CHICAGO — In conversations with operators, it’s not unusual to chat about how one would do things differently if given the chance to change a store design. With this topic, the answers vary and touch on all different aspects of operations. However, the most detailed answers seem to come from owners who have a “hands-on” involvement with the laundries. You know, the guys who have to sneak in those confined areas to perform the maintenance tasks required in the day-to-day operation of the laundry.Do you have any plans to build a new coin laundry in 2007? While plans for a new laundry can look good on paper, sometimes a second look is required.SPREAD OUTWhen talking to the hands-on people, most agreed that a lack of space was making maintenance tasks more difficult. The danger here is that the operator may postpone a maintenance procedure because access is a problem. For example, slow-filling machines, causing extended cycle time, could be remedied by simply removing the washer supply hoses and cleaning the sediment from the hose screens. But because this task was made difficult by the lack of service room, it might have been put off until absolutely necessary.We all know maintenance tasks aren’t fun, and anything that will make these tasks more difficult will add to the “excuse list” of why the work isn’t being done. Here’s a favorite story of mine about one operator who was in the process of building his second location. The contractor specialized in building homes.Not having experience in the coin laundry field, this contractor used his “home-building” mentality and doled out the smallest amount of space for the mechanicals while providing the greatest amount for room size. The result: an impractical, and inefficient store design. The changes to improve the condition of the store were simply too costly, so the owner was forced to accept the situation.PICK A PROBLEM, ANY PROBLEMSome of you may be thinking, “How bad could this design really have been?” I’ll let you decide.First of all, the utility room was so compact that when the hot water heater required some service at a later time, one of the partitioning walls had to be removed to provide access to the unit.The bulkheads were so compactly built that gaining access to the hot or cold water shut-off valves was almost impossible. The cleaning of inlet water hose screens became a nightmare. While this is not normally a glamourous job, it still has to be done periodically.To add insult to injury, the front loaders were installed too close to the bulkhead. These machines were equipped with hinges that when loosened allowed them to tilt forward for ease of servicing. Since the machines were too close to the bulkhead, access to the hinge retaining bolts, which had to be loosened, was difficult. What was supposed to make servicing easier, added to the difficulty because of improper equipment installation.GIVE YOURSELF A BREAKA little planning, and industry experience, could have made things so much better for this owner. The owner ended up with 10-foot aisles at the cost of an inadequate and cramped service area. As little as six inches added to the machine area would have made all the difference in the world.There’s a variety of things that need to be taken into consideration when designing a new store. Let’s look at washers.Since front loaders are almost exclusively gravity drain today, access to the drain connections is a must for clean out. Anyone with the “no spin” machine problem will appreciate the ability to gain easy access to the drain system. Since items becoming trapped in drain lines is a common problem, accessibility is key. Planning ahead for this is a good investment against having to purchase high blood pressure medicine!If the equipment selection and the floor plan allow, top loaders can be placed back to back with front loaders. It becomes much easier to remove a top loader to gain access to the front loader across the bulkhead. This would also allow front-loader service such as drain cleaning, water valve hose screen cleaning and access to the mounting bolts if necessary.One of the most common problems with front loaders after they have been installed is the inability to gain access to the rear mounting bolts, usually because of the machine next to it or insufficient spacing. While installing a row of machines, the ability to reach all the mounting bolts is possible because of the empty space along the side. As machines are placed next to each other, this ability disappears. Removing the rear mounting bolts of a machine in the middle can be a problem. Adequate planning can ease this problem.All washers will require bearing or motor replacement at some point in their service life. Whether the job is easy or difficult could be a direct result of your planning. Even if you have an independent service contractor to handle repairs, his charges will be directly related to the degree of difficulty experienced. Proper planning could save you money.NO BREAK WITH DRYERSThe dryers at this laundry didn’t fare any better. The service area behind the machines was so confined (about one foot), that it made routine maintenance difficult. If you are going to work behind dryers, you need elbow room. Twelve inches is about half of the minimum required. The duct work was done in such a way that no consideration was given for accessibility to the various machine components. Shortcuts were taken to make the job easier for the sheet metal man. In short, it became an adventure to work on the dryers.A lack of space is double trouble — it will lead to delays in necessary maintenance as well as increased labor costs when hiring an outside contractor to do the work. In addition, an outside contractor may decide to sever ties with your business if the work is too difficult.Whatever initial consideration is given to service accommodations will pay big returns when future service is required. Don’t kid yourself that it won’t. Even though today’s equipment is built and designed well, it will need service at some time.When it comes to design, can operators ever be in total agreement? Here are some things that I think we can all agree on: * Washing machines should be placed in such a way as to provide access to drain and water connections. * You should use copper pipe in lieu of galvanized steel for water supply. * Drains, where possible, should be PVC pipe to help reduce blockages. * Electrical circuit panel boxes should be located near the machines they protect. * Ball valves should be used instead of boiler drain valves for water supply to machines. * A dryer should have a minimum of two feet of free service area behind it. * All dryer utilities should be connected in such a way as to not impede access in the service area. * Each dryer should have its own switch nearby, thus giving you the ability to turn the power off when servicing is required.Always keep in mind a favorite saying of mine: Every person involved with store design should be required to carry a toolbox and perform maintenance tasks.