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Keeping it Clean in London

Ice and snow are no match for this state-of-the-art facility

Winter in London, England. Brits slog through the fog or wet snow and - as the British will usually do - they deal with it. Forge ahead. Keeping the car clean at that time of year? Forget it.

But in London, Ohio it's a different story. In this small town, a suburb of Columbus, there are three car washes to help residents deal with winter's worst. The newest one in town quickly became the most popular spot to wash vehicles because it's bigger, faster, safer and has ample hot water and snow-melt underfoot (and tire).

And, patrons also favor it because they support its two respected entrepreneur developers, a local physician and Ohio State tight end, then NFL football favorite, "DJ" Jones, who left the Pittsburgh Steelers in '97 after a serious neck injury.

Today, the hottest car wash in London, OH - now in operation for several months, and through its first winter - has proven its value as an investment for the two business partners. They calculate that the $800,000 facility, a price tag that includes its 2-1/2 acre lot, will pay for itself in 7 years.

"The town needed another car wash and that's what drew us to do this, but we were concerned about the need for maintenance and safety, especially during the winter months," said Jones. But an extensive snow- and ice-melt system installed by London-based John Long Plumbing & Heating, a 12-employee plumbing and mechanical firm, has since turned their apprehension into amazement at how easily the problems could be licked.

"We raised the bar on several facets of the facility's design," added Jones. "We went with 12-foot bays, not the typical 10 feet. There's a sharp, 10/12 roof pitch, and we went with a 50-year raised-seam steel roof covering that looks really nice. But the snowmelt system is the facility's gem."

The snowmelt design called for placement of 4,200 lineal feet of 3/4" RadiantPEX tubing supplied by Watts Radiant. The tubing was embedded in concrete slab entryways, in the four manual wash bays, and in both fully automatic car wash bays and around all water drainage.

In the mechanical room, they solved two needs - hot water for all wash systems, and a heated glycol mix for the extensive snowmelt grid - by using a 750 MBH sealed combustion boiler/water heater, a 200-gallon storage tank and a brazed-plate heat exchanger.

A sophisticated microprocessor control monitors outdoor temperature and, at 36°F, the snowmelt system is activated. The outdoor-reset system then sets system temperatures. For the most part, the hydronic system is set to idle throughout the winter months, with programmed instructions to keep slab surface temperatures at a steady 35°F. "It worked beautifully," said Jones, "even during and after heavy snowfalls." Of the boiler's 750 MBH capacity, it was calculated that a maximum of 300,000 BTUs would be required for all commercial wash water needs with all bays loaded. The remaining capacity serves the snowmelt system's needs.

A few years ago, the state of Ohio helped the cause for car wash snow melting by mandating that all commercial car wash facilities have slab-warming systems in place to prevent dangerous accumulations of ice.

"I guess I'm not surprised that they mandated snow- and ice-melt systems," said Cromer. "Even on a 35-degree day, where water could be used without risk; at 5 o'clock it's likely that anything wet would quickly turn to ice."

"It all came together nicely," concluded Jones. "So well, in fact, that we're looking at the possibility of another car wash not too far from here. We'd follow the same recipe, from suppliers to our involvement in the project as 'general contractors.' Personally, I enjoyed all facets of the challenge."

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