GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s a summer day. Would you feel good spending a couple of hours sweating in a restaurant that has no air conditioning?
Or how about spending two hours at dinner in a 50-degree restaurant in the wintertime? Would you want to go back there?
Many Laundromats around the country have not yet realized that they need to keep the inside temperatures comfortable. During summer, fans will only provide minimal comfort. In winter, the nominal heat coming from the dryers can only keep a mat acceptably warm on days when the temperature outside is 40 or warmer. Any lower and the store begins to get uncomfortably cold.
SEQUESTER YOUR DRYERS’ MAKEUP AIR FROM YOUR LOBBY
When most or all of your dryers are running, they can easily create a “negative air pressure” problem in your mat. Most commercial dryers will move approximately 500 cubic feet per minute (cfm) each.
Imagine 20 dryers trying to draw in the air they need to operate well. If you don’t have enough makeup air behind your dryers to feed them, they will draw air from everywhere else, especially the lobby area occupied by customers.
If you have either air conditioning or heat going, your dryers will suck air right out of the lobby, lowering the comfort level and causing your air conditioner or heater to work harder.
A simple check for this is to open an exterior door about 10 inches when roughly half your dryers are operating. The door should open freely with no door-closing device attached to it. If the door slams shut, then you need more makeup air behind your dryers.
Your dryers should be completely sealed off from the customer areas. This means allowing no entry points of lobby air for the dryers, including sealing off spots as small as the cracks between each dryer.
Again, you can check this. Run a burning incense stick near any cracks or crevices around the dryers. If the smoke gets drawn toward the dryer, you need to seal that crack off.
Make sure first that your dryers can breathe their own incoming makeup air, which needs to be through vents located behind them or above them on the roof. But avoid the roof if possible because the dryer exhaust ducts up there put out moist, lint-laden air. If the makeup air vents are too close to the exhausts, they will draw in the exhaust air along with its lint, creating a vicious cycle of lint buildup in and around your dryers.
You can get the specs for proper makeup air from your distributor, the manufacturer, or from the dryer’s installation manuals. Most will tell you that 144 square inches of makeup air is required for each 30-pound dryer. Many mats don’t have enough.
IS YOUR STORE WARM ENOUGH?
A simple way to gauge if you’re heating your store properly is to see how many customers are still wearing their coats inside your mat.
Picture this: It’s winter. The temperature outside is 20 but the wind chill makes it feel like 10. A customer has two weeks worth of laundry to get done. She doesn’t really feel like braving the cold but she simply has to get her laundry done today. There are four mats in her area. One of them has supplemental heat, and the owner keeps it nice and toasty. The other three are relying only on the heat of the dryers to warm the place. Which one would you choose to patronize?
In freezing weather, people will be much more inclined to go to the heated mat, even if it’s more expensive and/or further away from their homes.
(On really cold days, we suggested that customers put their coats in a dryer for 10 minutes right before leaving. The effect only lasted a few minutes but they felt so good putting on a toasty-warm coat when it was freezing outside.)
Heat Pumps — In areas of the country that are not too cold, you can choose AC units that can reverse their freon flow to heat your mat. This essentially changes your evaporator into a condenser and your condenser into an evaporator. Most split units are capable of doing this.
There are three possible downsides that I see: it’s more expensive to heat with electricity than gas; if your condenser on the roof is now an evaporator, its coils will get wet and attract more lint into them; and running your AC year-round could prematurely wear it out.
Warning: Do not even consider trying to heat your store with dryer exhaust! It’s loaded with lint and, more importantly, carbon dioxide. It is probably against every building code in America.
Portable electric heaters aren’t a great idea either. I believe they are risky and use more electricity than what they’re worth.
If you have a properly installed HVAC system, then you already have the ability to run gas heat. If you don’t, then consider adding supplemental gas heat.
You can install a hanging gas heater or two from your ceiling (depending on how big your mat is). They are simple, inexpensive and reliable. They come in various capacities, can heat up your mat very quickly and are controlled with a remote thermostat, just like a home furnace.
Make sure you use a licensed plumber and electrician for installation, and keep in mind that you will most likely have to file for a permit.
If you are lucky, your mat may already have enough gas supply capacity to add a heater.
People are creatures of habit, and providing AC in the summer will give you yet another edge against competitors who do not. If properly installed and working, your customers, your employees and you will be very happy during the dog days of summer.
AC (or lack of it) could very well be a deciding factor in whether an employee or customer chooses to stay with you or not.
When I first added AC to one of my mats, I expected a boost during the summer, but I did not realize that some customers would permanently change their habits. Some of them would stay on as newly converted customers year-round! This amazing surprise made the expense more than worth it.
If you buy and install the right kind of unit, advertise it, and do the proper maintenance, you will attract many people to your mat during the summer.
Keep a sign or two in your mat year-round, stating that your mat has heat in winter and AC in summer. Do the same with your window signs at the beginning and during each season.
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!