With the express wash boom going on across the country, one of the questions we frequently receive is whether or not to provide shade at the new location and how to do so cost effectively. Well, we are going to give you some food for thought to help inform that decision.

            Leading the pack in our factors to consider is OSHA. OSHA has a tremendous amount of information online regarding the dangers of outdoor work and employers’ responsibilities for protecting workers. Check it out at https://www.osha.gov/heat/employer-responsibility.

            To address the OSHA requirements, we should have a comprehensive employee heat illness prevention plan. This could be as basic as providing water along with a chart determining minimum break requirements for the employee to leave their station and rest in a shady or airconditioned area. Providing a shady area for the work will allow the employer to minimize break time and allow the employees to be on station for a higher percentage of the time.


            Many of us have worked at the tunnel entrance or the pay stations in the summer, only to end up sunburned and dehydrated by noon. Depending on the building orientation and where you are in the United States, it can get miserable very quickly. Not to mention that customers may not be able to see the pay screen, need help, and take longer to enter the wash.

            A straightforward solution to this area is to provide an umbrella canopy that is always blocking the sun. Easier said than done…

A popular choice, and by far the least expensive one, is to go to the local building supply or sporting goods store and purchase a tilting patio umbrella. These allow multiple placement options, can be moved throughout the day, then put away at night.

            The challenge is usually to be able to place the shade exactly where it is needed, not necessarily directly above the area, but where the shade falls exactly on the person or piece of equipment that needs it. Being able to move it around is a big benefit but ends up being a drawback when the wind blows or an employee damages it. Despite the drawbacks, I recommend this solution often as a good starting point to establish when and where shade is needed throughout the day. Even if we end up having a few $200 umbrellas destroyed by employees and/or the environment, we will end up with a much clearer picture of what we really need for the area.

            A permanent, cantilevered umbrella shadeport is a great way to protect these areas and to provide shade for pay stations over the long haul. This solution has a column permanently mounted to the curb, completely out of the way of the customer driving lane. The column reaches out over the lane and allows an umbrella to be made the correct size and shape, then placed in the air at the exact location to maximize effectiveness. These types of structures do not need to be taken in at night, stand up to all kinds of weather short of hurricanes, and when the right materials are used, they last for years with little to no maintenance.


            The most discussed area is the vacuum area. Opinions run the gambit here. One side of the discussion recommends leaving out the shade to keep customers moving through faster. Our local, completely unscientific, ‘person-on-the-street’ poll of car wash customers here in South Florida finds that they will go to a wash that provides shade over the vacuums rather than one without. As the abundance of wash locations grows, this could easily sway decisions on which to visit.

            Even if we want to keep customers moving through the vacuums, this part of the wash typically gives us the largest area to scream out “We are a car wash!” One of the best ways to enhance visual marketing is to at least put some shade fabric up between the vacuum stanchions. Here we are usually limited as to the type of shade by the stanchion design and attachment points. Many interesting ways of attaching shade have been developed.

            We believe the simplest solution is always the best solution. Look for a design that is easy to remove and replace for storms. Notice the intricate lacing required in the below photo. Many others use zip-ties, an easy and handy solution. Watch out for the design and quality of the fabric. High-quality fabrics come with a 10-year warranty. Hems should be double lock stitched using PTFE (Teflon) thread and should be reinforced with webbing or steel cables.

            Adding an eight- or nine-foot shade to the front end of a vacuum spot will only add a bit of shade to the area and, depending on the orientation of the vacuums along with the time of day, will probably only shade the hood of the vehicle. A way to provide complete shade to the vacuum areas is to use a full-sized shadeport. These are typically 18’-plus deep and cover the full length of the vehicle, allowing the customer to clean their vehicle interior in relative comfort. There are many different shadeport configurations. Least expensive of the bunch is a standard four column structure with either a hip or dome roof. These can even be modified with ‘Parking Offset’ columns that place the column two to four feet behind the edge of the shadeport to help avoid “Oopsies.”

Sails and Cantilevers

            Sails look wonderful, but also present a challenge in locating the columns. Sails are typically custom designed for the area and have a few guiding principles. First, there must be a place to locate columns at each corner of the sail. No, a small decorative light pole will not hold up to the lateral forces created by the sail. Utility poles can’t be attached to in most jurisdictions and any type of concrete pole is not designed for lateral forces. Many buildings can hold sails so feel free to use the walls or roof if they are solid.

            A few of the critical design requirements for sails are:
1. Columns in the ground require substantial foundations. More than just bolting into a walkway. Engineering is usually required to ensure a safe installation based on your specific location.
2. Try to keep the corner angles above 30° or it will end up looking like a “Brazilian Bikini Bottom.”
3. The ideal slope for a sail is one foot drop over four or five feet, meaning at least one attachment point should be higher than others. Be careful to not design a “Bird Bath,” especially with customers or their property underneath.
4.         So, plan your layout creatively with careful thought as to where sails will attach. Overlapping sails are a beautiful addition to any property as well as eye-catching to all passers-by.

            Arguably the best choice for complete shade coverage over the vacuum area is a cantilever shadeport structure. These types of structures only use one set of columns “behind the line.” This would be the area behind curbs and stops. Cantilevers are more expensive (a couple thousand dollars per) than a four-column structure. However, they eliminate the safety hazard of errant vehicles crashing into a structure. A side benefit of cantilever shadeports is the vacuum lines can be mounted to the cantilever arms, saving on infrastructure costs and maintenance.

            Let’s not forget the customer waiting area! Your customers deserve an inviting place to wait for their vehicle and to spend a little extra on snacks and scents.

            Always look to create an inviting and safe site. Provide shade, attach lighting to the shade structure to draw valuable marketing attention and promote a safe environment.


            Many of our car wash customers claim to prefer waterproof covers so they can detail vehicles while it is raining out. While not necessarily true all the time, most of the time it rains, wind blows the rain under any canopy. We can take a cue from restaurant patios that have to be open to make money. The only way to handle rain is to have waterproof curtains also. This is a sure-fire recipe for creating a giant “campsite chicken cooker” oven using the sun as a power source.

            Waterproof fabrics are not air permeable, so when the sun hits the fabric, the heat is transferred through the canopy using conduction. The lack of permeability stops air movement below the fabric and creates a volume of hot air underneath the canopy. When HDPE mesh shade fabric is used, the sun still hits the  fabric and heats it up. However, the hot fabric coupled with the air permeability of the mesh fabric creates a convection current flowing from the underneath of the fabric to the top, expelling heated air and drawing in cool, fresh air. This natural process drops the temperature below the shade fabric some 15° to 20°. 

            Waterproof fabrics are not made to stretch or breathe. They require a large frame infrastructure to hold up the fabric as well as large slope and a rope tightening system to keep from tuning into a birdbath. These are typically vinyl coated and degrade in five to seven years or when removing and storing. They usually require calling in a professional to figure out how to reinstall the cover.

            The best insurance policy is in the design of anything you put on your site. Make sure each piece of a structure is easily replaceable in the field at a minimal cost, not using proprietary, expensive replacement parts or field welding.

            Target easy removal and replacement of the cover. Look for a cover that can be removed and replaced in 15 minutes or less without having to cut anything apart or saw off bolts, clamps, etc. The best ideas are the simplest. Anything complicated or convoluted will fail. If you must stretch to understand it, run away!

            So, whether considering the clean, sexy look of shade sails; the classy look from a hip roof; the fun, open look from a dome roof; or permanent umbrellas that can be made in any shape or size, minimizing intrusive supports, make sure the shade is located properly based on your latitude, opening times, and maximizing effectiveness while providing a splash of pizzazz and drawing attention to your location.

            Happy Shading!

Chip Breitweiser is with Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Industrial Shadeports Inc. You can visit the company on the web at www.shadeports.com, or contact Chip at (954) 755-0661.