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Preventing and Handling Emergencies in Your Laundry

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Preventing and Handling Emergencies in Your Laundry (Part 1)

Pointers from Paulie B: Equipment repair could only be tip of iceberg when considering ‘crisis’ events

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Just as you sit down for dinner, you get one of those dreaded emergency calls that require you to drop everything and run down to your laundromat.

One of a mat’s biggest perk—that you’re not always physically in the store—is also one of your biggest headaches when you need to handle an emergency.

Contrary to popular belief, laundromats do not run themselves! Regular maintenance is needed for a smooth and relatively problem-free business.

A typical mat will have hundreds of parts that will eventually fail. You just don’t want any critical parts to fail when you are on vacation or otherwise occupied. A good manager or family member can help, but depending on the level of the emergency, you may still need to step in.

For instance, if you don’t want your expensive VFDs (variable frequency drives) to burn out, then make sure they aren’t clogged up with lint, and make sure your electric service is set up properly, not spiking on you.

So, what’s the best overall solution to preventing equipment emergencies? Simply follow the maintenance schedules and install safeguards, such as a great surveillance system.

But maintenance could be just the tip of an iceberg when considering the types of events that could be deemed an “emergency”: floods, fires, utility interruptions, customer violence, surprise inspections, a door jam on your 80-pound washer, no-show employees, electric shock hazards, health scares, armed robberies, nighttime break-ins … wow!

It’s not a bad idea to have a policy in place to help your employees understand what to do when there is an emergency.

Let’s take a look at preventing emergencies (if possible), or at least some ways to handle them.

Stay Healthy — While you can’t predict who will have a health issue or when, it’s good to know that your employees are healthy enough to do the job. Drop-off service requires a lot of lifting, which can aggravate a bad back.

Apparently, even healthy people can hurt their backs if they don’t know how to lift heavy bags.

All people should bend their legs slightly and keep their backs straight as they lower themselves to pick up a heavy object.

Lint — Lint is the enemy of laundromats. It’s the single most common cause of “drop everything and run to the mat” emergencies.

Many problems come up if you don’t make sure that your equipment, exhaust ducts, and sewer lines are free of lint buildups. Lint buildup is one of the most common headaches you’ll encounter. It causes all kinds of problems such as dryers not operating to their full potential (contributing to the common customer complaint, “My dryer is not hot enough”), as well as shutting down their heat circuits and, of course, dryer fires.

Water and Sewer Problems — Washers not draining. Sewer line blockages. Imagine your main sewer line blocking up and thousands of gallons of water flowing all over your mat, freaking out customers and causing both slip and shock hazards! Before I suggest some ways to minimize these water backups, make sure your insurance covers these perils to your satisfaction.

If you’ve experienced a drain (sewer line) backup every two years, then mark your calendar to have all your sewer lines snaked out every year and a half. I had my lines done every year, all the way out to the street. I went 17 years without an emergency backup when I followed that plan.

If you can, try to get your own dedicated water main, gas, and sewer line for your mat instead of tapping into the building’s systems. Why? Because the other stores in the shopping center sometimes cause havoc with things as simple as people clogging a toilet with paper towels. Install an electric hand dryer in your own bathroom to eliminate the need for paper towels, and you might try printing up signs for your co-tenants’ restrooms: Please do not throw paper towels or feminine products down the toilet.

I’ve also had other stores shut off my water line because it was big as the main line to the building, so clearly mark all your utility pipes in the meter room to minimize this.

Your Own Sprinkler System — Want to know how to stop an out-of-control dryer fire from burning down your mat? Mats have big water mains. Even just a 1½-inch pipe can deliver a serious amount of water.

So every new mat in NYC is built with two rows of sprinkler heads over the dryers, spaced about 8 feet apart. One row is over the front of the dryer banks, about a foot out (if you’re standing in front of the right dryer, the spray head will be directly overhead). The other row is in the back, behind the overhead dryer “curtain.”

The rear of the dryers will have the heads more directly over the center of the dryer, also with heads 8 feet apart.

I think they call it a passive system because there is no siamese connection for the Fire Department to tap into. There is a shutoff at its main, and some drain cocks to flush the system if needed. If installed correctly, this could save the building. An insurance discount might be available but you should consult your agent.

Sounds — Know the normal sounds that your mat makes. Pay attention to the sounds of your equipment. A little squeak will not go away on its own. It will only get worse, eventually causing a breakdown of some kind.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion.


Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].