Laundry Room Maintenance It’s a Wash

Laundry Room Maintenance

Can you imagine living in a condo or HOA that doesn’t have a laundry room? These days, having on-site laundry facilities for residents isn’t an amenity – it’s a necessity, and keeping yours functional and well-maintained is just as important as keeping the boiler or elevators running. 

Nearly all multifamily laundry rooms are managed and maintained by outside laundry contractors – they take care of the machines, service them when necessary, and collect the money from the machines. 

“In the past, the machines were quite simple,” says Daniel Schwartz, vice president of Fowler Laundry Solutions in Union, New Jersey. “There were no computers, and everything was basically manual.”

No More Quarters

My, how times have changed! Recent years have seen a lot of improvement and innovation in how all these tasks are managed. Thanks to the advent of computerized washers and dryers, as well as internet-connected equipment and notification systems, the tedious search for quarters and traipsing back and forth to the basement to check the status of clothes is thankfully, a thing of the past. 

“It’s no longer a coin business,” says Barry Heller of Hercules Corp. in Hicksville, New York. “It’s all smartcards, a rechargeable card that residents keep in their wallet.” 

Smart cards work much like a pre-paid debit card; residents load however much value onto their laundry card, and then simply insert the card into the reader on the washing machine or dryer. If there is enough money on the card, it signals the machine to start. If there isn’t enough money, residents have various options for adding value onto the card. Smart cards can even help to detect fraud. 

If a card is lost or stolen, it also makes it easier to replace. “If they lose their card, we also know exactly how much that card had on it and we send them a new one with the same amount of money that they had on it originally,” says Stanley Marx, director of development at Aces Laundry Services LLC in Hartsdale, New York. 

And gone are the days of uninviting laundry spaces, says Bob Ilg of Universal Laundries, headquartered in Skokie, Illinois. “People are looking for a high-end amenity, something ‘kitchen-esque’ that will become an extension of their home,” he says. “They want it to maintain the value of their home and be aesthetically pleasing, as well as being functional.” That translates to composite kitchen-type countertops, 18” tile instead of 12” tile, and attractive, high-end lighting (not those buzzy, sickly-greenish fluorescents). One Chicago high-rise, he says, spent $40,000 to $50,000 to redesign their laundry room, complete with a sitting area that offers Wi-Fi and television. 

Laundry Room Tech

Smartphone apps have revolutionized many aspects of everyday life – and the laundry room is no exception. By simply downloading whichever app their building has chosen, residents can keep tabs on wash and drying cycles, without having to leave their apartment.  

“You can view equipment from the website or app, and see what’s available,” says Ilg. “You can even get a three-minute reminder when your laundry is going to be done. It’s a real convenience, instead of getting down to the laundry room and finding out there’s no equipment ready to be used.” One big Chicago building, he notes, has 17 laundry rooms—so knowing where to find an open machine before heading out the door “is easier than chasing elevators” to find available equipment. 

These apps have also helped the laundry companies when it comes time to service the machines. “We’re able to reboot machines from a distance,” says Marx. “A lot of things we can do on our own from the office, which means I’m not having to send a mechanic out every time there’s a call.”

Looking down the road, Marx sees app technology taking the laundry industry even further. “With the apps, the residents won’t even need to carry a card around,” he says. “They will just be able to wave their phone at the machine. I don’t think people are ready to accept that yet, but it’s definitely on the horizon. As far as the actual washability, I’ve heard about machines being developed that are going to [use] sound waves for cleaning, but I don’t see it in my lifetime.”

While cleaning your clothes using sound waves might still sound like something you saw on the futuristic cartoon The Jetsons, it’s important to note how much laundry machines have actually improved over the years. 

“Many, many years ago there were the Bendix front-loading machines that were a headache and went out of style quickly,” says Marx. “Everybody then moved to a top-loading machine. Top loading machines used approximately 36 to 38 gallons of water each wash load. That’s usually two fill-ups, a wash, a rinse, and then a second rinse. You can set the newer machines for as little as 6 ½ or 7 gallons of water for the entire wash cycle.”

This makes a big difference to the building’s bottom line in water savings. “It makes a big difference as far as economy to the building,” says Marx. “Also, the reduction of water has cut down on the amount of suds and drainage issues.”

Let’s Get This Laundry Room Started

The first step for buildings in need of a new or upgraded laundry room is to contact a laundry company for a site visit and a proposal.

“The first thing we do is see what the infrastructure looks like – such as the drainage and electrical – and how many Can you imagine living in a condo or HOA that doesn’t have a laundry room? These days, having on-site laundry facilities for residents isn’t an amenity – it’s a necessity, and keeping yours functional and well-maintained is just as important as keeping the boiler or elevators running. 

Nearly all multifamily laundry rooms are managed and maintained by outside laundry contractors – they take care of the machines, service them when necessary, and collect the money from the machines. 

“In the past, the machines were quite simple,” says Daniel Schwartz, vice president of Fowler Laundry Solutions in Union, New Jersey. “There were no computers, and everything was basically manual.”

No More Quarters

My, how times have changed! Recent years have seen a lot of improvement and innovation in how all these tasks are managed. Thanks to the advent of computerized washers and dryers, as well as internet-connected equipment and notification systems, the tedious search for quarters and traipsing back and forth to the basement to check the status of clothes is thankfully, a thing of the past. 

“It’s no longer a coin business,” says Barry Heller of Hercules Corp. in Hicksville, New York. “It’s all smartcards, a rechargeable card that residents keep in their wallet.” 

Smart cards work much like a pre-paid debit card; residents load however much value onto their laundry card, and then simply insert the card into the reader on the washing machine or dryer. If there is enough money on the card, it signals the machine to start. If there isn’t enough money, residents have various options for adding value onto the card. Smart cards can even help to detect fraud. 

If a card is lost or stolen, it also makes it easier to replace. “If they lose their card, we also know exactly how much that card had on it and we send them a new one with the same amount of money that they had on it originally,” says Stanley Marx, director of development at Aces Laundry Services LLC in Hartsdale, New York. 

And gone are the days of uninviting laundry spaces, says Bob Ilg of Universal Laundries, headquartered in Skokie, Illinois. “People are looking for a high-end amenity, something ‘kitchen-esque’ that will become an extension of their home,” he says. “They want it to maintain the value of their home and be aesthetically pleasing, as well as being functional.” That translates to composite kitchen-type countertops, 18” tile instead of 12” tile, and attractive, high-end lighting (not those buzzy, sickly-greenish fluorescents). One Chicago high-rise, he says, spent $40,000 to $50,000 to redesign their laundry room, complete with a sitting area that offers Wi-Fi and television. 

Laundry Room Tech

Smartphone apps have revolutionized many aspects of everyday life – and the laundry room is no exception. By simply downloading whichever app their building has chosen, residents can keep tabs on wash and drying cycles, without having to leave their apartment.  

“You can view equipment from the website or app, and see what’s available,” says Ilg. “You can even get a three-minute reminder when your laundry is going to be done. It’s a real convenience, instead of getting down to the laundry room and finding out there’s no equipment ready to be used.” One big Chicago building, he notes, has 17 laundry rooms—so knowing where to find an open machine before heading out the door “is easier than chasing elevators” to find available equipment. 

These apps have also helped the laundry companies when it comes time to service the machines. “We’re able to reboot machines from a distance,” says Marx. “A lot of things we can do on our own from the office, which means I’m not having to send a mechanic out every time there’s a call.”

Looking down the road, Marx sees app technology taking the laundry industry even further. “With the apps, the residents won’t even need to carry a card around,” he says. “They will just be able to wave their phone at the machine. I don’t think people are ready to accept that yet, but it’s definitely on the horizon. As far as the actual washability, I’ve heard about machines being developed that are going to [use] sound waves for cleaning, but I don’t see it in my lifetime.”

While cleaning your clothes using sound waves might still sound like something you saw on the futuristic cartoon The Jetsons, it’s important to note how much laundry machines have actually improved over the years. 

“Many, many years ago there were the Bendix front-loading machines that were a headache and went out of style quickly,” says Marx. “Everybody then moved to a top-loading machine. Top loading machines used approximately 36 to 38 gallons of water each wash load. That’s usually two fill-ups, a wash, a rinse, and then a second rinse. You can set the newer machines for as little as 6 ½ or 7 gallons of water for the entire wash cycle.”

This makes a big difference to the building’s bottom line in water savings. “It makes a big difference as far as economy to the building,” says Marx. “Also, the reduction of water has cut down on the amount of suds and drainage issues.”

Let’s Get This Laundry Room Started

The first step for buildings in need of a new or upgraded laundry room is to contact a laundry company for a site visit and a proposal.

“The first thing we do is see what the infrastructure looks like – such as the drainage and electrical – and how many apartments there are,” says Schwartz. “We also need to know the demographics of the building. If there are more families than seniors living there, the room is going to need more equipment.”

Schwartz also considers any renovation of the infrastructure that needs to be done, such as painting the room and adding lighting. “We take care of capital investment in the room,” he says.

Most laundry contracts are typically written for anywhere between seven and 10 years. “For us, the length of the contract depends on the financials and the capital investment we made in order for us to make a profit and repay our initial costs up front,” says Schwartz. 

Ilg notes that while his company does sell washers and dryers, most of the communities the firm deals with find that “there really isn’t much incentive to be the owner of the equipment.” For condominium associations looking to install more energy-efficient machines, leasing rather than owning allows for a speedier transition when new, improved technology comes onto the market. A five- to seven-year contract period pretty well matches the lifespan of equipment serviced by the company, and with a new contract, new machines can be installed. When buildings own the equipment, Ilg says, machines are often replaced on an “as-needed” basis, when something breaks down—leading to an unwieldy mix of old and new equipment in the laundry room.

“We constantly try to keep up” with new technology, he notes, “while self-ownership tends to run longer, and the residents suffer. It’s no different than any other service; there is a trade-off.”

While the laundry room is an amenity for the residents, it’s often profitable for the building as well. Buildings make money on the laundry room by earning a percentage of the revenue that the laundry company has collected. 

“The building gets a fixed monthly rental payment from a laundry company, but typically they don’t care whether they make money off of this, believe it or not,” says Heller. “They look at it as an amenity that they are providing to the residents of the building, as opposed to a profit center.”

Sometimes the owner (or board, in the case of a co-op or condo) would rather collect the money and pay the laundry company, which is an option too. “We’ll rent the equipment and receive a flat monthly rental fee,” says Schwartz. “But if they want to purchase the equipment from us, we can do that too, and set up a service contract for the equipment.”

Out of Order

Of course, at some point, a machine is going to break down, and as long as the contract is in effect, it’s the laundry company’s responsibility to service them. 

“We take care of cleaning the machines, and servicing them is included for the duration of the lease,” says Heller. “What we expect of the building is for the super or the resident manager to keep the room clean and inviting for the residents.”

Heller stresses that all the technology and machine advancements in the world don’t matter if the service isn’t up to par. “If a property manager is getting calls from customers at all hours of the day and night saying that half the washers or dryers are down, and a good laundry company is not fixing them not servicing them, then what good is all the technology? If machines are not working or the machines are not serviced on time, then technology is totally meaningless,” he says. That’s why it’s important for managers and board members to keep tabs on their community’s laundry facilities, respond quickly to residents’ reports of malfunctioning equipment, and make sure that the building’s support staff stay on top of basic maintenance, such as sweeping up lint and other floor debris, replacing flickering light bulbs, and making sure the space is clean, comfortable, and safe for anyone using it. 

Renegotiation

Before the contract is up, the laundry company and the manager will meet to renegotiate the terms of renewal – if indeed renewal is the goal. It’s at this time that the building can express their concerns and ask for new items in the contract. 

“They may sit with the management company and discuss the machines and an extension to the duration of the contract,” says Heller. “Maybe some amenities need to be changed out in the room based on the amount of years. Maybe the tables, maybe the chairs, maybe the walls need to be repainted, things like that are all negotiated.”

Renegotiation also includes new machines. “It depends on the age of the equipment,” says Schwartz. “Also, if they want new technologies, such as remote notification, alternate payment systems or new items like new carts, etc. this will be discussed and added into the financials.”

Of course, a building might just want a bigger cut of the profits. “Sometimes their expenses go up in the laundry room,” says Heller, “and they want to cover their costs and we want to cover what we put out initially, so that will be renegotiated too.”

The laundry industry continues to change and look for ways to improve machines, technology and, of course, service. The residents are just happy to have a place to do their wash.        

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer/editor and a regular contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator. 

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