to replace the storm water drain.

Be Flexible

Some of your neighbors may have special requests. If they are reasonable, try to accommodate them as best as you can. Example: The business next door receives its weekly delivery every Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the rear access road. Make everyone working on the project aware that the access road needs to be clear of any equipment or vehicles on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. Little steps like this can save many headaches down the road.


Let your neighbors know how long the renovation process is intended to take. Let them know the work hours and make them aware of any major changes.

Ignore the Maverick

Every now and then there will be a neighbor who will complain regardless of how accommodating you are. You have to accept this and work through any situation that arises. It is a part of doing business.


Make sure all permits have been applied for and no permit has been overlooked. There are many permits you must obtain prior to the start of your project. Have the city planning or building department give you a list of permits that are required for your project. Your general contractor is usually responsible for obtaining these permits, but you want to make sure they are in place. Costly delays can occur if the right permits are not obtained.

A few permits are often overlooked because they are not required in all areas. They are: demolition permits, excessive noise permits, environmental erosion permits, etc.

Also check to see if the general contractor has to have a business license for the renovation. I had a project held up one time because the general contractor did not have a valid business license issued for the project, so the building department would not issue the building permit.


Strong organizational skills are an essential element of any successful construction project. Smart scheduling avoids costly downtime by ensuring there are no gaps in between work being performed by the various sub-contractors. I recommend scheduling weekly meetings with your contractor to review the construction schedule. Discuss and assess not only what is going on with the build now, but also what the situation is likely to be in two weeks.


Before the initial construction starts I like to have a “kick off” meeting with everyone involved with the project. This allows everyone to meet each other and discuss expectations for the project. Everyone is made aware of the schedule, key deadlines, and project requirements. I usually include the general contractor, electrician, plumber, civil engineer, structural engineer, and car wash equipment supplier in the meeting. This is a good time to invite any questions and clarify any points that may cause confusion.

Make it a goal to have everyone involved in the project thinking ahead and identifying opportunities to save time and evaluate potential problems before they arise. The ability to anticipate and prepare for challenges before they occur is one of the defining qualities that separate successful renovations from those that do not finish on time or budget.


Long lead times can wreak havoc on your renovation project. In order for the project to be completed on time and on budget, ensure that all needed materials arrive on site when scheduled. Understand all of the different suppliers’ shipping schedules. If there are any special orders, allow for additional lead-time. It is not uncommon for special orders to take longer than promised.

Monitoring progress on the long-lead-time items, particularly as they become relevant to project completion, is essential. I recommend having a contingency plan in place for special order items. This way, if changes need to be made in order to have the project completed on time, all of the time-consuming legwork and approvals have already been done.


The start of construction often entails dealing with unforeseen conditions that were not discovered during the planning phase of a project. These include the discovery of faulty wiring, plumbing problems, etc., that do not show up until hands-on construction has begun. Your general contractor should have factored into the construction schedule a period of time to deal with such problems. After the problems have been identified, there is a need to revisit the budget and make adjustments to the scope of work and schedule to accommodate for the changes.

Be prepared and plan for potential weather delays. Murphy’s law will hold true. As soon as you start the renovation project, it will rain for three straight months.


Any number of problems can contribute to a renovation project not staying on schedule and going over budget. One of the biggest offenders is making design changes. Only make changes if they are necessary. Keep in mind that your general contractor is like any other business owner. They have multiple clients and strive to please all of them. Any unnecessary changes you make will delay the project and change the construction schedule, keeping the contractor from his other projects.


Once construction of your car wash renovation is underway, make an effort to stay on schedule by not making any unnecessary changes. Be respectful to your neighbors. Stay in constant communication with everyone involved in the project. Try to predict and solve problems before they arise. Follow your renovation plan and, before you know it, your new car wash will transform before your eyes.

Wash On!

Bobby Willis has been in the car wash business for over 20 years. He owns and operates Cool Wave Car Washes in Virginia. He can be reached at