Don’t Let Utilities Curtail Profits: Finding the Right Hot-Water System Is Essential

With natural and LP gas on an ever-escalating track, your utilities are eating up a larger and larger portion of your self-service laundry income. Depending on the age and style of your water-heating system and your dryers, up to 60% of your gas bill could be related to hot-water production.Upgrading your hot-water system can pay huge dividends in terms of net profits returned. In many cases, a leased or financed replacement hot-water system can provide positive cash flow.THE RIGHT FITThere are two major trends evolving in hot-water equipment for the self-service laundry industry, and in order to determine which fits your business model best, you need to make a decision: Is it important for your laundry to have hot water at all times, regardless of the number of customers using washers?If your answer is no, then you should ask yourself a second question: If you only have hot water when the store is slow or empty, why have it at all? If you’re not providing hot water and the best wash quality when the store is busy, why do you care about hot water when the store is not busy?Are you confused a bit? Do these seem like silly questions? Well, they may seem like silly questions, but the reality is that you have a fixed number of washers in your laundry, and each of those washers, when set on a warm or hot wash, requires (at a minimum) five gallons of hot water to fill. Larger-capacity front-load washers can require up to 15 gallons of hot water per minute each.Why is this information important when selecting a hot-water system? The two emerging trends are to replace your existing system with one that requires no storage (instantaneous) or one that uses storage but operates at nearly 100% efficiency (condensing).If you select an instantaneous water heater and it has a flow rate limited to five gallons per minute, how many washers can be in use at any time and have hot water? If you don’t want to run short of hot water, or take forever to fill your washers, you will need an appropriate number of instantaneous heaters to ensure timely hot water under all levels of store business.Some manufacturers of instantaneous heaters also allow the use of storage tanks in conjunction with their products, but then you’ll just have an average-efficiency (81%) heater that’s still coupled to a storage tank — and not much improvement on the gas bill.The second option is to upgrade to a high-efficiency, condensing hot-water system, which allows operating efficiencies of up to 99.8%, coupled to a well-insulated storage tank. This can provide up to a 50% savings (depending on the age and condition of your existing hot-water system) on the hot-water portion of your gas bill.The condensing technology is proven; worldwide shipments in 2008 exceeded 2 million units. Many parts of the world mandate that all gas-fired equipment be condensing equipment because of the energy savings and emissions reductions it provides.A COMMON MISTAKECondensing products, like most designs, are not without potential issues if improperly installed. The most common mistake in installation is not realizing that a condensing heater includes a drain for the condensate produced, and that this condensate must run freely away from the heater. This condensate is acidic and must run through a neutralizer (limestone rock in a plastic pipe or container), which is generally supplied with the heater, before being passed down the drain.If this condensate is allowed to stay in the heater or back up into it due to improper installation, it can cause operational and ongoing maintenance problems. Providing proper drainage is generally as simple as ensuring the heater is level and running a drainpipe that is pitched toward the drain.Properly installed condensing water heaters have been in use with little or no maintenance since 1992.This information is supplied by Hamilton Engineering Inc. If you have any questions or comments about this article, contact Hamilton Engineering at 800-968-5530 or visit


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