CHICAGO — There are many components to running a self-service laundry business. While washers and dryers make up a significant piece of this operation, another integral part of the equation is one that laundry customers rarely get to see, but come to rely on each time they come in to wash their clothes—a boiler/water heater system.
Ensuring that this component is well maintained and is running efficiently is vital to not only the laundry end-user, but also for the life of the laundry business itself.
How can operators ensure that their boiler/water heater system is running in tiptop shape? And, what are the signs/symptoms that a boiler/water heater system is in need of repair, or even replacement?
American Coin-Op reached out to experts from the boiler/water heater industry to find out.
PARTS ON HAND?
Troubleshooting/maintenance routines can vary by manufacturer, according to Doug Ritchie, president of Danville, Ky.-based Sellers Manufacturing Co., who advises operators to consult with their manufacturer’s manual to learn and follow specific procedures.
Should the need to self-diagnose and repair a boiler/water heater system occur, what parts should operators have on hand?
“It may be impractical to carry necessary parts on hand as, inevitably, the part you have is not the part needed for the given situation,” says Ritchie.
“The manufacturer has records on hand to help [identify] the specific item necessary, once the operator has located the problem,” he adds, explaining that many parts are stocked by local wholesalers, many of which offer same-day service.
Greg Thorn, sales engineer and service manager at Milwaukee-based Ludell Manufacturing, believes otherwise, saying, “To limit downtime, it is a good idea to keep on hand those spare parts that are not readily available locally.”
“Most direct contact water heaters do not use proprietary parts that are only available through [their manufacturer],” says Thorn. “Frequently, a direct contact water heater manufacturer will include recommended spare parts in their operation and maintenance manual.”
Mike McLean, who is sales manager for Pulaski, N.Y.-based Fulton Companies, echoes Thorn’s argument, saying, “It never hurts to have spare [parts] on hand. Typical parts to stock would be ignition electrodes, water probes, UV scanner, handhole gaskets, site glasses, site glass gaskets, etc.”
What is the typical lifespan of a standard boiler/water heater used in many self-service laundry applications?
“Typically, a direct contact water heater manufacturer will warrant their heater shell for 10 years from defect of materials or workmanship,” says Thorn.
“A direct contact water heater’s shell and heat transfer packing are constructed out of stainless steel material and are operated atmospherically,” he says, adding, “These are very corrosion-resistant shells that can last a much longer time.”
“Depending on the maintenance and the quality of the water chemistry, the boilers can last a long time or may fail within years,” says McLean. “The operator/owner needs to make sure the equipment is taken care of per manufacturer’s specifications. Look at it like maintaining a motor vehicle— would you never change the engine oil, or use the wrong type of oil?”
ON THE MARKET
When an operator reaches a point where they’ve exhausted all troubleshooting options and is unable to pinpoint the issue being experienced, they should then employ the assistance of a professional in repairing their boiler/water heater system, Ritchie explains.
But for those whose system’s “reliability is no longer manageable,” or for those who are about to embark on a facility revamp or expansion, Ritchie says that it may be time to invest in a new boiler/water heater for their Laundromat.
Thorn agrees, saying, “Oftentimes, the biggest reason a direct contact water heater is purchased is to replace a less-efficient boiler. Other times, it is to replace a unit that has been outgrown through expansion of the Laundromat, [which] now [requires] more hot water than anticipated.”
“When making a capital purchase of water-heating equipment, one should consider not only the capital cost but the fuel efficiency, longevity, safety and ease of maintenance,” he advises. “This is what makes direct contact water-heating technology attractive.”
“With any major purchase, you would evaluate based on needs,” agrees McLean.
“If there is an expansion or added equipment where the boiler was no longer large enough to keep up with demand would be a time to purchase a new boiler and/or boiler accessories (feedwater tank and blowdown) to make sure they are sized properly.”
For Ritchie, selecting a boiler/water heater system that’s of “good quality” is key when it comes time to replace.
“Spend the money up front and you will have a reliable, money-making Laundromat for years to come,” he says.
But for those looking to truly protect their boiler/water heater system, both McLean and Michael Leeming, national sales manager for Los Angeles-based Parker Boiler Co., agree on the importance of one preventative action.
“Just do maintenance recommended by [the manufacturer],” says Leeming. “Money spent will lower your cost of ownership.”
“Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance—including combustion check at least once a year,” says McLean.