CHICAGO — Have you ever been curious about how the “other half” lives? In this case, the “other half” is the multihousing (or multifamily) laundry industry.The multihousing laundry industry services apartments, condos, dorms, government facilities, barracks, hotel/motel guest laundries, town houses and RV/trailer parks, says Rex Braden, Whirlpool national sales manager (Southwestern United States), commercial laundry.A HOST OF CHALLENGESThe multihousing laundry industry consists of two segments, Braden says. The route operators maintain ownership and split revenues with apartment management companies. The self-ownership side consists of apartment owners or management groups that buy the machines and operate the equipment themselves. It’s about a 50/50 split when you look at the number of machines operated by these two groups, Braden estimates.When assessing the fortunes of the multihousing laundry industry during the lingering recession, he believes it’s all about jobs.“The job market has been hit hard, therefore rental occupancy has been down; this affects us,” Braden explains.“If people aren’t working, they aren’t washing as much. This affects all segments of the laundry industry. Also, some people in the Southwest have left seeking jobs. This has affected the industry.“These problems are not exclusive to the multifamily side, they have the same effect on coin stores.”As for current challenges, skyrocketing gasoline prices are plaguing route operators, who often have a fleet of trucks. Also, if apartment occupancy is down, machine usage becomes a concern, he says.“Overall, utility prices are a factor, but not as much for the route operators. The apartment owner or management company usually pays for the utilities.”The self-ownership side often shares the same concerns as Laundromat owners. “Utilities cost and employees are concerns. The employees work on the machines, collect money, and have to have technical capabilities. There is always a concern when someone is handling money.”Will the number of laundry rooms expand in the near future? Braden says there are fewer laundry facilities in apartments because of a new building trend: adding in-unit laundry hookups.While it’s expensive to retrofit an in-unit hookup, that’s not the case with new construction. “[An in-unit hookup] is an amenity to have in an apartment.”However, in-unit hookups lead to increased water usage, he says. “Water usage goes up because people are more likely to wash one item; they don’t wash full loads.”With water becoming scarce in certain areas, Braden believes legislation requiring multifamily laundry rooms may eventually be enacted because commercial equipment is more efficient.
The self-service laundry industry and the multihousing laundry industry have another thing in common: both promote the efficiency aspect of using one of its facilities.The Multi-housing Laundry Association cites a nationwide study showing that apartments with an in-unit washer waste approximately 8,500 gallons per year on laundry. In a 150-unit building, that comes out to 1.275 million gallons of water per year.Residents who utilized community-area laundry rooms were found to save 500 percent more energy than residents who used in-unit washing machines. Nationwide, most apartments with in-unit washing machines have an electric water heater, while most community-area facilities have gas water heaters. Gas water heaters are more efficient, hence increasing the overall conservation benefit of a community-area laundry room, according to the association.In addition to the energy savings associated with washing machines, there is likely comparable energy savings with dryers. Nearly all domestic dryers used in in-apartment-unit applications are electric, yet only 36 percent of the typical dryers in community-area laundry rooms are electric, the study continues. According to the California Energy Commission, the cost of electricity needed to dry a typical load of laundry is twice the cost of gas needed to do the same.With energy conservation becoming more of a factor in this country, it will be interesting to see if legislation develops that will impact both the self-service and multihousing laundry industries.Please check back Wednesday for Part 2 of this story.