On the Wash Front - August 2007

Measure Twice...:
Pre-Construction Meetings

By Anthony Analetto

Few would disagree with the proverb, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” It’s equally hard to argue against the logic of “measure twice, cut once.” So, why is it that so many car wash pre-construction meetings seem to occur on the back gate of a pick-up truck, or not at all? Each day you can trim from the time it takes to build your wash can potentially translate to thousands of dollars in your pocket. The less time you spend correcting problems due to misunderstandings, the more time you can dedicate to marketing, branding, and the grand opening of your wash. Building a car wash is extremely complicated, but it does not have to be difficult. It all starts with a carefully planned pre-construction meeting.


I’m going to discuss each of these questions, but somewhat out of sequence.

When to Hold the Meeting
Whatever you do, don’t hold the pre-construction meeting after construction begins. There are two paths to building a car wash. The first is to use a design-build firm that functions as your general contractor (GC), architect, civil engineer, and takes care of all permitting. The other choice is to hire an architect who will guide you in selecting a GC, civil engineer, and a lawyer who will aid in the permitting process. Ideally, your pre-construction meeting should occur before you sign the contract. If using a design-build firm, for example, you will research, interview, and solicit a bid from maybe three firms. Once you select the company presenting the best combination of reputation and price, you will want to sit down with them for the pre-construction meeting.

Building a car wash is completely different than most commercial construction. Undoubtedly, any initial bid will contain generic items not appropriate for a car wash. Everyone must leave the table with a precise documented understanding of what actually needs to be done, and which materials should be used. If using a design-build firm, they should update all drawings, re-bid, and commit to a firm price at this point.

Many car wash operators have long accepted that there will be overruns on construction. Although most GC’s will bid a well planned project with accurate drawings with less “cushion” in their price, the expectation remains that unforeseen complications will almost always add additional expense. To escape this costly situation, you must do everything possible to eliminate any chance that someone involved in building your wash has the opportunity to utter the phrase “that’s not what I agreed to do.” All misunderstandings must be sorted out before you break ground. It all starts with establishing responsibilities and making revisions to the plans before construction begins.

Where to Hold the Meeting
Avoid the temptation to hold the meeting at the construction site. At this stage you want to focus all attention on the plans and responsibilities. Being on site tends to distract subcontractors, who often begin thinking about their specific role without consideration of the entire project. Whenever possible, hold the meeting in an office setting with limited distractions. If you don’t have suitable office space, rent a room in a local hotel. Hold-ing a formal meeting at an off-site location will reinforce the importance of the task, and allow all participants to really stop and make sure they understand their commitments.

Bring a video camera and a voice recorder. Some may object to a video, but few will have a problem with a voice recorder. If all else fails, bring someone who can accurately document minutes of everything discussed. Print and distribute the minutes to everyone in attendance. Letting people know that their comments and acknowledgements are being recorded in some way, elevates their attention and accuracy.

Who Should Attend the Meeting
In addition to yourself, at a bare minimum, the GC, equipment supplier, installer, civil engineer, plumber, and electrician should be present. Ideally, every subcontractor who will be involved on the project should also be in attendance. Often, local trades will not possess the specific knowledge necessary to perform their function for the construction of a car wash. Unfortunately they may not be aware of the differences in the electrical, plumbing, and construction. The pre-construction meeting is your opportunity to identify who may need additional education to get up to speed and avoid confusion later on.

What Must be Reviewed
Chances are your equipment supplier or distributor will have a documented meeting outline, usually including a detailed checklist of everything that must be reviewed and agreed to. Make sure you have a complete set of drawings for your equipment placement in addition to a full set of drawings from your civil engineer. Start with the contract or agreement for the company that will deliver and install your equipment. Get into the details. The agreement will include exact responsibilities and expectations for site conditions and specific points where inspections must be made. Nothing is worse than pouring concrete into an improperly formed conveyor pit, or having your equipment sitting on a truck because the party responsible for providing the forklift was unaware of its need.

  • Review electrical layout plan — Assume nothing is obvious. In addition to confirming service voltage and amperage, make sure to verify complete knowledge of the termination of low voltage. Pay special attention to tunnel-disconnect type and location. An electrician not accustomed to working in a highly corrosive wet environment may not be aware of specialized products available for safe and reliable operation. Make sure everything is specified correctly from the start.

  • Review electrical one line and circuit breaker — It is important to confirm the service amperage and location of the main circuit breaker panel. Most car wash motor control centers (MCC) are shipped main-lug-only (MLO). This means that the MCC requires an external main circuit breaker (MCB). It may seem like a minor consideration, but if the electrician is not aware of, or familiar with, what MLO is, it can be an expensive change order, and delay construction.

  • Review water and reclaim plan —Water doesn’t flow uphill. That seems simple enough, but this inconvenient truth can add weeks to the construction of your wash. During your pre-construction meeting, confirm the sewer size, location, and invert depth. I really can’t explain why, but it happens far too often; the civil engineer miscalculates either the necessity for, or capacity of, a required lift station. Basically, the drain at the bottom of the conveyor, several feet below the finished floor, must be high enough to properly drain from the pit, to the reclaim takes (if needed), and then to the main sewer at a designated slope (usually around 1/8 inch per foot). Anything less and you’ll need a properly sized water lift station. Another area to pay special attention to is your water-reclaim and tank layout plan. This is, again, something the average trade person does not encounter on a daily basis, but needs to understand in detail.

  • Review pneumatic and chase way plans — Your plans will spell out every detail down to the size and type of each valve to be used in the compressed air system. Often, slight modifications will be necessary to meet local codes. If local code calls for there to be PVC instead of copper or vice versa, it should be recognized during the pre-construction meeting and the plans updated. Even more critical is to verify that every underground chase way is accurately represented on the plans. If a participant at the meeting notices a condition that may warrant the movement of some item in the back room, now is the time to speak up, not after the concrete is poured.

  • Review conveyor trench plans — Probably the single most critical feature of any car wash is the conveyor trench design. Review the plans in detail. No variable should be left to interpretation, with special attention given to in-beds, chase ways, depth of the conveyor shelf, and depths at drains and dams. Don’t rely on the conveyor pit inspection to identify problems. Save time and money by getting everything correct at the pre-construction meeting.


This rough outline of the pre-construction meeting is in no way comprehensive (space doesn’t permit me to even address chemical supply and set up). Your local distributor, equipment supplier, or consultant will have documentation and forms to guide the process. The important thing to remember is that this meeting is your ticket to the smoothest possible project. Every day of delay in opening is more than just lost revenue and increased expense.

The energy you’ll spend trying to fix things during construction can distract you from planning a successful grand opening, operation, and the marketing of your wash.
Good luck and good washing.

Anthony Analetto is the chief operating officer of SONNY’S The Car Wash Factory and one of the company’s driving forces behind new car wash equipment innovations. Prior to joining SONNY’S, Anthony was the director of operations for a national car wash chain featuring 74 locations across the country. He has over 25 years of experience in the car wash industry and can be reached at (800) 327-8723 or via e-mail at Aanaletto@SonnysDirect.com.


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