Cary News

Cary car wash strives for environmental gold

Eco Clean Car Wash in Cary might soon be the country’s first LEED gold-certified carwash. It also might be the least car washy-looking car wash in the history of car washes.

Recycled concrete fashioned to look like natural rock walls and fountains adorn the sleek exterior. Cantilevered awnings of natural wood and slick metal sheeting jut gracefully from its walls. If the words “Car Wash” weren’t spelled out in gigantic white letters on the building’s side, it might be mistaken for a new boutique or restaurant.

The drive-in-like ordering system adds to the restaurant feel. Not unlike a fast food menu screen, customers insert debit or credit cards and make their choice using an automated system. The choices are broken down into categories ranging from the $8 LEED Gold option, the most basic car wash which includes access to complimentary vacuums and interior cleaning supplies, to the $69 LEED Platinum option that includes a hand wax, interior clean and tire shine.

The Crescent Common Shopping Center welcomed the new business April 28, 2012. Owner John Sprufera, a north Raleigh resident who transplanted from Long Island about six years ago, said Cary was the ideal place to try out this new business model.

“Cary, I felt, was a really progressive town that seems to us to care a lot about the environment,” Sprufera said, referring specifically to Cary’s use of a smart grid building design that keeps foliage street side even though at times it can make signage a bit harder to discern from the road. “I felt this model would work well with a certain demographic, and that demographic would be more interested in sustainability.”

When asked what possessed him to take on such a challenging project – the investments up front were far greater in his green car wash than would be for a traditional car wash – he said it was a combination of learning about the car wash industry, and being educated about the environmental and financial benefits to green building. Though he had never operated a car wash before, he was an investor in a car wash in Long Island and thought the area might be conducive to such a project.

“I didn’t want to just build a run-of-the-mill, conventional carwash,” Sprufera said. “I am not your typical environmentalist. I am more of an environmental capitalist.”

Sprufera is not certain when the LEED certification will come through, but the U.S. Green Building Council has only given LEED certification to one other car wash in the country, Sprufera said – a silver certification for a business in northern Virginia.

Change in the industry

John Charlesworth, president of the North Carolina Car Wash Association, wants people to know that although Sprufera has gone above and beyond common building practices, most car washes are now doing things in a greener fashion as well.

“The industry in general has stepped it up,” Charlesworth said. Reclaiming water “is not law, it’s the right thing to do.”

Sprufera was quick to point out that he realized the industry was generally quite earth conscious, and many consumers aren’t aware how efficient most car washes already are.

Reclaiming water and using biodegradable cleansers are common practices in the industry. The idea that car washes are a waste of water and dump toxic chemicals into rainwater runoff sewers is largely untrue, Charlesworth said.

Distinctive features

What sets Sprufera’s business apart is the building itself is constructed from no less than 35 percent recycled materials. Also, the washing machinery was engineered to use a minimal amount of energy thanks to the use of use of variable frequency drive motors.

“Many components that are in my car wash didn’t exist when we first looked into this,” Sprufera said.

Solar panels power the HVAC system, and he said his water reclamation efforts set an industry record by using between six and 10 gallons of city water per wash thanks to the 8,000-gallon underground cistern which collects rain water.

Sprufera also had the windowsills and desk in the waiting area fashioned from the white birch trees that were felled to clear the lot. He is also using 100 percent biodegradable chemicals throughout his system. A bio-retention pond and underground tanks make sure any water heading back into the storm water runoff system is clean.

Setting standards

“I think the biggest challenge, and it still is a challenge, is to prove to LEED that we are improving the energy efficiency of this type of facility,” said Paul Szalanski, the electronic engineer on this project for Crenshaw Consulting Engineers.

Because there is no industry standard for this sort of green building design, Sprufera and his engineers were challenged with establishing a baseline comparison for LEED.

“It was nice to see someone willing to spend the money to go this route,” Szalanski said. The financial investment should pay off with reduced utility usage.

Sprufera admits he has become more of an official environmentalist, but he stressed that capitalism and environmentalism do not have to be mutually exclusive. “I’d like to see all new carwashes being built with some kind of sustainability,” he said.