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Cleaning Coast to Coast: Arizona—Power Washing in “The Grand Canyon State”

Cleaning Coast to Coast

Arizona—Power Washing in “The Grand Canyon State”

By Terri Perrin / Published February 2023

Photo courtesy of Wash Patrol

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of state profiles highlighting the opportunities, advantages, and challenges of the pressure washing industry across the USA. To read about opportunities in a specific state or to read past state profiles, please visit www.cleanertimes.com/cleaning-coast-to-coast.

     There are two theories relating to the origins of the state name “Arizona.” According to the Southern Arizona Guide, the word was derived from a Native American place name that sounded like “Aleh-zon” or “Ali-Shonak,” which meant “small spring” or “place of the small spring.” More recently, scholars declared that “Arizona” may be from the Basque (European) words “aritz ona” meaning “good oak.” Both definitions are quite surprising, considering that neither an abundance of water nor acres of oak trees are commonly thought of as tourist attractions in the Grand Canyon state! 

     Regardless of the historic references to the name, one thing that can be agreed upon is that Arizona (AZ) is a fabulous place to operate a power washing business. It is one of few states where you can provide services year ‘round, and opportunities are almost limitless.

     Ty Schell has worked in the power washing industry since 2007. He started his own company—Wash Patrol—in 2019. Commercial clients make up about 30 percent of his business, and the remaining 70 percent is residential.

     “The variety of industries served here is vast,” explains Schell. “When comparing opportunities here to other areas of North America, I feel like AZ may be one of the largest markets in the entire industry. Some may find this surprising because we don’t have to deal with much mold here. But there is dirt and dust EVERYWHERE! If you have a property in AZ, rest assured—there will be dirt! Keeping things clean is a constant battle.”

     Rick Carey is owner of ARK Pressure Washing in Phoenix, which focuses on exterior cleaning of commercial buildings, concrete, and flat surfaces. “While it is not common, years ago we had a period with higher humidity, and we did come across mold on the sides of some buildings,” recalls Carey. “But that was an exception.”

Arizona By The Numbers

     In 2021 Arizona’s population was about 7.3 million, making it the 14th most populous state in the U.S. The largest city is the state capital of Phoenix. Surrounding municipalities include Glendale, Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, and Chandler. There is also the 17,544,500-acre Native American reservation—the Navajo Nation.

     With a total area of 113,998 square miles, AZ is the sixth largest state by geographical size. However, just 0.3 percent of this region consists of water, which makes it the state with the second lowest percentage of natural water area. That said, AZ is also home to the two largest man-made reservoirs in the U.S.—Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The Colorado River flows into Lake Mead and meanders through the world-famous Grand Canyon National Park—one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and the only one located within the United States.

     There are also many beautiful mountain areas (with elevations of 12,000-feet+), which provide a welcome reprieve for weekend getaways to summer cottages and a wide range of recreation opportunities for Arizonians looking to escape the summer’s heat.

Whatever The Weather

     While you may be able to work 12 months of the year in AZ, you may not always be able to work a standard day shift. Phoenix is the hottest city in the U.S. and consistently ranks number one for the most days a year when the temperature rises above 89º. The city sees sunshine more than 105 days a year, when the temperature can be above 99º. To beat the heat, both tourists and residents have perfected the art of lounging by swimming pools and taking advantage of cool mornings to run errands, work, or exercise. And lots of pool decks needing to be regularly cleaned means lots of business for those in the power washing industry!

     Local industries served by AZ power washers include commercial fleet washing for the transportation industry, store fronts, shopping centers, restaurants, resorts, the hospitality industry, construction cleanup, trash can cleaning and deodorizing, spot-free rinsing of vehicles, heavy duty construction equipment, municipalities, government utilities, copper mines, agriculture, manufacturing facilities, and much more.

     “One important difference to note is that you will not find a lot of wood siding on homes or businesses or wooden decks in this region,” says Carey. “Stucco and brick exteriors and stone or concrete patios and decks stand up better to both the relentless sun and the extreme monsoons that we experience. As well, there is a weather phenomenon called a ‘haboob.’ This is a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric gravity current, also known as a weather front. Haboobs occur regularly around the world in dry land area regions like Arizona. A stucco application technique called ‘skip troweling’ is the most common exterior cladding. This involves gradually skipping your trowel over the surface as you apply it to give it more texture, but when the haboobs come, it traps the dust on this rough surface. When you start rinsing, sheets and sheets of dirt come off. But it is important to regularly power wash to save the paint over the long term.” 

     “There are no real ‘seasons’ here,” states Schell, “but during July and August we get lots of rain. Most people prefer to wait until our ‘monsoon season’ is over before booking power washing services. It’s the heat that makes doing this job difficult at times. To beat the heat, we try to be on our first job site by 6 am each day and wrap up our hoses by about 2:00 pm.”

     The good news is that with extreme heat comes a need for both residential and commercial air conditioning, and this opens up another area for excellent power washing opportunities. Leo Deleon is a supervisor with Nalco Water & Process Services, an Ecolab Company, based in Phoenix.

     “Nalco specializes in cleaning and disinfecting cooling towers for chilled water systems for resorts, hotels, hospitals, etc.” explains Deleon. “The biggest concern—in cleaning air conditioners—is that they don’t get a buildup of the bacterium legionella that can cause Legionnaires’ Disease, a severe form of pneumonia and lung inflammation. Dirty coils, improper refrigerant levels, and worn-out compressors or condensers can cause air conditioning systems to cool less efficiently, which results in higher energy bills. It also forces the compressor to work harder than necessary and can shorten its lifespan.

     “But companies don’t want us to shut down their systems during the hottest months of the year … August being the worst,” adds Deleon. “So we try to do most of this work from September through May. During extremely hot weather, we may have to start at 4:00 am  so we can be finished by noon. If the building has three or four systems, we shut them down one at a time. We adjust the workday in order to get the work done as air conditioning is critical. We make sure that we drink lots of water and take breaks, with ‘tailgate parties’ in a cool area. Our team knows that they can stop for a break if they need to.”

     Isreal Young and his wife, Rachelle Haviland Young, are co-owners of Mesa, AZ-based Pressure Power Pros. They focus on “everything exterior” for their residential and commercial customers. They say that one thing that’s unique about doing business here is that it is typically super busy in the winter and less busy in the summer.

     “Because our summers are so hot, a lot of people leave to go to their other homes ‘up north’ come spring … and then they come back in the fall to get away from the snow,” says Young.  “This annual exodus of people results in a community-wide slowdown for all businesses—restaurants, resorts, golf courses, etc. Commercial customers definitely do not want to spend money when they are not making a lot of money. As a result, fall and winter are our busiest time because some homes may have been sitting for months, and folks want them cleaned.”

Photo courtesy of Pressure Power Pros

     In the past few years, however, and especially so since the 2020–2022 pandemic, Schell has noticed that this summer population shift is starting to change. “Homes are more affordable here than in many other states, and lots of folks are moving here permanently. The general population has increased, so when the snowbirds leave, it doesn’t make as much of an impact as it used to. However, these new residents soon discover that it’s too hot to do their own manual labor in the summer, so we get plenty of new customers as a result of this.”

     “Another difference,” adds Young, “is that with very low humidity, there is little to no algae growth and/or mold. As a result, we typically don’t soft wash or use sodium hydrochlorite bleach.  We mostly use just hot water, limiting environmentally friendly chemical use and degreasers for stains, graffiti, oil, rust, grease, etc. This saves us time and money. We still use some detergents that have a good smell. And wastewater management is, of course, something we all need to be aware of. We follow the Clean Water Act, managed by the Arizona Department of Environmental Policy. We direct wastewater to the landscape, blocking off storm drains (just in case), and use sump pumps if we need to reclaim and relocate it.”

     “We haven’t been forced into water reclamation as they have in some other states,” explains Carey. “However, we do use water reclamation when cleaning parking structures underground, to stop wastewater from entering the storm sewers.”

Business Opportunities & Challenges

     “Arizona has a diverse topography and various landscaping entities, which covers the many requirements for a multitude of pressure cleaning opportunities,” states Bill Sommers, chairman at Phoenix-based Pressure Systems Inc. “PSI is a distributor of pressure washers, power washers, cleaning equipment, pumps, motors, service, and parts and manufactures custom water systems. Product lines include HydroTek, Jenny products, H2O Hydraulic, and Pressure Pro, to name a few.

     “PSI’s decades of success are a testament to the viability of the power washing industry here. But we are not the only game in town. Other distributors include Superior Equipment, AAA Pressure Washers, Pressure Equipment, and Boyd Equipment.”

     While all power washers should always be aware of the need for and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), Schell warns that operators in AZ have to watch out for dangerous vegetation and nasty critters on the job site. “One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to maneuver our way through rocks and cacti in the landscaping,” he says with a smile. “We don’t have many lawns, and you can be pulling your hose through some pretty dangerous terrain! We also have rattlesnakes and scorpions in this desert climate.”

Photo courtesy of Pressure Power Pros

     The city of Phoenix and surrounding areas also have a lot of traffic, making it like a mini-Los Angeles, says Schell. “It is really spread out, and when traveling to and from jobs, you have to carefully plan your routes.

     “One of the areas that has become a mandatory requirement [in Arizona] is the power washing of individual boats that traverse the many lakes in this state,” adds Sommers. Quagga mussels attach themselves to the bottom of the vessels, and this contaminates the water ways. Therefore, each boat must be power washed to remove the quaggas before leaving the lake area, hopefully eliminating further contamination of other lakes and streams.

     “Finding people who want to work and home-based start-ups that don’t follow industry standards are ongoing issues,” reports Carey. “Some people think they can simply buy a power washer from a hardware store and start a small business. Yet we design and build our own equipment and rigs to save time and labor that cost us about $50,000 each. We play by the rules and have all of the insurance and liability coverage, provide benefits and good wages for our team, etc. It’s frustrating when property owners hire anyone without concern for good business practices. But integrity is really important to us, and we firmly believe that you are only as good as your last job.

     “In my humble opinion, Arizona is an amazing state with some of the most beautiful mountains,” concludes Schell. “My favorite thing about power washing is to be able to drive out to these huge mountains to clean a customer’s home … and then to step back and take a moment to enjoy the view. The scenery is breathtaking.”

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